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Evolving Careers of Former Fellows

The following sketches of 36 of the 385 alumni of the Soros Fellowship Program illustrate the remarkable achievements of those who the program has identified as showing great promise of creative and innovative careers.

The 36 alumni profiled below:

  • Have families that came to the United States from 24 different countries,
  • Studied at 21 different undergraduate institutions,
  • Attended graduate programs at 17 different universities, and
  • Have pursued careers in medicine, the biological sciences, law, public policy, government service, NGOs, academic social science, business, the media, computer science, electrical engineering, fiction and non-fiction writing, the visual arts and the performing arts. 

Careers  evolve at different paces.  Medical students often pursue joint degrees, residencies, and follow-on training that can delay their entry into the work force by as much as a decade.   Luck, serendipity, and choice of genre can determine whether writers and visual artists establish careers soon after their graduate degrees or some years later.  Lawyers typically move into the work force more rapidly than do those pursuing doctoral degrees in academic fields.   Political predispositions and cycles of electoral politics can determine whether and when openings will occur for alumni interested in governmental service.   Thus, the mix of alumni we might profile will evolve from year to year as immigration patterns change, as specialists in different fields enter the work force, and as the winds of electoral politics shift. 


LERA AUERBACH was born in 1973 in Chelyabinsk, Russia. She gave her first public performance at age six, appeared as a soloist with orchestra at eight, and wrote her first opera, which was staged and toured throughout the former Soviet Union, at twelve. At 18, she came to the United States and remained to attend Juilliard, where she earned degrees in piano and composition. Her compositions – performed by Gidon Kremer, the Hamburg State Ballet, David Finckel, and others - have won her international acclaim. Her Requiem, "Dresden - Ode to Peace" was premiered by the Dresden Staatskapelle and State Opera Chorus in 2012. Her official website is http://www.leraauerbach.com.

NA ENG was born in Cambodia. When she was five, her family fled the Khmer Rouge and resettled – after living in refugee camps -- in St. Paul, Minnesota. She graduated from Columbia University in 1998 and earned masters degrees in international affairs and journalism there a year later. She served as a producer for the national public affairs show "NOW" on PBS, where she was part of an Emmy award-winning team for an investigation into Defense Department spending.  She is currently producing documentary segments – One Nation - Overweight is a recent example – for CNBC.  

MILL ETIENNE was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and came to the United States at age five. He did his undergraduate studies at Yale University and earned his MD degree at New York Medical College. He completed his neurology residency at Columbia's Neurological Institute of New York and then received an MPH at the University's Mailman School of Public Health. He is an attending physician at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD and received extensive media coverage for his shipboard medical work in support of victims of the Haitian earthquake.

VIVEK H. MURTHY was born in England to parents who had migrated from South India.  The family settled in Miami when Vivek was three.  He was an undergraduate at Harvard and then completed a joint MD and MBA program at Yale. He received one of 25 AMA 2000 Foundation Leadership Awards for demonstrated leadership and future potential as a leader in medicine. He is currently Attending Physician, BWH/Faulkner Hospitalist Service, Brigham and Women's Hospital and an instructor at Harvard's School of Medicine.



RON HUBERMAN was born in Tel Aviv but came to the United States as a child. He received his BA in English and psychology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. After three years of service as a beat cop in the Chicago Police Department, he received dual master's degrees at the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration and Graduate School of Business. He returned to the Chicago Police force but was hired away by Mayor Richard Daley to be his Chief of Staff. Ron then served as President and CEO of the Chicago Metropolitan Transit Authority and subsequently as CEO of the Chicago Public School System. He is currently Operating Executive of Prairie Capital in Chicago.

FEI-FEI LI was born in Beijing, China.  She lived in Chengdu, China until she was 15, when she immigrated with her parents to Parsippany, New Jersey.  A member of Princeton's class of 1999, Fei-Fei majored in physics. In her sophomore and junior years she planned and organized an international conference commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre of 1937. In 1999-2000, she did a year of independent research in Tibet on indigenous medicine. She received her PhD degree in the Vision Lab at the Electrical Engineering Department at Caltech.   After serving on the computer science faculties at the University of Illinois and Princeton, she is now an assistant professor of computer science at Stanford.

THUY THI NGUYEN was born in Saigon, Vietnam, but left two years later when her family joined the flight of “boat people” seeking refugee status.   The family ultimately settled in Oakland, California.  In recognition of her public service during high school, the Mayor of Oakland proclaimed June 23, 1993 to be Thuy Thi Nguyen Day.  Thuy earned a BA in philosophy from Yale University in 1997, and then received her law degree – a member of the inaugural program in public interest law and policy – from UCLA in 2000.  She is currently General Council for the Peralta Community College District, She was named one of 30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30 in the country, and Best Lawyers Under 40 by the National Asian American Bar Association.

JULISSA REYNOSO was born in the Dominican Republic and joined her mother in the South Bronx when she was seven.  She excelled in parochial schools, entered Harvard, and graduated in 1997 with a degree in government. She then obtained a master's degree in philosophy from Cambridge University and a JD from Columbia Law School.   While an associate in the litigation department at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, LL she organized human rights projects, promoted empowerment of the Dominican community and legal services in northern Manhattan.  She was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central America and the Caribbean in the Obama Administration, and is now U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay.



ANDREI CHERNY was born in Los Angeles, California to parents who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia three years earlier. After graduating from Harvard University in 1997, he became the youngest White House speechwriter in history. He earned a law degree at the University of California, Berkeley in 2003 and then served as a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.  He is founder and president of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. Of his several books, The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America’s Finest Hour, has perhaps received widest acclaim.  Andrei is currently running for the open House of Representatives seat from Arizona.

DO KIM was born in Korea and came to the United States three years later. A resident of Koreatown in Los Angeles, he grew up amidst gang life and tensions between African- and Korean-Americans. A major in Afro-American studies at Harvard, he founded the Korea American Youth Leadership Program and co-founded the Gang Awareness Project.  He earned a law degree at UCLA's Program in Public Interest Law and Policy in 2002.  He is now principal attorney at his own law firm in Los Angeles, which specializes in civil rights, employment discrimination and personal injury cases.

CORINNE ULMANN was born in Hong Kong to a Chinese mother raised in Vietnam and a German father. She lived in Iran, Canada, California and Louisiana before her family settled in Texas.  She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BS in chemical engineering and a BFA in painting and subsequently earned an MFA degree in painting from the University of Texas at Austin.  She then completed a master’s degree in Architecture from Harvard. After serving as a designer for Maya Lin Studio and a lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she is now pursuing her own art and design career. Her current project, based on her success in a competition, is a giant mural on two exterior walls of a new building at 54th Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan.



LEONARDO ARRIOLA was born in Los Angeles to parents of Mexican descent. He earned his BA, magna cum laude in international relations and history, from Claremont McKenna College and subsequently received a master's degree at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. After serving as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, he obtained a PhD in political science at Stanford University in 2001, based on fieldwork in Kenya, Ethiopia, Senegal, and Cameroon. He is now an assistant professor of political science at University of California at Berkeley.

KARLA BUITRAGO was born in Nicaragua.  Her family sought asylum in Honduras before settling in New Orleans.   She received her BA, magna cum laude, in history and political science from Loyola University, New Orleans and her MPA from University of Texas at Austin.  She served as communications director for Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton of North Carolina, and is now Senior Consultant at Deloitte Consulting in Washington, D.C.

MARYANA F. ISKANDER was born in Cairo and moved to the US when she was four, settling in Round Rock, Texas. A magna cum laude graduate in sociology from Rice University, she went on to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and then to Yale Law School, where she earned her JD degree in 2003. She served as Chief Operating Officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York City, and is currently living in South Africa.

RAMZI KASSEM was born in Beirut to parents who have Lebanese, Syrian, Moroccan, Turkish and Circassian roots. An economics and political science major at Columbia University, he returned to Columbia for his JD, and then earned a French law degree from the Sorbonne in Paris.  He is now Associate Professor of Law at the City University of New York Law School, where he directs the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Clinic. He has represented prisoners presently or formerly held at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram Air Base, (Afghanistan), and other detention sites.

MEHRET MANDEFRO was born in Ethiopia. Her family fled to the US when she was a year old. Raised in Alexandria, Virginia, Mehret graduated from Harvard in biological anthropology. She earned an MD degree from Harvard Medical School and an MPH from the London School of Hygiene. While a resident at Montefiori Hospital in the Bronx, she was the central character in a documentary – All of Us – on combating AIDS among female African-American teens. She was a 2009-2010 White House Fellow and extended her assignment as Assistant to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for an additional year. She currently teaches at the Department of Health Policy at George Washington School of Public Health & Health Services.

SALVADOR PLASCENCIA was born in Guadalajara, Mexico.  His parents, migrant farm workers in this country, settled in El Monte, California. He graduated with a degree in English from Whittier College in 1999 and then earned an MFA in creative writing at Syracuse. His debut novel, The People of Paper, was named a best book of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, and Boldtype. It has been translated into ten languages. He is currently Visiting Writer at Pitzer College, in Claremont, CA.

PARDIS C. SABETI was born in Iran and came to this country as a child. She received a BS in biology from MIT and now serves on the Institute's board of trustees. She earned her master's degree in human biology and a DPhil in biological anthropology at Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and subsequently earned her MD degree from Harvard Medical School. She is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Systems Biology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and on the faculty of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard School of Public Health at Harvard University and is a Senior Associate Member of the Broad Institute.[5] She is now an assistant professor at the Medical School. She specializes in systems biology and organismal and evolutionary biology, and is director of her own lab. Dr. Sabeti is also the lead singer of the alternative rock band Thousand Days.

JEANNIE SUK was born in Seoul, Korea and immigrated to Queens, New York, with her family when she was six. She was awarded a BA from Yale University and a DPhil from Oxford University. In 2002, she graduated from Harvard Law School.  She clerked for Judge Harry T. Edwards on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and Justice David H. Souter on the United States Supreme Court.  After serving as an Assistant District Attorney under Robert Morgenthau in Manhattan, she was appointed assistant professor of law at Harvard Law School. She won a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2009-2010.  Her book, Home in the Law: How the Domestic Violence Revolution is Transforming Privacy, was published by Yale University Press in 2009.



CECILIA BALLI was born in to parents from Mexico and grew up in Brownsville, Texas. She earned a BA from Stanford in American studies and Spanish and subsequently served as a staff writer for the San Antonio Express News and the Texas Monthly.  She earned a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Rice University, and is now an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin. Her Letter from Juarez: Calderon's War appeared in a recent issue of Harpers. Her current research is for a book focusing on the murder of women and girls along the border.

TALI FARHADIAN was born into an Iranian Jewish family in Tehran. Four years later they fled to Israel, then Queens, and finally New Jersey. She graduated from Yale University, then earned a doctorate in Oriental Studies at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and returned to Yale where she earned a JD at the Law School.  She clerked for Judge Merrick Garland on the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the US Supreme Court. She recently left her US Justice Department position as Counsel to the Attorney General to become a prosecutor in New York City.

LEI LIANG was born and lived in Beijing until, as a teenager, he fled to Texas in the wake of Tiananmen Square. He earned bachelors and master's degrees at the New England Conservatory of Music, and continued onto Harvard for a PhD in music composition. Now on the music faculty of the University of California at San Diego, he was recently awarded tenure. He held a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2009-2010 and was awarded the Prix de Rome from the American Academy in Rome for the 2011-2012 academic year. Lei's compositions have been performed by the New York Philharmonic and the Arditti and Ying quartets, as well as at festivals in the US, Europe, and Asia.

IRINA LINETSKAYA was born in Kiev, Ukraine. She came with her grandparents as a Jewish refugee to the United States when she was twelve, eventually settling in San Francisco. She majored in human biology at Stanford, earned her MD at Harvard University, and was a resident at Montefiore Hospital’s Social Medicine Primary Care program in the Bronx. She is now a primary care HIV doctor at Callen-Lorde, an LGBT community health center in New York.

GENEVIEVE SANGUDI was born in Mombasa, Kenya, but came to the United States when she was fourteen as a refugee from Liberia.  She attended Macalester College, and then received joint MIA and MBA degrees at Columbia. She served as a Managing Director of Emerging Capital Partners, in Nigeria, and is now Managing Director and Partner of the Carlisle Group, where she focuses on buyout and growth opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa.  



ROBEN FARZAD was born in Shiraz, Iran. A 1998 graduate of Princeton, he majored in public and international affairs. He received his MBA from the Harvard Business School, and has written for the New York Times, Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal. He is now a senior writer for Bloomberg BusinessWeek and appears regularly on CNN, MSNBC, the BBC News, PBS, and National Public Radio.

RASHAD HUSSAIN was born in Wyoming to naturalized citizens from India.  He earned bachelor's degrees in philosophy and political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in two years.  He went on to Yale Law School for his JD degree and Harvard’s Kennedy School for a co-terminal MPA. He was appointed deputy associate counsel to President Obama in 2009, and is now the President’s Representative to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an intergovernmental group with 57 member states. He holds the rank and status of Envoy Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

CYNTHIA INDA was born to Mexican immigrant parents in Santa Barbara, California. She was the first in her family to pursue education beyond high school. Attending Santa Barbara City College, she earned an AA degree with a 4.0 grade point average, was selected to the USA Today All American Two Year College Academic 1st Team and transferred to Harvard, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1999.  She went on to earn her JD degree at Stanford Law School. She was an associate at O'Melveny & Meyers in Los Angeles, served as a Deputy District Attorney for the City of Los Angeles, and is now an attorney in Los Angeles.

ANNA ADEOLA MAKANJU was born in Leningrad to a Nigerian father and a Russian mother. Raised primarily by her grandparents in the USSR, she also lived in Nigeria, Germany, Arizona, Kuwait, and Texas. She entered Western Washington University when she was 16, graduated with a BA in linguistics and French, and then, effectively orphaned, saved money for graduate school. She earned a JD degree at Stanford Law School and clerked for Judge Theodore McKee on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  After working for the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and the President's Office of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, she served as an attorney at Cleary Gottlieb in New York. She organized the Obama campaign in Racine, Wisconsin.  Anna is now Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

ZAW THET was born in the United States to parents who had fled Burma in the early 1970s.  He received his BA from Stanford in political science and computer science, and continued on for an MBA at Stanford Business School. He was the co-founder and CEO of 4INFO, a leading SMS/text messaging media company that raised over $50 million in capital and currently delivers over 100 million SMS alerts and answers per month. Currently, Zaw is incubating two projects that cross between multiple sectors. His success as an entrepreneur and angel investor has enabled him to raise over $100m in venture funding for his category-defining companies. As Chairman and Founder of Palindrome Advisors, a nonprofit he launched in March 2011, Zaw is also dedicated to philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.

KAO KALIA YANG was born in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand, where her family had fled to escape the ethnic cleansing of the Hmong, a preliterate highland tribal people who fought with the CIA in Laos during the Vietnam War. After six years in the refugee camp, the family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. An undergraduate at Carleton College, Kalia majored in American studies.  She received her MFA in creative nonfiction writing at Columbia University in 2005 and in 2008 published The Latehomecomer, A Hmong Family Memoir, which has subsequently sold more than 60,000 copies. She was writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2010-11, and has recently completed her second book, due to be published in 2013. Selected as a "Minnesota Original" by public radio, she is interviewed and reads at http://www.mnoriginal.org/episode/mn-original-show-104/kao-kalia-yang/.



NUSRAT CHOUDHURY was born in Chicago to emigrants from Bangladesh. She graduated from Columbia with a BA, summa cum laude, in history, completed her MPA in International Development at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, and her JD at Yale Law School.  She clerked for Judge Barrington D. Parker in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and for Judge Denise Cote in the Southern District of New York, and served as a law clerk in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  As a Staff Attorney in the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), she now challenges national security policies that violate civil rights and civil liberties.   Currently she is lead attorney in a case challenging secrecy surrounding “no fly list” procedures.  Nus served as a member of the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation Board of Trustees.

ARPIT MALAVIYA was born in Kanpur, India, worked for Caribbean Cruise Lines out of Bombay, and immigrated to the United States when he was 22.  He attended Moorpark College, a community college in Ventura County, CA, and then transferred to the University of California at Santa Barbara where he earned his BS degree.  He then earned a master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford. After working at the Boston Consulting Group, he founded and is CEO of ProDIGIQ, a company that provides television feeds targeted on travelers’ destinations to airports.

KONSTANTIN SOUKHOVETSKI was born in Moscow, Russia and came to the United States after being admitted to Julliard School.  He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance at that institution.   The winner of numerous prizes at international piano competitions, he now maintains an active international schedule of concerts, including a recent eight-performance tour of South Africa.  He made his chamber music debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC with the Biava Quartet in 2010, gave his debut recital at Wigmore Hall in London in 2011, and has recently performed with the Houston Symphony and at the Manchester Music Festival Orchestra.



SIDDHARTH MOHANDAS was born in Bombay but spent most of his early life in Singapore. He received his BA, summa cum laude, in government from Harvard and is now a political science PhD candidate there.  Selected to be a research fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, he was recently appointed Special Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia.

ELIZABETH JOY ROE was born in Illinois to parents of Korean decent.  She received her BM and MM degrees in piano performance from the Juilliard School and has performed as recitalist and concerto soloist at  venues such as the Seoul Arts Center, Salle Cortot in Paris, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, the 92nd Street Y, Steinway Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Carnegie's Zankel Hall, and the World Piano Pedagogy Conference. With her collaborator, Greg Anderson, she has created and arranged numerous music videos based on classical repertoire.  They perform widely in two piano and four-hand formats.  Liz is a visiting professor in piano at Smith.

JEFF SHENG was born in Santa Barbara, California, to parents who emigrated from Taiwan. He received his BA, magna cum laude, in visual and environmental studies from Harvard and his MFA in studio art from the University of California at Irvine. He is now an adjunct professor at University of California at Santa Barbara.  His photographic series, “Fearless,” documents high school and collegiate athletes who openly self-identify as members of the LGBT community. It has been displayed at more than 40 colleges and universities.   His book, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, features pictures of serving members of the US armed forces who are gay or lesbian and whose identities are necessarily disguised.