When 2020 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez Sierra lost his father at the age of eight, his mother enrolled in trade school and started a pastry business to try to support Carlos and his two sisters, but no matter her effort, it was not enough. She moved her family from the Dominican Republic to Reading and Lancaster, Pennsylvania three years later. They became undocumented after their visas expired.
Now, a graduate of Amherst College, he is a JD/MPP student at Harvard University where he is the president of the Harvard Graduate Council. The implementation of DACA allowed Carlos to return to school, studying across 10 countries as he pursued an MPhil in Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar and then became a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua University.
We caught up with Carlos about what's next and what the Fellowship has meant to him:
Where are you with your graduate program now? What’s the next step for you?
I am a rising fourth-year student in the joint degree program in law and government between Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School. The program is four years, after which I will graduate with a Juris Doctor and a Master in Public Policy. After completing my degrees, I plan to practice law in Washington, DC. Public service is critical to me. Long term, I see myself maintaining a robust pro-bono practice and serving the public in some capacity.
There are so many paths beyond college--why did you feel graduate school was the best next step for you?
Committing to four years of graduate studies was a difficult decision. I decided to attend graduate school after working for years with inspiring attorneys to increase access to legal services in immigrant communities in my home state of Pennsylvania. I feared losing many of the professional connections I had established up to that point by committing to a four-year program out of state. The cost of a legal education also stressed me as a student from a low-income background. Law school is notoriously expensive, and I did not want the prospect of incurring significant amounts of student debt to dictate my professional choices moving forward. However, I also felt limited in what I could accomplish professionally with my skillset at the time. I thought that graduate degrees in law and policy would help shape me into a better thinker and professional and open unimaginable career opportunities. Three years later, I am confident I made the right decision.
Over the past two years, what personal or professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Last year, representatives from all twelve Harvard graduate schools elected me president of the Harvard Graduate Council, the university-wide student government. I feel incredibly proud and honored that my peers entrusted me with representing and leading the Harvard graduate community. Representation matters, especially at elite institutions like Harvard. As the first Latino president of the Council, I am honored to pave the way for future students of color to follow. Above all, I look forward to working closely with the rest of the Council and the university administration to improve the graduate student experience at Harvard.
Why did you apply to the PD Soros Fellowship? What ended up being the most important part of the Fellowship?
As an undocumented American, I knew that funding my education would be even more challenging than earning acceptance to graduate school. Thankfully, Harvard makes it possible for undocumented Americans to attend through a combination of need-based aid and student loans. However, I feared the prospect of graduating with crippling debt. Thanks to the Fellowship, I have completed most of my graduate studies without incurring significant debt, granting me the freedom to pursue my professional passions. Thus far, the financial support I have received has been the most valuable part of the Fellowship. However, I do not want to minimize the value of being part of the PD Soros community. PD Soros Fellows will continue to lead in all aspects of American life. I look forward to learning from and collaborating with other members of the Fellowship as we progress in our careers.
Do you have any favorite memories from the past two years as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow?
My class, the Class of 2020, began our Fellowship experience during the pandemic, limiting most of our interactions. The Fall Conference in Nashville was a memorable experience because it was the first time I met most of the Fellows in my class in person. Whether through sharing parts of our New American stories in the hotel lobby past midnight, struggling to learn to line dance, or enjoying some Nashville hot chicken in the middle of the day, I felt like I got to know the Fellows beyond their impressive resumes. I also enjoyed interacting with and learning from Daisy Soros, one of the founders. Daisy lives with purpose, humility, and joy. Her example inspires me to continue to chase my dreams without fear while creating opportunities for others.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?
Take the time to reflect on your most transformative experiences as a New American and, most importantly, explain how those experiences have shaped your values, perspectives, and aspirations. Do not be afraid to be as authentic and honest as possible. Honesty and vulnerability will help your application stand out from the pack. Above all, do not rob yourself of the opportunity to join this incredible community by not applying. Remember, you are only guaranteed not to be selected if you do not hit "submit." ∎