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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Q&A: PhD Student Jinyan Zang Looks Back At The Fellowship

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The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans provides two years of funding for outstanding graduate students who are immigrants and children of immigrants. After two years the Fellows join a lifelong community of past Fellows. We asked Jinyan Zang, a 2017 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, to look back at the first two years of the Fellowship and what they have meant to him.

Jinyan is working to ensure that digital technologies and innovations reflect American values. As a PhD student at Harvard University, Jinyan identifies conflicts between technology and the nation's laws and traditions in areas such as privacy, equality, and fair elections, and looks for solutions in policy and design that ensure technological progress supports all Americans. At the age of seven, Jinyan immigrated to the United States from China with his parents, who came for better work opportunities in Rochester, and later, Boston. After college, Jinyan worked on issues of privacy and consumer protection as a research fellow in technology and data governance at the Federal Trade Commission and as the managing editor of Technology Science, an academic journal publishing research on technology's impact on society.

Who has inspired you from the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship community?

I’ve been inspired by Alvaro Bedoya (2006 Fellow), the founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, and by Fei-Fei Li (1999 Fellow), a professor of computer science at Stanford University. They are both amazing individuals who have had significant impact on the world of technology, privacy, and public policy, which are my goals for my own research and career.

You’re now finishing up the second year of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship program. Has the Fellowship been what you expected?

It’s been far more. I have become significantly more in touch with my own New American roots through the friendships and conversations I’ve had with the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community. It’s been amazing to meet such a high-achieving and generous group of Fellows who are willing to be open and welcome you into their lives, their successes, and their struggles.

As a New American, why has it been important to have The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships community?

Over the last two years, we’ve seen unrelenting attacks on immigrants and descendants of immigrants in American politics. The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship community is a demonstration against the xenophobia that underlies these attacks and policies. We demonstrate that immigrants from all backgrounds can and have contributed significantly to American businesses, universities, charities, and government agencies. The immigrant community is wide and diverse, but as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows we come from diverse New American experiences and can speak out on behalf of those who are receiving the most attacks and harshest treatments.

What has The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships program brought to your life?

I think the biggest thing has been the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship community. I have made many friends within my class and the 2016 and 2018 classes, but also friends from previous classes at the 20 Year Reunion in Colorado in 2018.

Do you have any favorite memories from the past two years as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow?

My favorite memory is the impromptu Unconference event that I organized at the 20 Year Reunion in Colorado in 2018. With a few other friends, we organized a discussion on dating and relationships and had a highly memorable conversation with 20 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows about balancing love and work, finding your significant other, and more. Most Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows are high-achievers professionally, so it was eye-opening and rewarding to relate to each other about the adventures we’ve had in our personal lives. It was a fun, relaxed conversation where people were willing to talk frankly about their funny dating stories, what they look for in a partner, and what they’re trying to improve on to become a better partner.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

Just tell your story. The part that stands out about applying for the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship versus other fellowships and scholarships is the essay on your New American experience. All of us have different stories, and I think the best way to approach the essay is to just find an honest way to tell yours. There isn’t just one type of immigrant experience in America nor is there just one type of Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. Thus, I think the best advice is to express your story as clearly as possible and relate where you came from to where you want to go.

Where are you with your graduate program now? What’s next?

I’m hoping to graduate in two years with my PhD. My current research looks at how politicians and other political actors reach voters online through ads on Facebook and Google. My hope is to publish my findings soon and release an online tool, the Political Ads Library, that journalists, researchers, and voters can use to search through the three million ads I have in the database to provide transparency on the actions of our politicians and political campaigns.

What does The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program mean to you?

Ultimately, I think the Fellowship represents what it means to be an immigrant in 2019. We all come from diverse roots and are pursuing a plethora of degrees in different fields such as medicine, law, art, music, political science, computer science, and many more. Yet we also share many things in common. Not only are there commonalities in the immigrant experience from our past but we’re all facing the same pressures and attacks on immigrants that are being broadcast daily from the country’s political leaders. Thus, the Fellowship represents how being an immigrant in America today is a lifelong status that will be lauded and disparaged by different parts of America.