Current Student Ivan Forde Receives The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Today, The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, a graduate school fellowship for outstanding immigrants and children of immigrants in the United States, announced their 2017 recipients. Selected from 1,775 applicants, each of the recipients was chosen for their potential to make significant contributions to US society, culture, or their academic field and will receive up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice. Current student Ivan Forde has been named among them.
Born in Guyana, Ivan Forde was two when his mother immigrated alone to the United States so that she could better support her family. Eight years of weekly phone calls and a five-hour plane ride later, Ivan and his four older siblings finally met the cold winter air of New York, their new home. Ivan will never forget the feeling of arriving and the moment of reuniting with his mother.

Growing up in Harlem, he made collages as gifts for his mother, who struggled to support her children and help them adjust while working two jobs. During high school, Ivan’s sister recognized his artistic curiosity and gave him a camera. Soon he began capturing his family, friends, and neighborhood in photographs. A career in art became tangible after working with highly accomplished artists and curators on his first group exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

At Purchase College, State University of New York, Ivan immersed himself in classic poetry to become a stronger reader, earning a bachelor’s degree in literature with an award-winning thesis of self-portraits representing the reader of Paradise Lost. After graduation, he returned to the Studio Museum, among other nonprofit spaces, where he worked with immigrant and first-generation students using photography, literature, and technology to visualize their stories.

Ivan’s work has been recognized by the New York Times, the Whitney Museum, Pioneer Works, Vermont Studio Center, and the Lower East Side Printshop. Now pursuing an MFA in visual art at the Columbia University School of the Arts, Ivan is using printmaking, electronic media, and sound installation on a range of projects, such as illuminating the exciting new chapter of the Epic of Gilgamesh uncovered in December 2015. After his training, Ivan hopes to reveal multiplicity and diversity in epic poetry through an immersive exhibition practice.

The new Fellows join the prestigious community of recipients from past years, which includes individuals such as US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Chief Scientist of Artificial Intelligence at GoogleCloud Fei-Fei Li, pharmaceutical CEO Vivek Ramaswamy, Lieutenant Governor of Washington Cyrus Habib, leading American Civil Liberties Union attorney Nusrat Choudhury, award-winning writer Kao Kalia Yang, and nearly 600 other New American leaders.

"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.

A sampling of their stories:
  • Javier Galvan grew up in the grips of poverty moving between California and Mexico. A civics class in high school motivated him to join the US Marine Corps, which gave him the stability he needed to find his passion: medicine. He deployed to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2009. He is now pursuing his MD at University of California, San Francisco.
  • Ellora Israni was born and raised in the Bay Area and frequently returned to Poona, India, where her grandparents lived. Ellora studied computer science at Stanford and cofounded she++, a nonprofit that supports chapters of young women in engineering around the world. After working as a software engineer at Facebook, Ellora began her JD at Harvard Law School.

  • Peter Hong is the child of South Korean immigrants who worked to ensure that Peter, who grew up in Michigan, was fluent in Korean and had a strong understanding of Korean culture. Now a software engineer, Peter hopes to build products that benefit society and contribute to better policy. He is currently pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School.
  • Xuan Hong Thi Tran was born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City and came to the United States to pursue her college degree. Recently she has been working in Metro Detroit with the ACLU and the Syrian American Rescue Network. Hong speaks Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese, and French, and is conversational in Tibetan, Indonesian, and Arabic. She will pursue a JD at Yale Law School.
  • Maria Vertkin was born in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia and immigrated to the United States at age 11. Maria gained first-hand experience with poverty and marginalization, and their effects in every facet of life, from housing to workforce to health. After graduating from Regis College, Maria founded a nonprofit that provides medical interpreter training and job placement to low-income and homeless bilingual women. She is an Echoing Green Fellow.
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.

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