The board of directors of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, a merit-based graduate school program for immigrants and children of immigrants, April 13 announced the program’s 2021 Fellows, with a quartet of Indian Americans among the 30 recipients.
Chosen from a pool of 2,445 applicants, the most the program has ever received, the 30 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows were selected for their potential to make significant contributions to the United States.
They will each receive up to $90,000 in funding to support their graduate studies, according to a news release. Eligible Fellows include green card holders, naturalized citizens, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients, individuals born abroad who graduated from both high school and college in the United States, and the U.S.-born children of two immigrants, the release notes.
Among the recipients were Archana Podury, pursuing an M.D. in the HST program at Harvard and MIT; Ashwin Sah, pursuing a doctorate in mathematics at MIT; Pooja Chandrashekar, pursuing an MD/MBA at Harvard; and Sita Chandrasekaran, pursuing a doctorate in bioengineering in a joint program between U.C. Berkeley and U.C. San Francisco.
Podury was born in Mountain View, California, to parents who emigrated from India in search of educational opportunities for their children. Shortly after, her family returned to India for five years so Archana could share the daily lives of her grandparents and deeply explore her heritage. With a childhood divided between two countries, Podury acutely felt her parents’ selflessness as she understood the home that they gave up for their children’s futures, her bio notes.
Watching her grandmother live with neuropathic pain shaped Archana’s desire to understand complex networks in the brain. As an undergraduate at Cornell University, she worked with Prof. Jesse Goldberg to study neural circuits underlying motor learning. Her growing interest in whole-brain dynamics led her to the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Neuralink, where she discovered how brain-machine interfaces could be used to understand diffuse networks in the brain, her bio adds.
Podury was awarded various fellowships in support of her work, including the Hunter R. Rawlings Presidential Research Scholarship and the Zuckerman Prize for Bioengineering Research.
While studying neural circuits, she worked at a syringe exchange in Ithaca, New York, where she witnessed firsthand the mechanics of court-based drug rehabilitation. Listening to patients’ stories deepened her conviction that science alone could not capture multiple dimensions of health and disease, which paved her path towards medicine, it added.
Now in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, Podury is interested in combining computational and social approaches to neuropsychiatric disease. In the Boyden Lab at the MIT McGovern Brain Institute, she is developing human brain organoid models to better characterize circuit dysfunction in neurodevelopmental disorders.
Concurrently, she is working in the Dhand Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to apply network science tools to understand how patients’ social environments influence their health outcomes following acute neurological injury.
Sah is the son of Indian immigrants who came to the United States in pursuit of higher education. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, some of his earliest and fondest memories are of his mother teaching him arithmetic. Sah’s parents imparted a deep respect for learning, and his family supported him in all his academic endeavors, including his participation in mathematics competitions which deepened his early interest in mathematics, his bio notes.
Sah developed a passion for mathematics research as an undergraduate at MIT, where he had the fortune to work with Professor Yufei Zhao, as well as at the Duluth and Emory REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) programs, it said.
Sah has given talks on his work at multiple professional venues, and his research in varied areas of combinatorics and discrete mathematics culminated in receiving the Barry Goldwater Scholarship as well as the Frank and Brennie Morgan Prize for Outstanding Research in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Student. Additionally, his work on diagonal Ramsey numbers was recently featured in Quanta Magazine, the bio notes.
Beyond research, Sah has taken opportunities to give back to the math community that has supported him, helping to organize or grade competitions such as the Harvard-MIT Mathematics Tournament and the USA Mathematical Olympiad.
Born in Fairfax, Virginia, Chandrashekar is the daughter of immigrants from Bangalore, India, who came to the U.S. to pursue their graduate educations. Her parents are both engineers and taught her to think critically and build solutions to problems around her, her bio said.
As an undergraduate at Harvard College, Chandrashekar received an AB in biomedical engineering. She pursued projects at the intersection of engineering and medicine, including developing a medical device to provide behavioral therapy for autistic adolescents and an online platform to detect environmental health hazards, her bio said.
After graduating, she pursued a Fulbright Scholarship in Goa, India, where she researched the impact of stigma on autistic children in rural communities. These experiences highlighted the profound impact of health inequities and led her to pursue health policy research at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Health Service England, and Crimson Care Collaborative, it said.
Chandrashekar is currently an MD/MBA student at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School. Her work focuses on improving healthcare delivery for underserved populations. At CareMore Health and SCAN Health Plan, she developed recommendations for improving the care of frail and vulnerable seniors through telemedicine and home-based care. She has published more than a dozen papers in peer-reviewed journals and co-authored an upcoming book chapter on reforming the U.S. healthcare system for older adults.
Chandrashekar also serves as the managing assistant editor for Healthcare: The Journal of Delivery Science and Innovation, a peer-reviewed medical journal. Most recently, she started the COVID-19 Health Literacy Project to create and translate COVID-19 information into 40-plus languages for non-English speaking patients sidelined during the pandemic.
For her contributions and passion for advancing healthcare, she was named to the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 Healthcare list, the bio said.
Chandrashekar is also an ardent advocate for education equity. She is the founder and CEO of ProjectCSGIRLS, an international nonprofit dedicated to encouraging middle school girls in STEM, for which she received the Harvard Medical School Dean’s Community Service Award.
Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chandrasekaran is the daughter of Indian immigrants; as a child, her parents encouraged her connection to her roots, and she grew up learning classical South Indian music and dance, her bio said.
Her affinity for science was inspired by her father’s work as an aerospace engineer. With her parents’ steady support of her curiosity, Chandrasekaran became deeply interested in biology and biochemistry. She studied biochemistry at San Francisco State University where she learned the importance of inclusive communities in conducting purposeful and rigorous research, her bio said.
While at SF State, Chandrasekaran worked in Raymond Esquerra’s biochemistry and biophysics lab, where she near-peer mentored over two dozen students in laboratory research and biochemical methods. She also led multiple research projects, resulting in a publication with co-authorship and poster presentations at multiple national and local conferences, it said.
Chandrasekaran joined the first cohort of PINC (Promoting Inclusivity in Computing) students, a minor program for biologists with peer-mentorship to train and increase retention of diverse students in computer science. As she moved through the program, she became a mentor herself, teaching students Python and facilitating research projects, the bio said.
After spending a summer working part-time refining microscopes for observing plankton behavior in drops of water with Simone Bianco’s lab at IBM Research through the Center for Cellular Construction NSF-STC, she was inspired to join the UCSF-UCB joint bioengineering PhD program.
She then joined the lab of Patrick Hsu at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, upon which the lab switched focus to developing a fast and scalable diagnostic. “The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows demonstrate the immense contributions that immigrants of all backgrounds make to the United States. Each 2021 Fellow is a reminder of what is best about this country,” Fellowship director Craig Harwood said.
In addition to receiving up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice, the 2021 Fellows join the prestigious community of past recipients.
Among the alumni are Sanjena Sathian, who just came out with a debut novel; Vivek Murthy, who was re-appointed as U.S. Surgeon General; Dave Chokshi, who became the head of public health in New York City; Nirav Shah, who leads Maine’s CDC; Tarun Chhabra, the senior director for Technology and National Security at the National Security Council of the White House; Chiraag Bains, Biden’s adviser on criminal justice at the Domestic Policy Council; Shantanu Nundy, who has a new book coming out on healthcare, among others.
Founded by Hungarian immigrants, Daisy M. Soros and her late husband Paul Soros, The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program honors the contributions of continuing generations of immigrants in the United States.