York Alum Is Awarded Grant for Ivy League Degree

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It used to be uncommon to hear of truly amazing things coming from York alums, but the past few years has seen an immense wave of York alums not just doing great things, but also being awarded serious money.

Robert Fernandez, who graduated from York in 2013 with a B.S. in Biotechnology, was recently awarded the Soros Fellowship to help him get his PhD at Yale. Each year, the Soros Fellowship awards money to 30 graduate students across the United States to help further their education. Fernandez is the only graduate among the other 29 graduates that came from CUNY.

The Soros Fellowship was started by Paul and Daisy Soros. Mr. and Mrs. Soros were Hungarian immigrants who felt it was important to give back to other immigrants and children of immigrants seeking a higher education. Almost 20 years ago they began the fellowship with a charitable trust of $50 million.

In 2010, Mr. and Mrs. Soros contributed an additional $25 million to the charity.

Fernandez was born in Peru and came to the United States in 1992 at the age of four with his parents and younger brother. Fernandez faced many problems when he trying to get into college.

“Finding out I was undocumented in high school meant I could not go to college in New Jersey, as these colleges required a social security number and wanted me to pay out of state tuition, which was quite expensive,” Fernandez said.   “My only choice was to go to community college where I made the choice of not giving up despite how hopeless things seemed at the time.”

He graduated Union Community College in New Jersey, with an Associate’s in Business and in 2010, he applied to York College. He worked hard to pay off his tuition and said that with the help of his mother he was able to continue his education. In his last two years at York, he was able to fix his immigration status and was able to work as a tutor and pay off his tuition.

Fernandez is working on his PhD at Yale University in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. He said that getting this far was a struggle, but advises to never give up. “Despite how bleak things look, no matter how difficult the hardship, as long as you have drive and motivation it will get you through the tough times,” Fernandez said. “Never be afraid and ashamed of your immigration status, be proud you made it this far and keep on striving for a better life.”

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