A University of Colorado at Boulder student whose family fled religious persecution in Iran in the 1990s has been named the recipient of a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship awarded nationally to outstanding undergraduate sophomores and juniors.
Shervin Rahimpour, a junior majoring in biochemistry and mathematics, will receive a $7,500 scholarship for his senior year at CU-Boulder to defray the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board. The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation awarded 321 scholarships for 2008-09 to encourage students to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.
An aspiring scientist who plans to pursue an M.D. and a doctorate in medical biophysics, Rahimpour said he feels especially honored to receive the Goldwater Scholarship considering the sacrifice his parents made to flee their homeland so that he and his two sisters could complete their educations.
"Because my parents are of the Bahá'í faith, they couldn't continue to work in their professions and our family was not allowed to pursue education in any form," said Rahimpour.
"My mother was a teacher but she couldn't continue teaching, so she was forced to resign. My dad was an engineer and he was forced to resign his position. My parents lost their jobs and had to give up everything because they are Bahá'í," he said. "My sister wasn't even allowed to take an entrance exam to go to college."
Rahimpour was five years old in 1992 when the family of five fled Iran for a refugee camp in Pakistan. "We couldn't just leave, we had to flee in the back of a smuggler's truck," an experience he barely remembers. Rahimpour got his first taste of formal education in the refugee camp before his family moved to Seattle and then to Colorado Springs, where an aunt was already living.
For Rahimpour, winning the Goldwater Scholarship - and several others he has collected during his time in college - is an ironic twist to his family's story of struggle to pursue their faith and their educational goals.
"I am so grateful to be recognized because I compare what might have been to what my life is like now," he said. "That's why I try to take advantage of every opportunity I have."
He credits his parents for making the opportunities possible. "It was such a bold and brave move on my parents' part to flee. They had to start from scratch here because of the language barrier," he said.
"I imagine myself if they had stayed in Iran . . . I certainly would not have learned quantum mechanics. It's because of my parents' sacrifice and the difficulty that they went through that I've been able to accomplish what I have."
Rahimpour is a John Lacher Chemistry Scholar, a CU Norlin Scholar and a CU Alumni Association Scholar. As an assistant in Professor David Jonas' lab Rahimpour has studied femtosecond spectroscopy and laser pulse compression, and with Professor David Nesbitt he studies single-molecule spectroscopic techniques.
As a double major in biochemistry and math, he will complete two honors theses before he graduates in May 2009. This summer he will apply for doctoral programs in medicine at universities throughout the country, including Stanford, his top choice, before receiving his doctorate and becoming a physician.
"After college I want to practice medicine, teach and do research," he said, and may become a university professor. His oldest sister is a dentist living in Colorado. His second sister is studying to become a physician and is beginning a residency program in New York.
A second CU-Boulder student, junior physics and math major Leland Ellison, also was recognized by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation as one of several students receiving an Honorable Mention in this year's competition.
Ellison, a friend of Rahimpour, plans to pursue a doctorate in physics and to become a physics professor, focusing on experimental physics and fusion-related plasmas. He has worked in Professor Tobin Munsat's lab at the Center for Integrated Plasma Studies for several years, and also has a research project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute studying silicon nanostructure growth.
The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,035 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.
Of the scholars awarded this year, 189 are men, 132 are women and virtually all intend to obtain a doctorate as their degree objective. Thirty-three scholars are mathematics majors, 227 are science and related majors, 52 are majoring in engineering and nine are computer science majors. Many of the scholars have dual majors in mathematics, science, engineering and computer disciplines.
Goldwater Scholars also have impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious postgraduate fellowship programs. Recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 70 Rhodes Scholarships, 94 Marshall Awards and numerous other distinguished fellowships.
The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established in 1986. The Scholarship Program honoring the late Sen. Barry M. Goldwater is the premier undergraduate award of its type in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. In its 20-year history, the foundation has awarded 5,523 scholarships worth approximately $54 million dollars.