Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Five Yale Law Students Selected for Soros Fellowships

Five Yale Law students have received the 2017 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, a graduate school fellowship for outstanding immigrants and children of immigrants in the United States.

The students were selected from 1,775 applicants. Each of the recipients was chosen for their potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture, or their academic field and will receive up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice.

The students selected from Yale include Roxana Moussavian ’19, Matthew Nguyen ’19, Mariana Olaizola ’19, and incoming students Uzoma Kenneth Orchingwa and Xuan Hong Thi Tran.

“At a time when the national conversation seems to be on what immigrants are taking away, we are putting the spotlight on what immigrants from diverse backgrounds contribute to the United States,” said Craig Harwood, who directs the Fellowship program.         

The 2017 Fellows, who are 30 or younger, come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and are all naturalized citizens, green card holders, or the children of immigrants. Their backgrounds reflect much of the diversity of recent immigrants and refugees in the United States. The 2017 class has heritage in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Guyana, India, Iran, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Suriname, Taiwan, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

Hungarian immigrants Daisy M. Soros and Paul Soros (1926-2013) founded the program in 1997.

Yale Law School 2017 Soros Fellow Bios:

Roxana Moussavian
Award to support a JD at Yale

Roxana Moussavian is an entrepreneur, policy adviser, and storyteller. Born in Upstate New York and raised in California, Roxana is the daughter of Iranian immigrants, and they and her two sisters are her role models.

Roxana has worked in both the government and nonprofit sectors. While studying the modern Middle East and math at the University of Pennsylvania, she cofounded a nonprofit that helps high-potential students from around the world obtain a quality education by connecting them directly with donors through an online crowdfunding platform. After graduating magna cum laude from Penn, Roxana joined the Obama administration, where she worked for four years. Most recently, she served on the National Economic Council, where much of her work entailed collaborating with business, labor, and nonprofit partners to help more Americans—especially those who traditionally face barriers to acquiring a job that pays a decent wage—receive education and training for good-paying jobs.

In 2015 Roxana left the White House to pursue her own storytelling project. With support from New America, Amtrak, and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, she traveled across the United States to interview people who successfully overcame significant socioeconomic challenges, thanks in part to some of the policies she had previously worked on. Working together with a team of filmmakers and interactive designers, she turned these interviews into short documentaries demonstrating how business, labor, nonprofits, and government can create new pathways for workers to advance in their careers.

Roxana is currently studying at Yale Law School. After completing her JD degree, she will continue to focus on effecting changes that help more people realize their full potential. 


Matthew Nguyen
Award to support work toward a JD at Yale

Matthew Nguyen’s parents fled Vietnam as child refugees at the height of the Vietnam War. Arriving in the United States with minimal English and pennies to their name, they bounced between resettlement camps before making California their home.

Grateful for his parents’ sacrifices, Matt remains committed to paying it forward through a career in public service. In high school, he discovered a passion for mentoring youth as a Model UN teacher and Eagle Scout. During college at the University of California, Berkeley, Matt championed minority voting rights in North Carolina with President Obama’s reelection campaign, provided rehabilitation services to homeless veterans and at-risk youth, and rallied global support for Ebola victims and Syrian refugees through the US Mission to the European Union. He also analyzed climate and urban policies at the University of Oxford, founded an education seminar at the Goldman School of Public Policy, and researched workforce development under Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.

The proud product of eighteen years of California public education, Matt graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley as a salutatorian. As an aide to Governor Jerry Brown, he fought to raise the minimum wage, ensure education funding equity, expand healthcare access for undocumented families, and promote environmental justice in vulnerable communities.

Matt currently attends Yale Law School, the only Vietnamese American student in his graduating class. He manages the Yale Law & Policy Review, facilitates an education law course, represents Asian American law students, and advocates for underserved youth through the Education Adequacy Project. Following the 2016 election, Matt conducted constitutional research for Senator Kamala Harris’s transition team. This summer, he will work for the California Department of Justice and the ACLU’s Education Equity initiative.


Mariana Olaizola
Award to support work toward a JD at Yale

Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Mariana Olaizola was surrounded by a culturally homogenous world. It was largely Hispanic, Catholic, and conservative. That all changed when she enrolled in public school in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Witnessing the unraveling of Venezuela’s sociopolitical fabric, Mariana’s parents had decided to leave their jobs and support network behind in search of a safer environment and a better education for Mariana and her brother. The new environment fueled Mariana’s curiosity and interests.

Invigorated by the U.S.’s liberal arts education system, offering virtually limitless opportunities, Mariana enrolled in Princeton University. She studied political theory and piano performance, graduating summa cum laude in 2013.

Mariana confronted the need for a universal right to citizenship while doing research among stateless populations in Myanmar. She spent more than two years traveling to borderlands inaccessible to the general public, gathering stories from populations caught in ethnic violence and writing reports read by senior members of the Burmese government. While conducting interviews and focus groups, one issue repeatedly surfaced: the absence of a robust international guarantee of legal status, resulting in the systematic neglect of some populations’ human rights. Having arrived in Myanmar as a volunteer piano teacher with a vague mission of public service, Mariana left with a plan to master the law and build a career addressing this injustice.

As a legal director of the International Refugee Assistance Project chapter at Yale Law School, Mariana coordinates outreach and manages students' legal work in support of refugees. Moreover, as a volunteer with the Asylum Seekers' Advocacy Project, she is preparing to defend her first clients at an asylum hearing in immigration court. She also conducts research on potential legal reforms to ensure a human right to citizenship in the context of mass cross-border migrations.


Uzoma Kenneth Orchingwa
Award to support work toward a JD at Yale

Born in Chicago, Uzoma Kenneth Orchingwa is the son of Nigerian immigrants. He spent his childhood in Aba, Nigeria, returning to the United States at the age of eight with his family, in search of a brighter future.

Uzoma’s parents survived the Nigerian-Biafran civil war, and their courage and values fundamentally shaped his character and values. His upbringing in Aba, a city defined by economic insecurity and weak institutions, was an example of structural forces that can determine the lives of the disadvantaged and underwrites his ambition to be a leading legal reformer and public servant. Despite the limitless future his new home assured, Uzoma realized that difficult legacies of America’s past still defer the dreams of many.

After completing his undergraduate studies at Colby College, Uzoma pursued a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Scholar, focusing on reexamining the history of U.S. penal policy in pursuit of novel solutions. In England he connected with innovators and aspiring political actors, which affirmed his commitment to a pragmatic and intellectual approach to social progress. Currently, Uzoma is working as a researcher at Yale Law School and is involved in various projects in the city of New Haven, Connecticut.

Uzoma will begin law school in the fall of 2017. He is committed to producing scholarship that focuses on widening constitutional protections to vulnerable classes, broadening public concern for and understanding of injustice, and representing forgotten communities through appellate litigation.


Xuan Hong Thi Tran
Award to support work toward a JD at Yale

Born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City, Xuan Hong Thi Tran grew up learning about Vietnam’s history through her family’s harrowing past, which instilled in her a deep sense of justice. In 2010, after a life-changing scholarship in Singapore, Hong came to the United States to attend college, excited to learn how to enact social change. As she grew in her awareness of pressing issues of immigration, she channeled her social justice idealism into immigration advocacy.

After graduation, Hong helped immigrants appeal their deportation rulings at the Federal Immigration Appeals Project. She proceeded to serve with Immigrant Justice Corps, the first immigration law fellowship in the nation, where she represented hundreds of low-income immigrant New Yorkers in their immigration applications. In New York, she also volunteered in a civic engagement and voter protection campaign organized by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and worked in the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs ActionNYC legal clinics. Since the fall of 2016, she has been advocating for educational justice for students of color and immigrant students in Metro Detroit with the ACLU’s local units and the Syrian American Rescue Network. Hong speaks Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese, and French, and is conversational in Tibetan, Indonesian, and Arabic.

Hong graduated from Yale University with a degree in religious studies and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She is returning to New Haven to pursue a JD and hopes to learn, among other crafts, how to transform the state of civic engagement among new immigrants.