New scholarship honors WMU graduate's life-changing mentor

contact: Molly Goaley
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—If not for a special person in his life, Dr. Hashem Akhavan-Tafti would have never ended up at Western Michigan University, a move that he says "saved his life."

Now, Akhavan-Tafti and his wife, SuzAnne, have established an endowed scholarship in that special person'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, begun with a $10,000 endowment, was officially announced during a Nov. 17 reception in WMU's Chemistry Building, with Yassaman and Akhavan-Tafti in attendance.

Photo of Yassaman and Akhavan-Tafti with WMU chemistry students

Yassaman and Akhavan-Tafti with WMU chemistry students

WMU connection

The two men, both natives of Iran, made remarks during the event. Akhavan-Tafti told the story of being a teenager and wanting to pursue a college education in the U.S.—something his family friend Yassaman had done years previously.

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 few people he knew in the U.S. at that time, and Yassaman convinced him to apply to WMU.

"This man rescued me from absolute doom," Akhavan-Tafti said of his friend, noting 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 said during the reception that 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."

Distinguished careers

Yassaman earned a master's degree in operations research from WMU in 1978. Akhavan-Tafti completed his master's degree in organic chemistry at 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 Co. before retiring in 2013. Akhavan-Tafti recently retired as vice president for research from Lumigen Inc., an immunoassay and molecular diagnostics business group based in Southfield.

The first recipient of the Yassaman Endowment for Chemistry will be announced in spring 2017.

For more information about the WMU Department of Chemistry and its scholarships, visit

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