Franklin & Marshall College alumna Mona Lotfipour '12 has been awarded the prestigious Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, given each year to a select group of students attending many of America's finest academic institutions, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford universities.
Now in her first year as a medical student at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa., Lotfipour is an Iranian immigrant who plans to work in public health and for the advancement of global health care.
"My experiences at F&M have definitely shaped what I plan to do," Lotfipour said. "If it wasn't for those experiences, and my work in South Africa, my views on medicine would be very different."
As a student at F&M, Lotfipour embraced community service, creating or helping to create popular campus programs -- some of which continue to endure -- while excelling in the College's rigorous academics.
"Mona's achievement in securing a Soros Fellowship is a historic first for the College," said F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield. "She is a special student and leader. She's also exemplary of the deep talent in our student body, and the rise in prominence of our students and alums in top national scholarship and fellowship competitions."
A biochemistry/molecular biology and special studies major, Lotfipour spent the 2012-13 academic year as a recipient of the George J. Mitchell Scholarship doing postgraduate study in Ireland, where she earned a Master of Science in Equality Studies at University College Dublin
Earlier, she received F&M's prestigious Rouse Scholarship, which is awarded to Franklin & Marshall students who by their sophomore year have demonstrated unusual leadership while achieving academic excellence.
"The Rouse and now the Soros scholarship awards will really allow me not to worry about the potential financial barriers as I finish school," Lotfipour said.
Each year since 1997 the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship has selected 30 "new Americans" to support as they pursue graduate work. The students must be permanent residents or naturalized citizens, if born abroad, or the children of naturalized citizens.
Fellows must be college seniors or in the early stages of the graduate program for which they request support. They can study in any degree-granting program in any field and at any university in the United States. They receive up to $90,000 for tuition and living expenses over two academic years.
Soros, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant who made his fortune as a mechanical engineer and businessman after surviving the Holocaust and escaping a Russian prisoner of war camp in World War II, has endowed the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship with $75 million.
According to the Soros Fellowships website, Soros' experience under Nazism and Communism left him with "a powerful and enduring commitment to the American constitution and Bill of Rights. He believed that active and informed citizenship is essential to the protection of our democracy."
Soros, who died last year at 87 and his survived by his wife, Daisy, is the brother of billionaire George Soros.
Monica Cable, F&M's director of fellowships and adjunct assistant professor of anthropology, has been instrumental in helping many students in their successful bids for international awards. She encouraged Lotfipour to apply for the Soros award after her Mitchell Scholarship concluded.
"Working with Mona is inspiring and humbling. She has done so much for so many people. In fact, the selection criteria for the Soros include initiative and sustained commitment -- that's Mona to a T," Cable said. "I hope Mona winning this award will encourage other F&M students to continue their extracurricular and leadership activities, as well as help them think about how the public service they are committed to now might make them a strong applicant for a fellowship later."
At F&M, Lotfipour made significant contributions in the classroom, conducting research under two Hackman summer scholarships, and on campus, introducing or helping develop community-service initiatives such as F&M’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). In its first five years, more than 200 students have helped hundreds of low-income Lancaster families realize more than $1.5 million in state and federal tax refunds.
Lotfipour also launched The ONE Goal initiative, a program that uses soccer as a tool for public health education in Khayelitsha Township, South Africa, and in 2010, served on F&M’s Presidential Search Committee, the 16-member panel that selected Porterfield as the College’s 15th president. Lotfipour said she was especially grateful for Cable and Porterfield's support.
"If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have heard of these awards," said Lotfipour, who also expressed appreciation for a number of faculty members who were mentors as well as instructors during her years at F&M including Joel Eigen, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology and Ware College House don, Susan Dicklitch, associate dean of the College and director of the Ware Institute and professor of government, and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kate Plass.
"I've always felt tremendous support from them," Lotfipour said.
Having moved with her family at age 7 from her native Iran to Shavertown, Pa., Lotfipour retains a special interest in helping refugee families. While living in Ware College House, she created Ware in the World, a community outreach program, took an internship at the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, and was inspired by a Citizenship course that reminded her of the difficulties refugees face in adjusting to life in a new country.
“Helping a refugee family made me realize how being an immigrant has impacted my life,” she said in 2010." “My family is so established here, but at one point, we weren’t. It’s difficult to learn English and to learn how to get around town. Refugee families are in the same boat, and they have additional hardship.”
With fellow F&M students, Lotfipour interviewed asylum seekers from Sudan and Cote d'Ivoire. She would later help launch the AID Project, an online database of human rights reports for assisting future immigration cases.