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First-year Harvard Medical School student Shantanu K. Gaur ’08 was sitting in the Dorchester home of a 75-year-old colorectal cancer patient in February when he received a phone call informing him that he had been awarded the prestigious $72,000 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship. But instead of taking the call, Gaur silenced his cell phone and continued his home interview with the patient.
It was only later that he checked his voicemail messages to learn that he was one of eight Harvard graduate students to snag the award.
The fellowship recognizes new Americans—immigrants and their children—for creativity, accomplishment, and citizenship. The winners are highly motivated, focused, and committed to a particular field, ranging from public health to foreign policy.
Program Director Warren F. Ilchman said that the fellowship aims to identify leaders and help them “make the contribution they are capable of making.”
That eight of this year’s 31 fellows are Harvard students did not come as a surprise to Ilchman. He said that the school writes extremely strong recommendation letters and emphasizes the opportunities available to its already exceptional student body.
A number of the graduate students who received the fellowship this year said the money would give them the financial flexibility to pursue their passions.
“There are a few public health projects that I want to get off the ground,” Gaur said. He intends to work on an online pharmacy project that examine Web sites that illicitly sell prescription drugs, an under-studied public health problem, Gaur said.
Other students said that they would use the money to pay off graduate school debt, which Soros Fellow Previn Warren ’04 described as “wildly expensive beyond anyone’s reasonable dreams or expectations.”
“If I didn’t have this,” Warren said, “I would have to go work at a private sector firm to pay off debt.”
The first-year Law School student said he now plans to pursue a career in academia or public service instead.
According to first-year HMS student Tomasz P. Stryjewski, a Polish immigrant interested in ophthalmology, another benefit of the fellowship is access to a community of scholars. The Soros programs boasts alumni whose accomplishments include publishing books, earning patents, and clerking for the Supreme Court.
Law School student and fellowship winner Tarun Chhabra also commended the tight alumni network.
“I think what is striking about the current and past fellows that I’ve met is just a really strong sense of direction and a commitment to certain ideas,” he said.
But the prospect of joining such distinguished company is, for Chhabra—who has conducted research for the United Nations and served as a consultant for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs—somewhat overwhelming.
“It was a mistake, a fluke. I definitely do not belong on that roster,” he said
—Staff writer Niha S. Jain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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