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Five from MIT win 2019 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans

Award funds graduate studies for talented immigrants and children of immigrants.
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Clockwise from top left: Jonathan Zong, Indira Puri, Grace Zhang, Helen Zhou and Joseph Maalouf
Clockwise from top left: Jonathan Zong, Indira Puri, Grace Zhang, Helen Zhou and Joseph Maalouf
Images: Courtesy of The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships

Two MIT alumnae and three current MIT doctoral students are among this year’s 30 recipients of The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. The five students — Joseph Maalouf, Indira Puri, Grace Zhang, Helen Zhou, and Jonathan Zong — will each receive up to $90,000 to fund their doctoral educations.

The newest fellows were selected from a pool of 1,767 applications based on their potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture, or their academic fields. The P.D. Soros Fellowships are open to all American immigrants and children of immigrants, including DACA recipients, refugees, and asylum seekers. In the past nine years, 34 MIT students and alumni have been awarded this fellowship.

Founded by Hungarian immigrants Daisy M. Soros and her late husband Paul Soros (1926-2013), the program honors continuing generations of immigrant contributions to the United States. “Paul and Daisy Soros Fellows are all passionate about giving back to the country and remind us of the very best version of America,” says Craig Harwood, director of the fellowship program.

MIT students interested in applying to the P.D. Soros Fellowship should contact Kim Benard, assistant dean of distinguished fellowships. The application for the 2020 fellowship is now open and the national deadline is Nov. 1. 

Joseph Maalouf

Joseph Maalouf is a PhD student in chemical engineering at MIT. He received his bachelor’s degree with honors and distinction from Stanford University. Maalouf’s doctoral research focuses on developing novel electrocatalysts that will be able to take advantage of renewable electricity to directly synthesize both commodity and fine chemicals.

Maalouf was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada. His father emigrated from Lebanon as a teenager to escape the civil war occurring at the time and his mother emigrated from a small town in Mexico as a young adult.

After completing his studies at MIT, Maalouf hopes to develop his research into an electro-organic synthesis company that will transform the environmentally unfriendly way that chemicals are currently produced.

Indira Puri

Indira Puri is a PhD candidate in economics at MIT. She was born in New York to Indian immigrants. With bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics, computer science, and economics from Stanford University, Puri draws on her multifaceted experience in approaching research.

Puri’s awards include Stanford’s Firestone Medal, a best thesis award; the J.E Wallace Sterling Scholarship, for being one of the top 25 graduating students across Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences; being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa her junior year; chess and debate recognition at the national level; and being named a U.S. Presidential Scholar.

Puri served as president of Stanford’s chess organization, and graduate co-chair of Stanford Women in Computer Science.

Grace H. Zhang ’17

Grace Zhang graduated from MIT in 2017 with a BS in physics and received honors for both her research and community service through the Malcolm Cotton Brown Award, the Order of the Lepton Award, and the Joel Matthew Orloff Award. She was born in Tucson, Arizona, where her parents immigrated to pursue their graduate studies. At the age of 5, she moved to Shanghai to live with her grandparents before returning to the United States at age 10 to settle in East Brunswick, New Jersey, with her mother.

Zhang is currently a doctoral student in physics at Harvard University, studying theoretical soft condensed matter physics with a focus on emergent phenomena in materials and biological networks. She aspires to be a professor and, inspired by her own mentors, she also strives to make a difference toward the growth of a diverse and inclusive scientific community.

At MIT, Zhang explored research in a variety of topics in experimental and theoretical physics, publishing five papers — three as leading authors — across journals of Physical Review, Review of Scientific Instruments, Nature Physics, and Science.

Helen Zhou ’17, MEng ’18

Helen Zhou received a BS in computer science and electrical engineering from MIT in 2017 and an MEng degree in 2018. Zhou was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, after her parents left China to pursue studies in Canada. When she was 6, her family moved to Canton, Michigan.

As an undergraduate, Zhou conducted machine learning research at the MIT Media Lab. She also completed internships at Google and Amazon Search ( As a master’s student, she joined the MIT Clinical Machine Learning group where her thesis on predicting antibiotic resistance from electronic medical records informed her current research interests.

As a machine learning PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University, Zhou is exploring problems at the intersection of machine learning and health care, such as personalization, interpretability for human-in-the-loop learning, and synthesizing heterogeneous data from multiple modalities. Throughout her academic career, she hopes to develop methods that will allow scientists to continually shine new light on aspects of health care and medicine that are not well understood.

Jonathan Zong

Jonathan Zong is pursuing a PhD in human-computer interaction in the MIT department of electrical engineering and computer science and is a graduate researcher at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). He is interested in visual interfaces that help people comprehend how technology governs human behavior. His goal is to serve the public interest by producing research that critically examines technologically mediated social relations.

Zong was born in Houston, Texas, after his parents emigrated from China to pursue graduate school. He completed his undergraduate education at Princeton University in the computer science and visual arts departments. His computer science thesis investigated empirical methods for studying internet research ethics, while his visual arts thesis was an exhibition exploring how his discomfort with authority and power — especially his own — shapes his identity.

At Princeton, Zong created research-based visual art that influenced discussions about technology in The New York Times and exhibited at the Centre National du Graphisme in Chaumont, France. He has interned as a software engineer and graphic designer at companies including Coursera, Square, Linked by Air, and Google.

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