UChicago graduate student selected as 2024 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow

Fellowship to Keerthana Hogirala’s pursuit of MBA/MPP dual degree at UChicago

University of Chicago graduate student Keerthana Hogirala has been named a 2024 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow, which will support her studies as an MBA/MPP dual degree candidate at the Booth School of Business and the Harris School of Public Policy.

For 26 years, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans has been celebrating the contributions of immigrants and children of immigrants to the United States by supporting 30 exceptional New Americans every year with funding for their graduate education.

Selected from among 2,300 applicants, Hogirala joins a cohort of 30 fellows pursuing graduate school who were chosen for their potential to make significant contributions through their work. She is the first UChicago graduate student to receive the Soros Fellowship in a decade.

Hogirala was born in India and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was six. She began her career as a special education teacher for early childhood students at a public school in Washington, D.C. before transitioning to a role in D.C. Public Schools’ central administration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she was instrumental in developing and implementing the school system’s emergency response strategy and operational plans for virtual and hybrid learning and eventual school reopening.

In her subsequent roles, Hogirala led the school system’s technology strategy, data governance and digital transformation roadmap.

“The throughline takeaway for me was to look beyond the basics and leverage technology as an ecosystem to scaffold and facilitate service delivery. Technology can bring constituents closer to their government, which is mutually beneficial. We needed that more than ever in public education due to the pandemic,” she said. “Behavioral change depends on environmental change. And these days, our environment is largely digital. So, one of my priorities was thesis-testing how to compel organizational adoption of better structures and processes through thoughtfully building and designing our digital environment for maximum efficacy and impact on students’ behalf.”

This led Hogirala to think more broadly about how to empower underserved populations, which led to her pursuing graduate school. “I’m focused on how we can build an equitable, tech-enabled social infrastructure that allows people, particularly from marginalized communities, to take informed agency over their futures—to access the essential services they have a right to and need to live safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives. This includes healthcare, housing, food access, education, employment, and basic utilities” she said. “That’s the long ‘why’—I’m still figuring out the ‘what’ and ‘how.’”

From Hogirala’s perspective, the dual degree offers an interdisciplinary education for what she hopes to be a career across the public and private sectors. While friends and family understood why she’d pursue an MPP, the MBA took many by surprise.

“It’s less ‘business school’ and more ‘management school’ these days,” she noted. “With the increasingly complex ways the public, private and social sectors interact, people can take various social impact-oriented pathways with the fundamentals taught in an MBA. Booth, with the Rustandy Center and the Civic Scholars program specifically, has made meaningful investments to ensure those pathways are more navigable for students.”

In addition to being selected as a Soros fellow, Hogirala was one of three full-time students in her class chosen to be a Neubauer Civic Scholar and receive a full-tuition merit scholarship at Chicago Booth. Within the Harris School of Public Policy, she is a Harris Merit Scholar and the sole recipient of the Knas Family Scholarship. The Soros Fellowship will help fund the remaining two years of her graduate education as she prepares for a career at the intersection of policy, entrepreneurship and technology.

During her first year, Hogirala explored innovative methodologies for addressing social determinants of health and managing cross-system care services through coursework, university programming, and internships.

“I’ve learned a great deal this year—both about the type of work I want to do and myself. And I’ve met some incredible people along the way,” she said. “To be ending this already gratifying year with the Soros fellowship is an absolute delight. I’m deeply thankful for all the support and encouragement I’ve received from family, friends and mentors throughout my endeavors. I wouldn’t be here, living a life beyond my parents’ wildest dreams, without my mom and dad and all they’ve sacrificed and endured. This honor is as much theirs as is it mine.”

Hogirala received feedback from UChicagoGRAD, which supports graduate students in their fellowship applications and career development.