Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans: Funding, Community for Immigrants [Episode 206]

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Let’s learn about the $90K fellowships awarded by The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Today’s guest, Dr. Craig Harwood, earned his BA in Music from Queens College and then a PhD in Music Theory from Yale University in 2002. Dr. Harwood went on to serve as the dean of Davenport College at Yale University and the Director of Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College before becoming the Director of The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans in 2013. Welcome!

What are the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans? [1:20]

It’s a fellowship dedicated to honoring immigrants and the children of immigrants. We provide support – up to $90K – for them to go to grad school.

It’s $90K over two years: $25K a year for stipend (to cover living expenses), and $20K for tuition.

Who were Paul and Daisy Soros? [2:30]

They were immigrants from Hungary who escaped Nazism and communism and made their way to the U.S. Early on, Paul Soros wanted to attend grad school in engineering, and he was accepted to top schools, but couldn’t afford the tuition. A friend pointed him to Polytechnic University, where he was able to afford graduate school.

He had an extraordinary career in engineering – he specialized in systems for loading and cargo on ships, and became the world’s leader in the field.

Later in life he invested with his brother George Soros, and he and his wife did very well. They became philanthropists and supported a many educational causes.

How did the fellowship program come about? [4:45]

About 20 years ago, Paul and Daisy Soros were thinking through how they could make a lasting contribution that honored their experience and especially how valuable grad school had been in their lives.

They didn’t want to put their name on a building: they wanted to support other new Americans and propel them to accomplish their goals.

Who is eligible to apply? [5:48]

New Americans – immigrants and children of immigrants.

There are three main categories of eligibility:

• New American status: An applicant was born abroad, they need to be naturalized, a green card holder, adopted to the US, or have been granted DACA status. If you were born in the US, both parents must have been born abroad as non-US citizens.

• Academic standing: You must be entering grad school or in your first two years of grad school at the application deadline, and attending grad school full-time in 2018-19.

• Age: You can’t have reached or passed your 31st birthday by the application deadline.

Can you describe the application process? [8:50]

The application is on our website.

There are some general questions – background questions, etc.

We ask you to upload a resume. We ask for test scores (whichever scores your grad program requires). There are two essays. We have space for optional exhibits, and there are letters of rec.

The essays are really important – it’s where we get to know you as a person.

The first essay asks about your New American experience – what it means to you. We encourage people to start ahead of time to allow plenty of time to think – especially since this is a question that’s different from most grad school/fellowship essay questions.

The second essay is a more typical grad school/fellowship type essay, about your goals and how the program will help you.

For letters of rec: we require three, but accept up to five.

The optional exhibits section: this can be a journal article, a newspaper article about you, artistic expression (poetry, art, etc).

So test scores are part of the application? [11:20]

Yes, but just graduate exam scores. And if your grad program didn’t require it, we don’t.

How many applications do you receive for the 30 fellowships? [11:55]

Last year we received 1775 applications for 30 fellowships.

We narrow it to 77 finalists, and then invite the finalists for an in-person interview in LA or NY. From the interviews, we select 30.

What did the 77 finalists do to stand out? [12:55]

We’re looking for individuals who’ve demonstrated creativity, initiative – a spark. People who bring a creative insight to what they do – beyond working hard. People who’ve demonstrated high achievement for a sustained period of time. We want individuals who are going to go on to make contributions in the future.

You mentioned the optional exhibits part of the application – what’s the rule? [15:40]

We think of it as an opportunity for people to round out their application.

I see people using it two ways: to go more in depth in the main focus of the application, or to highlight a different aspect of their personality that they weren’t able to delve into in their essays.

I’ll give two examples. Somebody who’s into scientific research might submit an abstract of an article they worked on (or even the whole article). Or maybe we have someone studying to be a lawyer, but they also play the clarinet at a high level – so they include a recording of a concerto they performed.

Why so many letters of rec? [17:30]

We only require three, and we have a lot of successful applications with three. The average submitted is probably four.

We’re looking for people who have the potential to make a great contribution, so having people attest to that is really helpful.

The financial benefits of the fellowship are obvious, but what are the non-financial benefits? [18:40]

The funding is so important – we want to enable people to choose careers without worrying about debt. But we believe that the community of fellows really provides the lifelong benefit. It’s a community of people working at the highest levels across fields – you join that community when you get the fellowship.

We visit all the fellows at their home universities in the first year of the fellowship. We have an alumni association.

In your first two years, you’re invited to our fall conference – you meet the other fellows in your cohort. So each year the new fellows feel a strong bond with the other fellows and with the program.

What is the interview like? [21:38]

It starts the evening before – we bring you in for a “celebratory dinner,” with fellows from previous years, members of the interview committee, and others.

There are two interviews – each a half hour long, one finalist with a panel of four to five interviewers (some fellows from previous years and leaders from various fields).

Many fellowship applicants prepare primarily for a conversation about their work/field – we also ask about the New American experience. We cover anything you talked about in your essay.

Going back to the community of fellows. Can you share a story or two? [24:35]

A great way to get to know the fellows is to go on our site and see their stories.

One of the fellows from our very first year was Vivek Murthy – who just stepped down as US Surgeon General.

Another early fellow is Fei-Fei Li, who earned her PhD in engineering at CalTech, and is currently the director of the Stanford AI Lab.

There are so many more – leaders in music, performing arts, business, public policy… The first class was selected in 1997 (to begin in 1998).

Where do you see the program going in the future? [27:38]

We’ve been working on amplifying the fellows’ voices and spreading information about the program.

We’re planning a 20-year reunion – bringing all 600 fellows back together. We’d like to get the fellows to help us think about the next 20 years.

I just want to emphasize the power of this community. Often when people are filling out fellowship applications, they’re focused on funding. In this case, the community is so important. [29:00]

A fellowship for immigrants is so important in this time – even more than when Paul and Daisy Soros started it. So much of the conversation around immigration focuses on what immigrants are getting from this country – we want to refocus on what they contribute, and that’s so powerful.

If you’re a student now and you’re thinking of applying, reach out to the fellowship advisers at your university!

Where can listeners learn more? [30:50], and follow us on social media.

* Before closing I want to provide an extra and share with you an email exchange that I had after congratulating a client on her acceptance to an elite MBA program (her top choice school). She responded to my congratulatory email with two points and her question. I’m summarizing:

• Thank you for your email…. I have watched countless webinars that you have hosted and have listened to several of your podcasts. Talking to Jennifer when I first seriously considered applying to b-school sealed the deal for me to work with

Jennifer is a rock-star. She continually encouraged me and had faith in me. Her responses were unfailingly quick and positive. I would not have been accepted if it were not for her.

• Actually, I am in the tricky position of deciding whether to go to business school this year. [I have an opportunity to work for a company that I would really love to work for and that would be a tremendous opportunity”, I wonder if [my MBA program] will give me a deferment. I know they make this the exception not the rule! I would really appreciate your advice.

My response to her delightful dilemma:

Regarding your question. You first have to decide if a year of working at The Opportunity is better than getting your MBA a year earlier and possibly then working at The Opportunity or doing whatever you want to do. If you decide that's your preference, and it appears it is, then you have nothing to lose by going to Top Choice MBA, explaining the situation and asking if you can defer a year. Explain that you have no intention of applying anywhere else and you are willing (if true) to put down a significant deposit to hold your spot (non-refundable if you do not start at Top Choice MBA in 2018 and applicable to tuition if you do start in 2018.) Then see what they say. If they say no, you can still accept the offer you now have and go to Top Choice in 2017. If you decide you'd prefer the Opportunity experience and are willing to reapply, then you can do that. In your approach, be appreciative of their acceptance and consideration and emphasize that you never anticipated this wonderful turn of events when you applied. Humility and gratitude go a long way.

Our client was very appreciative of the advice. I know some of you may have similarly outstanding options and thought I would share this exchange and perspective.

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Related Links:

Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans
Soros Fellows Criteria
The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans Application Essay Tips
Get Your Game On, a guide to preparing for your grad school application

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