Soros Fellowships Focus on Advancing STEM Education

Soros Fellowships Focus on Advancing STEM Education

Obtaining a post-high school degree is beneficial to those who seek employment in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In fact, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost all employment in STEM fields requires education beyond a high school diploma. To some, this requirement poses no problem. However, to those in groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields, such as members of non-Asian minorities or those with low incomes, higher education can seem out of reach.

Luckily, many scholarship opportunities are available to fund higher education in STEM fields. Federal agencies, such as the National Security Agency and the National Institutes of Health, offer scholarships for undergraduate students, as do many private and nonprofit organizations. Graduate students are also awarded scholarships. One organization offering such scholarships is the Paul & Daisy (P.D.) Soros Fellowships for New Americans. In 2019, more than half of these fellowships were awarded to students pursuing graduate degrees in STEM fields.


Soros Fellowship

Paul and Daisy Soros established the P.D. Soros Fellowships in 1997 to benefit both American immigrants and the children of immigrants pursuing graduate degrees. As immigrants to the United States from Hungary, Paul and Daisy Soros decided to start the foundation to enable other immigrants to experience the same success that they did. Additionally, they wanted to highlight contributions that immigrants and children of immigrants make to U.S. society.

The foundation was begun with a $50 million investment, which was supplemented in 2010 with an additional $25 million. Each year, the trust fund is used to provide $90,000 over two years to 30 students pursuing graduate degrees. The awards are based on merit and are highly competitive, with close to 1,800 students applying each year. The selection process is based on each applicant’s creativity, originality, initiative, and sustained accomplishments.

2019 STEM Awardees

In 2019, more than half of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships were awarded to students pursuing graduate degrees in STEM fields, for a total of 18 out of the 30 fellowships awarded. Nine of these fellows are pursuing medical degrees, with one of those pursuing a joint MD/MBA degree and four pursuing joint MD/PhD degrees. These joint doctoral degrees are in genetics, cancer biology, mechanical engineering, and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine. Two other fellows are pursuing PhD degrees in physics, with the other seven fellows in STEM fields pursuing doctorates in chemical engineering, chemistry, economics, planetary science, machine learning, human-computer interaction, and mathematics.

The institutions where these students are pursuing their degrees include the California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, and Oregon Health & Science University.

The 2019 fellows pursuing STEM degrees trace their heritage to countries such as China, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Pakistan, and Russia. Some fellows claim multi-ethnic heritage, while others claim just one heritage country. Ten of the fellows in STEM fields are women, while eight are men, giving the majority to what is usually a female minority in STEM education and employment.

Fellows’ Immigrant Experiences

A common bond between the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship recipients is that all are immigrants or the children of immigrants to the United States. While this has not necessarily meant a life of hardship for every recipient, it has for some. For example, one fellow pursuing a medical degree was born in a refugee camp to parents who had no formal schooling. Another medical student fled a life of ethnic and religious persecution in a war zone only to find life in the United States filled with academic and social challenges due to difficulties with the English language. Yet another medical student who was born in the United States to immigrant parents saw both of them suffer burn injuries in a house fire.

Other stories include one fellow who needed to translate complex medical information for older relatives with weak English skills, another who moved frequently as a child, and yet another who was the first family member to attend college. Still other stories include that of a fellow who was born to parents who arrived in the United States with only $70 in cash, another who had to make a living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant and single parent, and another who as a young child endured parental separation for several years.

These experiences might make these fellows seem unusual to those whose families have been in the United States for many generations. However, these experiences likely sound familiar to other New Americans. In fact, these stories are among those that bind the latest fellows to the more than 600 awardees who have received P.D. Soros Fellowships over its 22-year history.