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Two Northwestern doctoral students receive Soros fellowships for children of immigrants

Julissa Muñiz, Benjamin Chou chosen for potential to make significant contributions to U.S.

EVANSTON - Two Northwestern University students have been awarded The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, a graduate school fellowship for outstanding immigrants and children of immigrants in the United States.  

Selected from 1,775 applicants, the 2018 fellows were chosen for their potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture or their respective academic field.

The 2018 Fellows are all the children of immigrants, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, green card holders or naturalized citizens. Each will receive up to $90,000 in funding to support their graduate school studies.

Julissa Muñiz, Soros recipient

Julissa Muñiz

 For both Julissa Muñiz, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in human development and social policy in Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy, and Benjamin Chou, a JD/MBA student, the experiences of being the child of immigrants have inspired a commitment to make the American dream more accessible. 

Born in San Diego to Mexican immigrant parents, Muñiz lived in Tijuana, Mexico, the latter half of her childhood, crossing the border daily to attend school in the border town of San Ysidro, California. 

Muñiz was the first in her nuclear and extended family to graduate from high school. While neither of her parents graduated from high school, they instilled in Muñiz a deep love for reading, learning and justice.  

In 2007 at the age of 16, Muñiz gave birth to her daughter, Amaris. She was the first teenage mother to return to her high school.

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I always had the confidence to succeed because I was never told otherwise.

Julissa Muñiz

Two years later, she became the first student at her high school to ever be accepted to the University of California, Berkeley. 

“I can say I have been very blessed,” said Muñiz, who in early childhood attended an affluent elementary school in Oceanside, California and graduated from high school in an under-resourced border town. “I always had the confidence to succeed because I was never told otherwise. In both the well-resourced school in Oceanside and the school I attended in San Ysidro, I had wonderful teachers and principals who supported me without ever making me feel less capable as an underprivileged student.” 

While at UC Berkeley, Muñiz volunteered at two adult prisons and a youth guidance center where she encountered numerous incarcerated men, women and youth serving life, or indeterminate sentences, for crimes committed while adolescents. Their narratives and experiences continue to inspire her work as an educator, advocate and emerging scholar. 

After completing her undergraduate studies, Muñiz and Amaris moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and earned her EdM in prevention science and practice.

Muñiz is interested in learning environments in carceral spaces as they are experienced by incarcerated youths. 

“No child should be incarcerated but if they are incarcerated we should give them access to quality education,” she said.   

At Northwestern, Muñiz founded the first graduate student organization for Latinx students, Comunidad Latinx, to promote campus-wide efforts to improve the recruitment and retention of Latinx students, faculty and staff at Northwestern while creating a sense of “comunidad,” or community.

Benjamin Chou, Soros recipient

Benjamin Chou  

Benjamin Chou’s family’s harrowing experience with politics and war drew him to fight for the twin American ideals that all people are created equal and that everyone should be able to succeed with hard work and determination. 

Born in Houston to Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants who arrived in the United States in 1980, Chou’s grandfathers both served in the Chinese Nationalist military and were forced to flee their ancestral homes to Taiwan after the Communist Revolution. Chou’s parents were born in Taiwan, and both subsequently pursued graduate studies in the United States, where they met.  

At Rice University, where he majored in political science, Asian studies and energy policy, Chou won national recognition as both a Harry S. Truman and Morris K. Udall Scholar for his work on environmental and civil rights organizing.  

After graduating with honors, he served as a fellow for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and policy advisor for the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Prior to beginning graduate school, Chou worked as the political director for Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley where he led the governor’s political action committee. 

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I plan to continue to work in electoral politics and government to ensure that all people are treated equally and have the economic opportunities to succeed.

Benjamin Chou

Upon completing his studies at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and the Kellogg School of Management in 2020, Chou plans to return to his home state of Texas. 

“It’s an honor to join the ranks of elected and appointed officials such as Washington State Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy,” (both past recipients of the Soros Fellowship) Chou said. “I plan to continue to work in electoral politics and government to ensure that all people are treated equally and have the economic opportunities to succeed.”  

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans is a graduate school program for immigrants and children of immigrants.  

In addition to receiving up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice, the new Fellows join the prestigious community of recipients from past years, which also includes individuals such as Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist of artificial intelligence and machine learning at GoogleCloud; composer Paola Prestini; award-winning writer Kao Kalia Yang, and nearly 600 other New American leaders.