USM Grad Student Named Fellowship Finalist


Kelley Joe Brumfield

Graduate student Dahlia Amato works in a lab in the Polymer Science Building. Amato is a finalist for the prestigious Soros fellowship. -Kelley Joe Brumfield

Graduate student Dahlia Amato works in a lab in the Polymer Science Building. Amato is a finalist for the prestigious Soros fellowship. -Kelley Joe Brumfield

Dahlia Amato, a second-year doctoral student at The University of Southern Mississippi, has been named a finalist for the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. She is the first Southern Miss student to ever receive this award.

According to the Soros Fellowship website, the fellowship was established in 1997 by Hungarian immigrants Paul and Daisy Soros and is aimed at providing new Americans with the resources necessary to continue their education in graduate programs while fostering the “creativity, originality, initiative and sustained accomplishment” that typifies the recipients. Fellows receive tuition and living expenses that can total as much as $90,000 over two academic years.

Robyn Curtis, the USM National Scholarships and Fellowships officer, also points out that unlike other programs that select finalists by breaking up the applicant pool into smaller groups and choosing a few from each group, the Soros Fellowship analyzes the entire pool of applicants as one group in the selection process.

So, for a Soros Fellowship, each applicant competes against 1,200 others for one of 77 finalist spots, making Amato’s selection “a huge marker of distinction,” according to Curtis.

She said Amato is genuine and sincere when discussing her story, research and excitement as a new American. “She really is exactly the kind of person they are looking for,” Curtis said.

Amato was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, and she first came to the U.S. through the American Field Service – Youth Exchange Student program. She later returned to the U.S. to receive her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from California Polytechnic State University and her master’s degree in polymers and coating science, also from CPSU. 

She was drawn to USM by what she acknowledges as one of the top-ranked Polymer Science programs in the country.

She received her permanent resident status in 2012 through her marriage to Doug Amato, also a USM doctoral student in the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials.

If she receives the fellowship, Amato plans to use the money to enhance her research in the nanoparticle emulsion process as a part of the Patton Research Group, but she also hopes to use it as a basis for outreach into the community. She loves teaching at Petal High School and said she is passionate about encouraging science programs in high schools through science fairs and other activities.

She said she also hopes this experience will allow her to “make other immigrants like me aware of the opportunities available.

Curtis said they are currently reaching out to colleagues at the Soros Fellowship for more information on what to expect, but mainly Curtis is helping Amato get comfortable talking about her application, future plans and story thus far.

Amato travels to Los Angeles next week to continue the process with two interviews. Finalists will be notified of results in March.