A photo of a man from the shoulders up. He has a beard and is wearing a black turtle neck shirt.
Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. is the first VCU alum and Sierra Leonean to be named a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow. (Contributed photo)

VCU grad receives Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for 2024

Mass communications graduate Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. is the first VCU alum and Sierra Leonean to receive the honor.

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Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr., a poet, actor and storyteller and a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, has been named a 2024 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow in support of his continued education as he pursues a Master of Fine Arts.

Tejan-Thomas, who received a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the Robertson School of Media and Culture at VCU in 2015, said he was eager to join the program’s impressive network of immigrants and children of immigrants.

“I was never the smartest kid in class, nor did I have the most financial resources to help me in my education, but I had the help of my community,” he said. “It seemed like the fellowship could be a good addition to my community, and I thought I would make a good addition to theirs.”

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, founded in 1998, is a merit-based graduate school program for immigrants and children of immigrants. This year, 30 fellows were selected from an applicant pool of 2,323. Each fellow will receive up to $90,000 in funding to support their graduate studies at institutions across the country.

“Each Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow embodies the spirit of resilience, innovation and commitment to excellence that defines the immigrant experience,” said Craig Harwood, director of the fellowship, in a press release. “Together, they represent a diverse tapestry of backgrounds, perspectives and aspirations, poised to make enduring contributions to their fields and communities. We are honored to support and empower these inspiring leaders as they continue their transformative journeys, enriching the fabric of American society and beyond.”

Tejan-Thomas, who will pursue his master’s degree in acting, is the first graduate of VCU to receive a Paul & Daisy Soros fellowship, as well as the program’s first fellow from Sierra Leone. He immigrated to the U.S. in 2001 at the age of 8, spending weeks practicing his English by mimicking television characters in front of the bathroom mirror.During his time at VCU, he co-founded the slam poetry organization Good Clear Sound and was a graduate of the university’s ASPiRE (Academic Scholars Program in Real Environments) program as well as participating in The Conciliation Project, a local social justice theatre company led by Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D., a professor of graduate pedagogy in acting and directing in the Department of Theatre at VCU.

After graduating in 2015, Tejan-Thomas studied storytelling at the Transom Story Workshop and interned at NPR. He then joined Gimlet Media, a national podcast production studio, where he co-produced the Peabody Award-winning podcast “Uncivil”, which tells the story of the American Civil War from the perspective of marginalized people, and co-created “Resistance”, spotlighting stories from the front lines of the movement for Black lives. Tejan-Thomas’ work has been featured by The New York Times, This American Life and many others. He is currently studying acting at Terry Knickerbocker Studio.

Eventually, Tejan-Thomas’ goal is to combine his array of experiences as a producer, journalist, poet and actor to create transformative work and provide opportunities for his communities through the arts, he said.

During the application process, Tejan-Thomas utilized VCU’s National Scholarship Office, which assists students and alumni with applying for competitive scholarships and fellowships. To learn more about opportunities, visit the website and schedule an appointment.