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'Astonishingly Successful' Student, Rapper, Wins Soros Fellowship

April 12, 2012 – Indra Sen (SFS’08), who co-founded a nonprofit that provides education programs and teaches hip-hop to Palestinian youths in refugee camps and hopes to one day become an education reformer, has won a prestigious Soros Fellowship.

The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans supports two years of graduate study in any advanced degree-granting program in the United States. The fellowships are open to immigrants or the children of immigrants.

“I am ecstatic about the [fellowship], as are my family members,” says Sen, the American-born son of immigrants from China and India, a basketball player and rapper. “Over 1,000 people applied this year, so to be among the final 30 is truly a honor.”

Extraordinary Things

Sen, who will use his fellowship toward the Harvard master’s of public policy degree he’ll graduate with next year, is no stranger to winning.

During his time at Georgetown, he won a Truman scholarship, a Phi Beta Kappa award, Georgetown’s Thomas P. McTigue Prize for scholarship and service and a minority student scholarship competition at the university.

He also received a Lena Landegger Award for Community service and became a Humanity in Action Research Fellow as an undergraduate at Georgetown.

“Indra Sen was astonishingly successful at Georgetown … perhaps the most outstandingly successful student in the years between 2004 and 2008,” wrote John Glavin, fellowship secretary and professor of English, in his recommendation to the Soros Foundation. “We had many students in those years doing extraordinary things, but no one did as many extraordinary things as Indra.”

Rapping for Justice

Glavin also notes that Sen starred in a short film called “One on One,” that Glavin says “featured his formidable basketball skills” and rapped his student address to new students at a 2007 convocation to “thunderous applause and indelible memories.”

Sen’s rap involved changing the words to “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

“I put passion in my actions, my heart began to grow, I saw hopeless homeless, others on welfare, children die from AIDS, couldn’t afford freaking health care,” he rapped. “Wake up everybody, we gotta make this world fair.”

Inspiring Dreams

Sen co-founded Inspire Dreams, the nonprofit for Palestinian youth with Rod Solaimani and Hammad Hammad, all 2008 graduates of the School of Foreign Service.

The Soros scholarship winner says “the stories of my grandparents that I heard during my childhood, the poverty I saw in China and India and my understanding of the privileges afforded me drove me to public service.”

Georgetown, he says, became “a platform” for him to pursue such interests.

“The Jesuit tradition of being men and women for others led to a Truman Scholarship and then the Harvard Kennedy School,” he explains.

Improving Education

This summer, Sen will be a fellow at Building Excellent Schools and hopes to use his academic training and life experiences to launch a high-performing charter school, possibly in his home state of Connecticut.

“I plan a career as an education reformer in Connecticut,” he wrote in one of his Soros essays. “…My goal is to help craft public policies that directly impact the school district, including strengthening curricula design, improving teacher quality and creating effective college-to-job pipelines…”

“I then hope to take my experience in school reform into the political arena to effect wider change across school districts in Connecticut.”