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Stanford law, medical students and undergraduate alumni win Soros Fellowships

Each Soros Fellow receives tuition and living expenses that can total as much as $90,000 over two academic years. Soros Fellows can study in any degree-granting program in any field at any U.S. university. Fellows are chosen on the basis of merit – the specific criteria emphasize creativity, originality, initiative and sustained accomplishment.

Seven scholars with Stanford affiliations are among the 30 people who recently received 2013 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.

Three of this year's Soros Fellows earned bachelor's degrees at Stanford. Two are students at the School of Medicine and two others are Stanford Law School students.

The late Paul and Daisy Soros, Hungarian immigrants and American philanthropists, established the program in 1997 and awarded the first fellowships the following year. The couple wanted to "give back" to the country that had given so much to them and their children, to address an unmet need by assisting "young New Americans at critical points in their educations" and to call attention to the extensive and diverse contributions of immigrants to the quality of life in the United States. Paul Soros died June 15.

Each fellow receives tuition and living expenses that can total as much as $90,000 over two academic years. Fellows can study in any degree-granting program in any field at any university in the United States. Fellows are selected on the basis of merit – the specific criteria emphasize creativity, originality, initiative and sustained accomplishment – in annual national competitions.

Following are the 2013 Soros Fellows with Stanford affiliations.

Courtesy of Soros FellowshipsValentin Bolotnyy portrait

Valentin Bolotnyy

Valentin Bolotnyy, a Stanford alum, will begin his doctoral studies in economics at Harvard University in the fall. Bolotnyy, who was born to Jewish parents in Ukraine, moved to the United States with his family when he was 8. While he was a lackluster student in Ukraine, he was determined not to let his family's sacrifices go to waste. Hard work led to academic success and an internship with the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo (Calif.).

When his family was caught in the economic crisis of 2008, Bolotnyy's budding interest in economic analysis became his scholarly passion at Stanford. In 2011, he won the Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for his thesis, which explored the role of federal affordable housing goals in the growth of the subprime mortgage market. Praised as "one of the most outstanding, original and creative undergraduate honors theses in the recent history of Stanford," it led to presentations at the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Federal Reserve Board and to a forthcoming publication in Real Estate Economics.

Bolotnyy, who earned a bachelor's degree in economics in 2011 at Stanford, served as chair of Stanford in Government, a student-led public service group. After graduation, he became a research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board's Office of Financial Stability Policy and Research.

Courtesy of Soros FellowshipsSejal Hathi portrait

Sejal Hathi

Sejal Hathi, an incoming student at Stanford School of Medicine, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area as the child of parents of Indian origin from Uganda and Tanzania.

In coping with illness as a youth, she found resonance in the needs of other girls facing gender inequality issues. The resulting insights led Hathi, at age 15, to start a nonprofit, Girls Helping Girls. Subsequently, she and a colleague founded girltank. These organizations train and mobilize young women to create sustainable social change. The two organizations have grown into a global movement that now reaches more than 30,000 young women in more than 100 countries, according to Hathi's profile on the Soros website.

Hathi has spoken about women's rights and empowerment at TEDWomen, TEDxTeen and the United Nations. She has won national recognition from Newsweek/The Daily Beast (25 Under-25 Young Women to Watch), Forbes magazine (30 Under 30: Social Entrepreneurs) and the Jefferson Awards for Public Service.

Hathi, who earned a bachelor's degree in molecular biology in 2013 at Yale University, is a 2012 Truman Scholar.

Courtesy of Soros FellowshipsCynthia He portrait

Cynthia He

Cynthia He, a Stanford alum who was born in China, is pursuing an MD and a PhD in neuroscience at the UCLA-Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program, where she is investigating how the brain develops in an inherited form of autism.

In China, He's parents and grandparents were sent to rural farms for "re-education" during the Cultural Revolution. The family moved to California soon after she was born. In 2006, He was recognized as one of 141 U.S. Presidential Scholars, one of the highest honors for high school students.

As a Stanford sophomore, He began working in a neonatology lab studying potential therapies for neonatal jaundice. That work led to a 2010 Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, as well as to first authorship of a paper published in the journal Pediatric Research. At Stanford, He earned a bachelor's degree in biology with honors in neurobiology and a minor in music in 2010. He also was a soloist with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and was awarded one of Stanford's major prizes for piano performance.

After graduating from Stanford, she spent a year doing neonatology research.

Courtesy of Soros FellowshipsLeslie-Bernard Joseph portrait

Leslie-Bernard Joseph

Leslie-Bernard Joseph, who entered Stanford Law School in 2012, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Haitian immigrants and raised by his mother and two aunts. The family's precarious economic circumstances worsened when a new landlord smashed the front door of their rental apartment in Queens in an attempt to evict them. They subsequently moved into two small bedrooms of an uncle's house in Newark, N.J.

Joseph nevertheless excelled in school and won the support of New York's Prep for Prep program to attend Deerfield Academy. At Princeton University, he served as president of the Black Student Union. During his junior year, he served as president of the undergraduate student government. Joseph earned a bachelor's degree in politics, with a certificate in African American studies, in 2006 at Princeton.

Following graduation, Joseph spent six years as a teacher and teacher-development professional with Teach for America. In 2007, the New York Times Magazine featured him in an article titled "Why Teach for America." He also served as founding dean of students for Coney Island Prep, a new charter school in New York.

Courtesy of Soros FellowshipsAmrapali Maitra portrait

Amrapali Maitra

Amrapali Maitra, who was born in India, is a Stanford School of Medicine student who also is pursuing a PhD in anthropology.

Maitra, who spent part of her childhood in New Zealand, moved with her family to Texas when she was 10. The story of her grandfather's migration during the partition of South Asia inspired her to pursue studies of history and literature.

As a medical student, Maitra has served as a manager of the student-run Arbor Free Clinic. She also conducted research on attitudes toward domestic violence in Bangladesh, which stimulated her interest in addressing health care disparities, especially as they affect women who suffer from violence-related trauma.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Maitra won the Oliver Dabney Prize in History and Literature for her junior essay on the literature that emerged during Sri Lanka's civil war. A summer volunteering as an HIV/AIDS educator in Tanzania made her aware of how strongly stigma, domestic violence and other social variables affect the experience of illness. At Harvard, she led a student-run peer-counseling group and wrote her senior thesis on representations of madness in Indian literature, for which she was awarded highest honors. An accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer, she also directed Harvard's South Asian Dance Company.

Courtesy of Soros FellowshipsSteven Tagle portrait

Steven Tagle

Steven Tagle, a Stanford alum, will enter the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in the fall of 2013.

Tagle, who was born in California, is the son of Filipino immigrants. As an adolescent, he feared that being gay would bring shame to his family, so he threw himself into becoming "the stereotype of the Asian overachiever: National Merit Scholar, newspaper editor, literary magazine editor-in-chief."

At Stanford, Tagle produced narrative short films that won screenings at numerous film festivals. He was the first male undergraduate to enroll in the interdisciplinary honors Program in Feminist Studies at Stanford, where he wrote his first novel, a revision of the superhero origin story. He earned a bachelor's degree in English and psychology in 2007 at Stanford.

Since graduation, Tagle has continued to make documentary films such as Trent Loves Greg; Street Kid Book Factory, about teenagers who scavenge cardboard for a publisher in Buenos Aires; and Shopping for a Candidate, part of Current TV's coverage of the 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary. He also is the author of an award-winning screenplay, published poems and short stories, audio essays, one-act plays and commentaries on trends in digital publishing.

Courtesy of Soros FellowshipsVivek Viswanathan portrait

Vivek Viswanathan

Vivek Viswanathan, who is pursuing joint JD and MBA degrees at Stanford, was born in Brooklyn to parents of Indian descent. His parents supported his childhood passion for history through family visits to 12 presidential libraries.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Viswanathan excelled as a writer and historian. He served as managing editor of the Harvard Political Review and was awarded highest honors by the History Department for his thesis on Elliot Richardson's role in negotiating the Law of the Sea Treaty. After graduating, Viswanathan earned a master's degree in historical studies as a Henry Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He wrote his dissertation on Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s historical interpretations of the Kennedy legacy in American politics. Viswanathan also is an accomplished endurance athlete. He recently finished an Ironman triathlon – a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run – in less than 14 hours.