Joel Sati came to the United States from Kenya when he was 9, became a DACA recipient at 19 and graduated with a degree in philosophy from City College in 2016. His journey reached a milestone when he was named a winner of one of the nation’s most hard-earned academic honors, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.
Sati, who is now working on a Ph.D. in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy program at the University of California at Berkeley — to be followed by a law degree at Yale — was chosen as one of 30 Soros winners nationwide from a pool of 1,766 applicants. The $90,000 fellowship rewards high achievement by immigrants and children of immigrants who are selected on the basis of their potential to make significant contributions to American society, culture or their academic fields.
Sati’s award is among a host of prestigious honors for CUNY students and recent graduates this year. The list includes 17 Fulbright Scholarships that will send CUNY students to countries around the world for one-year research studies. And it includes nine National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships for graduate students in fields ranging from bioengineering to geophysics.
The Soros Fellowships were established in 1997 by Paul and Daisy Soros, Hungarian immigrants and American philanthropists who created a $50 million endowment to help high-achieving, first-generation Americans further their graduate studies. For 25 years the fellowship winners were green card holders or naturalized citizens; now the program includes recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program established by President Barack Obama in 2012 to protect immigrants who came here illegally as children.
Sati came to this country with his mother in 2002 and lived in Georgia, and then Maryland, for 11 years. Because he was undocumented – something he learned only when he started applying to colleges – he was ineligible for most financial aid. His mother worked two jobs to send him to a community college in Maryland, but DACA was adopted soon after he began and Sati became one of its early recipients. With his new status came financial aid opportunities that allowed him to transfer to City College, where he became one of the campus’s academic stars and an activist on immigration issues.
“Coming from a working-class immigrant background, being honored in this way is one of the best achievements I could have ever hoped for,” Sati said of his Soros Fellowship, adding, “It’s always great to make my mum proud. It’s because of her that I am where I am.” And he’s thankful to City College and his mentors there. “For years City College has helped amplify the stories of immigrants like myself,” Sati said. “I would not be where I am without CCNY.”