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Somali-American Philsan Isaak receives prestigious Soros fellowship

Wednesday April 26, 2023

Philsan Isaak, 19. Credit: Courtesy Philsan Isaak

Minneapolis (HOL) - Philsan Isaak, a Somali-American from Blaine, Minnesota, has been awarded the prestigious Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, joining fellow Minnesotan Steven Truong. As a law student at Yale University, Isaak, whose parents are refugees from Somalia, aspires to practice international human rights law and make a difference in the world.

Each year, the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans provide scholarships to 30 graduate students nationwide. These fellowships offer up to $90,000 in funding for immigrants or children of immigrants pursuing advanced studies. A Spring Lake Park High School graduate, Philsan Isaak earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota at 18 and is now a first-year student at Yale Law School.

Isaak's relentless drive for excellence has marked her academic path. While in high school, she participated in the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, enrolling full-time at the University of Minnesota. Through PSEO, Isaak completed three years of college credit by the time she graduated from high school. She credits the program with providing her numerous opportunities, saying, "I will be a PSEO dual-enrollment advocate to the day I die. I think that it does so, so much to give you so, so many options."

Her family's background also played a significant role in Isaak's decision to focus on international human rights law. Her parents fled Somalia due to the Isaaq genocide, and she feels a strong responsibility to shed light on the often-forgotten aspects of the conflict. "It's widely recognized as a civil war. What is forgotten in all of that," she said, "is there was undeniably a genocide that was happening."

Isaak's passion for law was ignited when she attended a high school debate info session. There, she discovered her skills in research, critical thinking, and speech, ultimately realizing that her talents could lead to a career in law. "I went to the session and absolutely fell in love with everyone there and fell in love with the program," Isaak said. "And here I am now, because my ride was five minutes late."

Receiving the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship will allow Isaak to graduate with less debt and explore more opportunities within the human rights field. The fellowship also connects her with a supportive community of other New Americans with similar backgrounds and aspirations. "We are all first-gen or immigrants, and we bond on that front," she said. "We have shared traumas that I think other people often cannot understand."


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