Five Stanford students and one alumna awarded 2014 Soros Fellowships for new Americans

Soros Fellowships provide financial support for 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.

Six scholars with Stanford affiliations are among the 30 people who recently received 2014 Paul & Daisy Soros New American Fellowships.

Three of this year's Soros Fellows are students at the Stanford School of Medicine. Two are Stanford doctoral candidates – one in the Chemistry Department and another in the Department of Statistics. One is a 2010 graduate of Stanford.

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.

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.

Christopher SmithRoxana Daneshjou

Roxana Daneshjou

Roxana Daneshjou is a student in the MD/PhD program at the Stanford School of Medicine.

In 2011-12, she was awarded an HHMI Medical Fellows Fellowship by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for her work on anticoagulant sensitivity in African Americans. She is the lead researcher on the Iranian Genome Project, the first project to study Iranian ancestry through whole genome sequencing.

Daneshjou is an active member of Education Under Fire, a global campaign to protest the Iranian government's policy of expelling Baha'is from university. The group organized a screening of the documentary film, "Education Under Fire," and facilitated a discussion with education and human rights scholars through the Stanford Baha'i Club that attracted more than 200 people.

She has been involved with the Stanford Medical Student Association (the Medical School's student government) since her arrival in 2009, and served as its president in 2012-2013.

She will use the Soros Fellowship award to support her work toward an MD degree and a doctorate in genetics.

Daneshjou's parents immigrated to the United States from Tehran in the late 1970s, when the Iranian Revolution was gaining momentum. She attended the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, a residential program for high school-age students, and was named a semifinalist in the Siemens Westinghouse Technology Competition.

She earned a bachelor's degree in bioengineering in 2009 at Rice University. At Rice, she helped develop the diagnostic lab-in-a-backpack – a travel pack containing medical tools that could run on a solar-powered rechargeable battery – under a program in which undergraduates seek solutions to pressing global health problems.

Christopher SmithDan Feng

Dan Feng

Dan Feng, who was born in southern China, is an MD student at the Stanford School of Medicine.

She is a member of the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association. She volunteers at a free clinic in San Jose, using her bilingual skills – she is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese – to serve the Asian community.

She will use the Soros Fellowship award to support her work toward an MD degree.

Feng, who earned an undergraduate degree in China, moved to the United States in 2007 after she was offered a full scholarship for biomedical graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

While studying metabolism as a graduate student, she made a discovery that sheds light on why people doing shift work have a higher risk of metabolic disorders. The finding was published in the journal Science in March 2011.

While she found the research rewarding, Feng valued the real-world experience that came from treating patients. In Philadelphia, she volunteered at Chinatown Medical Services, a low-cost clinic serving the local Chinese community. Her clinical experiences cemented her desire to become a physician-scientist.


Christopher SmithDavid Hanifi

David Hanifi

David Hanifi is a first-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Chemistry at Stanford. He  plans to use his research to address climate change.

He will use the Soros Fellowship award to support his work toward a doctorate in chemistry.

At Stanford, he plans to study optoelectronic materials and develop low-cost quantum dot films that, if successful, could replace traditional solar-powered devices for a fraction of the cost. Since Stanford's Materials Science & Engineering (MS&E) Department was instrumental in designing the current generation of solar power technology, Hanifi considers himself well-placed to be on the cutting edge of future innovations.

Hanifi, who grew up in Maine, is the child of Afghan refugees who fled Russia's invasion of Afghanistan.

As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, Hanifi worked on projects involving nanocrystal composites and the fluorescent labeling of zebrafish embryo cells. He said his most profound achievements came while teaching basic chemistry.

David wowed middle school students through local science demonstrations, and he and a partner devised a student-run course called Chemistry of Cooking, through which students not only learned chemistry, but also ate their experiments.


Christopher SmithJessica Hwang

Jessica Hwang

Jessica Hwang is a doctoral candidate in the Statistics Department at Stanford. She is a member of the university's Statistics for Social Good working group. She aims to partner with advocacy groups and explore how statistics can be used to identify and address social problems. 

She will use the Soros Fellowship award to work toward a doctorate in statistics.

Born in Washington, D.C., Hwang grew up tagging along to the laboratories of her Taiwanese immigrant parents, both scientists. While her parents tended to whirring centrifuges, she would tackle the advanced math problems her mother gave her. On Sundays she attended Chinese language school, an experience that gave her a lifelong love of languages and poetry. Ultimately, though, it was statistics that captured her heart.

As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Hwang achieved top honors in PhD-level classes and worked as a teaching fellow for an introductory probability class. Rather than attracting the typical five to 10 students, her section drew more than 100 , and a larger room had to be found.

She was subsequently invited to co-author a statistics textbook with her professor. Her work on the textbook won her the Thomas T. Hoopes Prize for best senior thesis. She accomplished all this while managing a 50-person student orchestra and tutoring immigrant students.


Christopher SmithRamya Parameswaran

Ramya Parameswaran

Ramya Parameswaran, a 2010 alumna, is an MD/PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, where she is studying nanoscale biomaterials that can interface with immune cells. She also volunteers at the Maria Shelter for women and children on Chicago's South Side.

She will use the Soros Fellowship award to work toward an MD degree and a doctorate in biophysical sciences.

She earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at Stanford, where she was awarded a Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for her study of cancer in genetically engineered mice.

Parameswaran, who grew up in the Bay Area, was a gifted violinist and performer of Bharathanataym (South Indian classical dance). Ultimately, though, she was won over by  the excitement and rigor of science.

As a high school student, she got her first exposure to scientific innovation during a summer internship at NASA.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Parameswaran often found herself caught between two passions. Her parents and grandparents strongly encouraged her to excel in her academic pursuits. She also saw that women in communities all over the world, including South Asia, were often undervalued and mistreated. Seeing this gave her a strong interest in women's health and influenced her decision to pursue a dual career as a research scientist and practicing physician.

Christopher SmithJonathan Tsai

Jonathan Tsai

Jonathan Tsai is a student in the MD/PhD program at the Stanford School of Medicine.

He is working under Irving Weissman, a professor of pathology and of developmental biology, and the Virginia & D.K. Ludwig Professor for Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research, to develop new tools to study blood and solid organ development and regeneration.

During Tsai's first year at Stanford Medical School, he worked with a 12-year-old living with leukemia, whose optimism and humor inspired him to focus on pediatric oncology.

He will use the Soros Fellowship award to work toward an MD degree and a doctorate in developmental biology.

Tsai, the son of Chinese immigrants, grew up in Silicon Valley and moved to Brussels with his family as a teenager.

He graduated with honors from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Working in the lab of David Baltimore, a biology professor and former Caltech president, Tsai developed and patented a technology to isolate T-cell receptor genes from single tumor infiltrating cells, creating new proteins able to kill melanomas.

After graduating from Caltech, Tsai was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study human and cancer growth factors at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, work that resulted in publications in leading scientific journals.