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Soros Fellowships Awarded to Three YLS Students

Two current Yale Law School students and one incoming student have been named Paul & Daisy Soros New American Fellows for 2014. Sundeep Iyer ’16, Richard Tao ’15, and Khalil Tawil ’17 are among the 30 new Fellows who were selected from more than 1,200 applicants. The fellowships are awarded to immigrants or the children of immigrants to support their graduate study at any university in the United States.

Since the program’s inception in 1997, 71 Fellowships have been awarded to Yale University students. Of those 71 Fellows, 53 have been JD students at Yale Law School, according to the Paul and Daisy Soros Foundation.

Each award recipient must have “demonstrated creativity, originality, and initiative in one or more aspects of her or his life,” as well as “a commitment to and capacity for accomplishment that has required drive and sustained effort.” In addition, they must have shown a commitment to the values expressed in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Born in New Jersey, Sundeep Iyer ’16 is the son of Indian immigrants. His parents came to America in the 1970s, leaving behind families that they felt duty-bound to support. Through their example, Iyer learned the moral value of helping others. Democratic ideals excited Iyer from an early age. Proud of the American system, he nonetheless grew concerned while studying Government as a Harvard undergraduate. As he learned about the dangers of redistricting, he encouraged the low-income middle schoolers he was volunteer-teaching to fight for their rights.

After graduating from Harvard, Iyer worked for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, a non-partisan think-tank where he directed statistical research to evaluate democratic reforms. His research was used in several federal voter rights cases, and his work has been cited in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico and National Review. In 2011, he founded the Statistical Reform in Redistricting Project, whose data have been used by the Sunlight Foundation and Georgia’s Legislative Black Caucus. Now a first-year student at Yale Law School, Iyer hopes to become an effective voice in safeguarding democracy by integrating academic research with real-world litigation.

At the age of five, Richard Tao ’15 emigrated from Nanjing, China to Detroit, Michigan. For years, Tao lived and attended school in a distressed and crime-ridden neighborhood. Yet it was there, in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, that he developed a lifelong love for the Motor City. He attended high school in Troy, Michigan.

As an undergraduate at Yale, Tao served as student body president, successfully advocating for reforms to Yale’s policies on financial aid and housing. An interdisciplinary law review published his award-winning thesis on the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. His interests in public policy, economics, and business would lead him to Goldman Sachs, the Federal Trade Commission, and, after graduation, McKinsey & Company.

Two years ago, Tao returned to Yale for a JD. Detroit filed for bankruptcy less than a year later. That summer, Tao was in Detroit working for the local prosecutor’s office. After returning to school, he began supporting the Detroit Mayor’s Office with policy research. He has also continued to develop his financial skills at an investment management firm. On a recent trip home, Tao saw several new businesses in his old neighborhood. It was a small, inspiring step forward—one that he hopes to build upon in his future work.

The son of Lebanese immigrants, on September 11, 2001 Khalil Tawil ’17 watched in horror as the World Trade Center towers collapsed. Learning that Islamic extremists were responsible, he knew others would regard him differently. As an Arab-American, Tawil felt uniquely positioned to foster understanding. He enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he talked to his peers about the true nature of the Arab and Muslim worlds. After graduating, he conducted research on poverty reduction in Egypt on a Fulbright Scholarship, earning a Master’s degree in economics.

Tawil then served three tours of duty as an infantry officer in Afghanistan. His soldiers came from housing projects and upper-class suburbs, from American Indian reservations and Midwestern farms. War, however, collapsed their differences as they fought to help each other survive. Most recently, he worked on the prosecutions of alleged international terrorists, including the high-profile trial of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators.

Soon to begin studying for a JD at Yale and an MBA at Harvard, Tawil hopes to remain tied to the Middle East, building institutions that increase political and economic stability. He continues to work with Service to School, a non-profit organization he co-founded that assists veterans with continuing their education.

The Fellowship Program for New Americans was established by Hungarian immigrants Paul and Daisy Soros in 1997 as a way to “give back” to the country that had afforded them and their children great opportunities. Each Fellow will receive tuition and stipend assistance of up to $90,000 in support of graduate education in the United States.

Photographs by Christopher Smith.