Aspiring astrophysicist Shreyas Vissapragada CC’17 has received the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, a $90,000 award designated to provide opportunities for immigrants and children of immigrants to become leaders in their chosen fields. The award, distributed over two years, will support Vissapragada as he pursues his Ph.D. in planetary science at California Technical Institute of Science (Caltech) in Pasadena, CA.
Shreyas Vissapragada CC’17
“Columbia definitely built me to be the scientist I am now,” Vissapagrada said. “I was extremely lucky to be surrounded by people who cared as much about astronomy and astrophysics as I did, oftentimes even more.
“But even people who weren’t in my field — friends in all the dorms and in my other classes — supported me,” he added. “Working together, and the community I had at Columbia, really played a role.”
Vissapagrada, who immigrated with his parents from Hyderabad, India to predominantly immigrant Telugu-speaking communities in Michigan when he was just one-year-old, “grew up in an immigrant household in a very American setting,” as he put it. “I learned culture in a very unique way. The experiences I had growing up in a community of immigrants and as an immigrant on a technicality myself also shaped me.
“It’s tough for me to imagine being anyone other than a ‘new American’ - I really can’t think of anything more fitting,” he added.
Vissapagrada joins 30 new Americans selected from a pool of 1,767 applicants, and is among nearly 50 fellows who attended the University. He credits “amazing professors and classes” in the astronomy department, as well as the fellowship office for fostering and finding funding to support his intensive study of the chemical environments in which planets and their host stars are born.
“We are thrilled that Shreyas has been awarded the Soros," said Ariella Lang, associate dean of Academic Affairs and director of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. "His outstanding research in astrophysics has set him up for even more success at Caltech. We cannot wait to see what discoveries he makes as he continues his journey to a Ph.D.”
As a student at Columbia College, Vissapagrada earned a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering for his research under the advisement of Senior Research Scientist Daniel Wolf Savin in Columbia’s astrophysics laboratory. He graduated with a degree in astrophysics and computer science and, in addition to discovering exoplanets, hopes to teach and lead research at the university level.
“I would enjoy going back to Columbia [to teach]. Columbia opened up so many doors for me and let me learn all these different things that are important for the kind of science I’m doing,” he said. “It’s impossible to learn on your own — having all the mentors I did — research-wise, teaching-wise and peer wise; I really could not have done what I’ve done without all that support from Columbia.”
The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans was established by the late philanthropist Paul Soros, an immigrant engineer, and his wife in 1997 to support immigrants who it believes are poised to make significant contributions in American society. Selection is based on merit and applicants are judged for their creativity, originality, initiative and sustained accomplishment.
The fellowship has meaning not only to Vissapagrada but also to his parents. “My mom started crying,” he said. “They were of course over the moon.”