Immigrant Innovators Honored at 2018 Vilcek Prize Ceremony

From left to right: James Leng, Teddy Cruz, Alexander Rudensky, Mona Ghandi, Jing Liu, Feng Zhang, Polina Anikeeva, Sergiu P. Pasca (Photo courtesy of Scott Rudd)

On Thursday, April 5, notables from the architecture and biomedical science communities gathered at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City to celebrate the contributions of immigrants to their fields at an awards ceremony for the 2018 Vilcek Prizes. Russian-born immunologist Alexander Rudensky and Guatemalan-born architect and urban theorist Teddy Cruz took home the evening's highest honors, the Vilcek Prizes. Architects Mona Ghandi, James Leng, Jing Liu as well as researchers Polina Anikeeva, Sergiu P. Pasca, and Feng Zhang each received one of the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise.

In his introductory remarks, Vilcek Foundation President Rick Kinsel highlighted the variety of circumstances that brought the 2018 prizewinners to the U.S. and the significant impacts they have made. "Some were looking for a better education or a chance to fulfill their potential, while others arrived fleeing religious discrimination, gender inequality, and political violence,” he said. “And in all of these cases, America has reaped the benefits, whether it is architecture that is a vehicle for social change, or the invention of biomedical technologies that will impact countless lives."

Ruslan Medzhitov Speaking Ruslan Medzhitov (Photo courtesy of Scott Rudd)

Many previous prizewinners were also in attendance, but one took the stage to introduce the science honorees: Ruslan Medzhitov, 2013 Vilcek Prizewinner and Sterling Professor of Immunobiology at Yale University, described the unique possibilities the U.S. offers newcomers. "All the winners today, as you can imagine, are incredible talents, incredible scientists,” he said. “We can say that they were looking for opportunities and found them in the United States, but we can also say, that on some higher level, the opportunities were looking for people and found them in our four winners."

The architecture prizewinners also received an eloquent introduction by renowned critic and writer Paul Goldberger, who pointed out the global nature of both categories: “Architecture, like science, is an international pursuit, and the notion of a closed border is antithetical to it. Ideas in architecture do not stop at borders: They flow everywhere, and our greatest talents have always learned from what is done elsewhere and built upon it.”

Creative Promise Prizewinner Mona Ghandi struck an emotional chord in her acceptance speech, lamenting that her family could not attend the ceremony because of the current ban on visas for individuals from her birth country, Iran. In an address to absent relatives, Mona said, "I would like to tell [you] that none of these accomplishments would have happened without you. I wish you were here, and I wish that in the near future we can see a world in which people are not barred from seeing their family because of their race, because of their nationality, or because of their beliefs."

Jan and Marica Vilcek Marica and Jan Vilcek (Photo courtesy of Scott Rudd)

The ceremony closed with the foundation's co-founder and vice chairman, Marica Vilcek, looking toward the future and announcing that next year's prizes will be awarded in biomedical science and culinary arts: "It is fitting that, at this contentious political moment, the Vilcek Foundation should turn our attention to cooking and beverage-making—because food has the unique power to transcend divisions in society... With a category so rich with possibility, I look forward to seeing who will be standing on this stage next year."

You can see more photos from the evening's festivities on the Vilcek Foundation Facebook page and read about all this year's prizewinners in the series of current news articles we have published over the last two months.

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