P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Kidist Ashami, 2023

PhD, Harvard University

Kidist Ashami is an immigrant from Ethiopia

Fellowship awarded to support work towards a PhD in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Harvard University

At the age of seven, living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Kidist became dependent on her relatives who decided she would serve as a nanny and eventually grow up to be a maid. However, Kidist’s inquisitiveness, diligence, and enthusiasm for learning changed the course of her life—she became the first person to attend school in her immediate family. School gave Kidist the confidence to dream. At 17, she immigrated alone to the United States after winning a scholarship to participate in a yearlong exchange program.

Once the exchange program was over, Kidist decided to stay. She was 18 and didn’t have much by way of financial or academic support, but she did have the courage to push through. Unable to afford a lawyer, she wrote her asylum case on a borrowed laptop, mainly using the internet as her guide. Fortunately, she was granted her asylum within months and got another chance to continue her education. After finishing high school, Kidist received a full-tuition scholarship at Berea College in Kentucky to pursue her undergraduate studies. There, Kidist was actively involved in planning and organizing several programs that provided mentorship and mental health awareness for fellow students.

After graduating summa cum laude with a degree in biology, Kidist conducted various research at Washington University in St. Louis, where she worked under Doctors John DiPersio and Jaebok Choi to develop effective therapeutic strategies for graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). Next, she worked at the University of Southern California, where she studied the role of Orb2, a protein crucial for long-term memory in Drosophila at the laboratory of Doctor Ansgar Siemer. Kidist’s research has produced ten original articles that are published in various journals including Leukemia, one of the most prestigious journals in hemato-oncology. Kidist’s work is already receiving national recognition and one of the drugs she studied is currently being tested in clinical trials to treat GvHD.

Kidist is now a PhD student under the mentorships of Professors Kevin Haigis, Ana Anderson and Vijay Kuchroo at Harvard University. Following her scientific training, Kidist hopes to lead her own independent lab that works towards developing effective therapeutics for cancer and become an advocate for providing mentorship services to underrepresented minorities in STEM. She currently serves as the founder and president of Habeshas in STEM, an outreach program that connects graduate students with undergraduate juniors in the Ethiopian community and beyond to provide mentorship and support for a career in STEM.

Education
  • PhD Biological and Biomedical Sciences | Harvard University
  • BA Biology | Berea College
Awards
  • The Landry Cancer Biology Research Fellowship, Harvard University, 2023
  • NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, Harvard University, 2022
  • The Specialized Programs of Research Excellence in Leukemia (SPORE), Washington University in St. Louis, 2017
  • John S. Bangson Biology Sciences Award, Brea College, 2017
  • Algernon S. Sullivan and William E. Bardusch, Jr. Graduate Scholarship, Berea College, 2017
  • The Good Citizenship, Service and Leadership Award, Berea College, 2015
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