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Honoring a Friend and Mentor

Posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2016



If it wasn’t for Mohammad Hossein Yassaman (B.A.'77, Economics; M.A.'78, Operations Research), Dr. Hashem Akhavan-Tafti’s (M.A.'88, Chemistry) years as a student in the United States would have been profoundly different. Without Yassaman, Akhavan-Tafti would have never ended up at Western Michigan University, a move that he says “saved his life.” So to honor his friend and mentor, Akhavan-Tafti and wife SuzAnne recently established an endowed scholarship in Yassaman’s name.

The Mohammad Hossein Yassaman Endowment for Chemistry at WMU will support a full-time graduate or undergraduate student who is involved in the study or development of renewable energy technologies. The scholarship was officially announced during a reception at WMU’s Chemistry Building Nov. 17, with Yassaman and Akhavan-Tafti in attendance.

Both natives of Iran, Akhavan-Tafti told the story of being a teenager and wanting to pursue a college education in the U.S. – something family friend Yassaman had done years prior. After learning English, obtaining a visa and finally making the journey to the states, Akhavan-Tafti ended up at a school in Indiana, where he struggled to acclimate to his new surroundings. He contacted Yassaman, one of the only people he knew in the U.S., who convinced him to apply to Western.

“This man rescued me from absolute doom,” Akhavan-Tafti said of his friend, adding that the WMU Department of Chemistry faculty played a significant role in his life and career as well. Having supported several endowed scholarships in recognition of past WMU professors and mentors, Akhavan-Tafti added, “it is a fantastic feeling” to be able to honor the people and places that have so positively influenced him, while offering current and future students access to the same level of instruction he experienced.

Yassaman also delivered brief remarks during the reception, saying he is “very honored” to have made an impact on Akhavan-Tafti’s life. “I’m really proud to know this man,” he said, “and to see all he’s done for humanity.”

Yassaman earned a master’s degree in operations research from WMU in 1978. Akhavan-Tafti completed his master’s in organic chemistry from WMU in 1988 and went on to earn a doctoral degree from Wayne State University. The two embarked on separate, equally successful careers. Yassaman worked in the aerospace industry as an engineer, serving 27 years at the Boeing Company before retiring in 2013. Akhavan-Tafti recently retired as vice president for research from Lumigen Inc., Beckman Coulter’s immunoassay and molecular diagnostics business group based in Southfield, Mich.

The first recipient of the Mohammad Hossein Yassaman Endowment for Chemistry will be announced in spring 2017. For more information about the WMU Department of Chemistry and scholarships, visit wmich.edu/chemistry.

Image and press release courtesy the WMU College of Arts and Sciences.