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Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Two Students Receive 2023 Soros Fellowships for New Americans
Philsan Isaak ’25 and Shyamala Ramakrishna ’24 have received Soros Fellowships to support their graduate studies.
Two Yale Law School students — the daughters of parents who immigrated to the United States from Somalia and India, respectively — have been named 2023 recipients of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.
Philsan Isaak ’25 and Shyamala Ramakrishna ’24 are among 30 recipients selected from a pool of nearly 2,000 applications for the fellowship, a merit-based graduate school program for students who are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Fellows were selected for their potential to make significant contributions to the United States. They will each receive up to $90,000 in funding to support their graduate studies.
“Immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees have and continue to make our nation stronger,” said Fellowship Director Craig Harwood. “The diverse perspectives and approaches that each Fellow this year, and the many who have come before them, brings to their fields and our society is remarkable and inspiring.”
Isaak, born and raised in Minneapolis, is the daughter of parents who immigrated to the United States from Hargeisa, Somalia. Both of Isaak’s parents fled Somalia in 1988, escaping the Somali Civil War and the Isaaq Genocide. They reunited more than a decade later, making Minnesota their home in 1999. Inspired by her parents’ determination to create a better life for their children, Isaak resolved to use the law as an instrument of positive change. Isaak, who graduated from the University of Minnesota at 18, is among the youngest J.D. candidates in attendance at Yale Law School.
“I love the law because studying it allows us to break cycles of oppression and begin to form a more equitable and just society,” Isaak said. “The law is at the center of all of modern society’s greatest challenges and accomplishments; understanding makes me feel prepared to do my part to improve the lives of those near and far.”
Ramakrishna was born in New York City to parents of Tamil heritage from India. Her mother and grandmother, classical Carnatic musicians, taught Ramakrishna to sing, a passion that she still cultivates as lead vocalist for her band, FORAGER. A graduate of Yale College, Ramakrishna previously worked at the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian American Arts Alliance, and New Jersey’s state government. At Yale Law School, Ramakrishna has dedicated herself to labor rights and union representation. She was awarded the 2023 Peggy Browning Fellowship in workers’ rights law.
“I love labor law because it’s one of the few ways lawyering can serve — instead of stepping on — movements led by people on the ground,” Ramakrishna said. “Lawyers with interests in social justice too often risk ‘parachuting’ into real-world scenarios and assuming they know what’s best because of their credentials or skills. The lawyers I’ve met in my field so far have displayed a genuine respect for organized workers’ power and agency.”
The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans was founded in 1998 to support immigrants and children of immigrants pursuing higher education. The program was established in recognition of the contributions New Americans have made to American life and in gratitude for the opportunities the United States afforded the fellowship’s founders.
Yale Law School 2023 Soros Fellows Biographies:
Philsan Isaak was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Yosseph Isaak and Nimo Ahmed — immigrants from Hargeisa, Somalia. In 1988, both of Philsan’s parents fled Somalia due to the escalating civil war and Isaaq Genocide. In 1999, after over a decade apart, they reunited in Minnesota, where they married and settled down.
From a young age, Isaak found community with her multicultural peers. She completed her early years of schooling at an Islamic school where nearly all of her peers had immigrated to the United States or whose parents had done so. It was in this space that Isaak came to understand the value in unabashed intellectual curiosity and diverse perspectives.
Although Isaak did not share her parents’ career interest in health care, her parents modeled true passion and commitment, and she strove to find something that she was equally as passionate about. Isaak’s multilingual and multicultural upbringing fostered an interest in international relations and, ultimately, international law.
At 16, Isaak began full-time enrollment at the University of Minnesota. As she learned more about the sociopolitical factors that contribute to genocide and forced displacement, she began to see her parents’ experiences in a new light. Their experiences no longer seemed like horrifying exceptions to the rule; they were examples of a covert system of human rights abuses. Isaak was guided by two mentors at the University of Minnesota — Lisa Hilbink and Gabrielle Ferrales, who encouraged her intellectual curiosity and passion to make a difference.
Under their mentorship, she conducted research on the Darfuri Genocide, and edited and published a student-magazine with articles that covered conflicts across Latin America. Isaak continues to seek out opportunities that might allow her to help shed light on human rights abuses that are frequently disregarded by mainstream media. Philsan completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota at just 18. Eager to learn the law and its role in rectifying rights violations globally, she immediately began at Yale Law School, where she is among the youngest J.D. candidates in attendance.
Shyamala Ramakrishna was born in New York to parents of Tamil heritage from India. Her mother and grandmother, both classical Carnatic musicians, taught her singing. By the age of four she was performing onstage at South Indian music festivals.
As an undergraduate at Yale College, Ramakrishna participated in the selective Multidisciplinary Academic Program in Human Rights, a Yale Law School program where she focused on arts and advocacy. She music-directed Shades, a singing group that centers Black musical traditions and conducts vocal music workshops at underserved public schools around the United States.
Ramakrishna worked in legal research at the American Civil Liberties Union and in arts administration at the Asian American Arts Alliance. She graduated cum laude with a degree in ethics, politics, and economics, an interest in the American labor movement, and concerts lined up in New York with her band.
After graduation, Ramakrishna worked in future of work policy as a fellow with the State of New Jersey, where she contributed to regulations addressing the discriminatory impacts of algorithmic hiring technology and co-proposed a system of portable benefits for vulnerable contingent workers. She also organized as a volunteer with Court Watch NYC and co-founded a national database of policy proposals to redirect police funding to critical community services. Her experiences informed a desire to prioritize grassroots labor movements and people-led economic justice struggle as critical to all forms of social change.
At Yale Law School, Ramakrishna has supported attorneys enforcing workplace protections at the U.S. Department of Labor and has helped to represent unions at the labor-side law firm Cohen, Weiss and Simon LLP. She was awarded the 2023 Peggy Browning Fellowship in workers’ rights law. She also serves as a team lead in Yale’s Tech Accountability and Competition Project, working to address the social harms of big tech products and business models. Ramakrishna plans to dedicate her career to workers’ rights in the “future of work,” including supporting arts workers in their collective efforts to be valued fairly in the age of digital music distribution.