Wazhma Sadat, a Yale College Class of 2014 graduate and a current Yale Law School student, has been selected as a recipient of the 2018 Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans is a graduate school fellowship for outstanding immigrants and children of immigrants in the United States. Recipients are chosen for their potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture, or their academic fields and will receive up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice.

The Fellows can study in any degree-granting program in any field at any university in the United States. Selection is based on merit – the specific selection criteria emphasize creativity, originality, initiative and sustained accomplishment. Neither financial need nor distributive considerations are taken into account in the selection process.

Sadat was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in a setting where her educational opportunities were severely limited by the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education. When the Taliban’s stringent policies threatened the lives of Afghan civilians, Sadat’s family joined the millions of displaced Afghans who crossed multiple borders in search of peace and education. As a refugee in Pakistan, Sadat attended a school for displaced Afghans during the day and wove carpets with her six siblings at night.

After the fall of the Taliban, Sadat’s family returned to Kabul permanently where she finished high school and then travelled to the United States for the first time as a high school exchange student. Upon her return to Afghanistan, Sadat worked on various initiatives across the country that improved women’s access to education and furthered the economic empowerment of Afghan women.

Sadat was the first Afghan woman to graduate from Yale College, where she majored in Global Affairs at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. She says she has been fortunate to have found many kind mentors at the Jackson Institute, Yale College, and the Yale Law School who have been instrumental in her scholastic pursuits. Sadat also served as a Yale Woodbridge Fellow at Jackson for a year between her undergraduate and law school studies.

Soon after completing her bachelor’s degree, Sadat co-founded Firoz Academy, an ed-tech startup that aims to provide educational and e-employment opportunities for the less privileged in war-stricken countries such as Afghanistan. Firoz Academy students travel to nearby partner schools, where they receive instruction via live online classes taught by highly skilled teachers, with some help from local teaching assistants. Sadat currently serves as one of the organization’s leaders, while also completing full-time studies at Yale Law School.

Her decision to apply for the Soros fellowship was last-minute; she received her U.S. green card only four days before the application was due.

“In four days, I had to write about the idea of what it means to be a ‘new American’,” Sadat said. “As someone who continues to grapple with the ideas of identity and belonging, writing my new-American essay deepened my appreciation for simultaneously belonging to two homes at times, and to neither one at others.”

For Sadat, being a recipient of the Soros fellowship means much more than just the financial support it provides towards her education. “It is about being a part of a community of dedicated intellectuals, rising scholars and leaders who embrace their multifaceted identities and interests as part of their mission to create a better world.”

Sadat is one of 30 recipients selected from a pool of 1,766 applicants this year. The 2018 Fellows, who are 30 or younger, come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and are all the children of immigrants, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, green card holders, or naturalized citizens.

“Whether it is through scientific discovery, business, literature, medicine, or law, immigrants enrich our everyday lives in the United States in profound ways. As a country, we need to refocus our attention on immigrant contributions,” said Craig Harwood, who directs the Fellowship program, which is celebrating its 20-year anniversary.

The program also released new eligibility requirements for the 2019 Fellowship. While the Fellowship has been open to DACA recipients since 2014, it has now expanded its requirements to include former DACA recipients should the government program be rescinded.

“We wanted our eligibility requirements to reflect our continued support of DACA recipients, regardless of the politics that may play out in the coming months. We’ve seen firsthand how DACA recipients are achieving at the highest levels and giving back to this country. We want to help them do that,” explained Harwood.

Hungarian immigrants Daisy M. Soros and Paul Soros (1926-2013) founded the program in 1997. To learn more about the Fellowship, visit www.pdsoros.org.

Read about the other Yale affiliates who received the Fellowship this year