Bay Area graduate student Sheantel Reihl who received $90,000 award shares her immigrant story

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Some very talented Bay Area students, who also happen to be immigrants, are being honored with a prestigious award and $90,000 each to help with their studies. The money is part of a fellowship created by a very successful immigrant who wanted to help others reach their full potential. We caught up one of the fellowship recipients, who's already on her way to making a difference.

When Sheantel Reihl was a little girl in Trinidad, she could not even imagine what a doctor did. She had no hope of higher education or even a good job. Now she's in medical school at U.C. San Francisco and helping with important research on underserved populations.

Reihl is one of 30 graduate students who received this year's Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. The awards are given to immigrants or children of immigrants who are "poised to make significant contributions to the nation through their work."
The Soros Fellowships started in 1997 and director of the program, Craig Harwood, says it is now more important than ever.

"There is a lot of focus on what immigrants are taking from the country, and we just want to turn the tables on that narrative and underscore the incredible contributions that immigrants are making to society" Harwood explained.

Reihl's mother brought her to the United States when she was 13, in search of a better life.

"She wanted all of us to go to school and have jobs and do things that she couldn't even fathom the way she grew up in a small little town" Reihl said.

The family came here on a visitor visa, but it expired and they faced a lot of challenges as undocumented immigrants. Reihl attended school in Maryland, and was a very strong student, but without legal immigration status, she could not get into college.

Eventually, after repeated immigration applications, a marriage, a divorce and two children, she finally made it through Georgetown University to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

"My children have been one of the greatest motivators I think, and just wanting to make all these sacrifices that my mom made, that I made, count for something in the end" she said.

Now Reihl is studying neuroscience at U.C. San Francisco and she is already helping with research on how to get people in underserved communities to participate in clinical trials and improve access to health care.

Reihl is working with neurosurgeon Shawn Hervey-Jumper who said "there is no more deserving person for this award." Hervey-Jumper called it a "privilege" to create an environment where students like Reihl can ask provocative questions and try to make patients' lives better.

This year nine of the Soros Fellowship winners have ties to the Bay Area and several, including Reihl, are going into medicine.

U.C. San Francisco Associate Dean Karen Hauer is happy to see this kind of support for the doctors of the future.

"As physicians we care for diverse patients in San Francisco and throughout the state and the world," she said. "And so it's very important that physicians themselves bring diversity and come from different backgrounds in order to connect with their patients."

Reihl says the award money will make it easier to juggle her life as a single mother and medical student and she is thrilled to have been recognized.

"To make your immigration story something that you are proud of and that people could recognize, that's really what the fellowship is to me" Reihl said.

The Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship is open to immigrants and children of immigrants who are attending graduate school. The rules on immigration status for applicants have recently been changed. You do not need to be a U.S. citizen to apply. This is the link to the details: pdsoros.org.
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