Six Indian-Americans Are Among 2016 Soros Fellows

Sharada Jambulapati, Akash Patel, Suhas Rao, Mubeen Shakir, Vishwajith Sridharan and Durga Thakral, along with two other South Asians, Abubakar Abid, a Pakistani-American and Akbar Hossain, a Bangladeshi-American, are among those who have been honored with the prestigious Are Among 2016 Soros Fellows awards. They are among 30 annual Paul and Daisy Soros Fellows for 2016, selected from a pool of 1,443 applicants for their potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture, or their academic fields.

The 18th annual fellowship for New Americans, established by Paul and Daisy Soros, Hungarian immigrants and American philanthropists in 1997 with a charitable trust of $50 million, was announced in New York on April 12th.

In addition to receiving up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice, each new fellow, who are 30 or younger, joins the prestigious community of recipients from past years. “The Fellows are from all different countries and socio-economic and religious backgrounds, and they have come to the United States in a myriad of ways —but they all bring excellence to the table,” said Craig Harwood, who directs the fellowship program. “They demonstrate that immigrants, regardless of their background, continue to be a critical part of our nation.”

Sharada, who is pursuing a JD at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, is the daughter of Indian immigrants who came to the U.S. in search of educational opportunities for their children. Her family struggled to adapt to the Deep South as her father worked as the only immigrant farmer in the region and her mother shuffled between jobs as a factory seamstress, janitor, and nanny.

Born in London, Akash Patel’s family moved from India to England and then to the U.S. in the early 1990s for better opportunities. Akash was not afforded citizenship until the age of 23 and he and his family lived as undocumented immigrants for 16 years until they could adjust their status. As a result, Akash founded Aspiring Americans in Oklahoma City as part of his honors research project at OU to assist other undocumented students in Oklahoma.

Suhas Rao is the son of Indian immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1980s, and grew up immersed in science and developed a love for the pursuit of knowledge and discovery. His desire to be at the forefront of biomedical research but also work to effectively translate this research into clinical practice led him towards a career as a physician-scientist.

Mubeen Shakir is the youngest son of Indian Muslim immigrants, who came to the U.S. in the 1970s. Mubeen graduated from the University of Oklahoma in three years and received a Rhodes Scholarship. Mubeen went on to earn master’s degrees in medical anthropology and public policy at the University of Oxford. Now a first year medical student, Mubeen hopes to improve health systems at the city, state, and national level, helping to build a more equitable health system and just society.

Vishwajith Sridharan was born and raised in southern India, came to the U.S. to join his father who was working in New Jersey, and to begin his third grade and worked hard to catch up with his classmates. By the age of 15, Vish was working at Children’s Hospital in D.C., where he spent multiple years developing novel HIV vaccine models, one of which was patented. Vish has been keen to work with vulnerable populations across the globe. He has traveled to Uganda and helped set up healthcare infrastructure in rural villages. Vish has also held an internship with the United Nations in Switzerland.

Durga Thakral attended a local public high school where her admiration for the scientific mysteries of the universe was encouraged by many dedicated teachers and mentors.
With support from the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation and the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, Durga earned a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale. Durga’s work with communities with minimal healthcare resources has shown her the dire need for better access to medical care and affordable biomedical devices.

Akbar Hossain, who is currently pursuing a JD at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, hopes to combine his legal, nonprofit, and personal experiences into a role as an effective advocate for low-income communities and perhaps one day serve in local elected office. Abubakar Abid, a PhD student at Stanford, wants to work on building medical devices that can stay in the human body for extended periods of time to provide unique, patient-specific biomedical information that can help diagnose diseases and provide real-time feedback to patients.

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