In Memoriam - Mojgan Daneshmand and Pedram Mousavi

Family at home and on campus: Mojgan Daneshmand and Pedram Mousavi invited newcomers to their family

Richard Cairney - 16 January 2020

The loss of two beloved professors and their young daughters has left the Faculty of Engineering and the greater community devastated.

Engineering professors Mojgan Daneshmand, Pedram Mousavi and their daughters, Daria and Dorina, were among the 176 passengers on Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 who lost their lives Jan. 8.

Both were brilliant researchers, respected teachers, and vibrant members of the Engineering at Alberta community.

"The people who we meet and work with are the closest that many of us who move here have to family," said electrical engineering professor Mahdi Tavakoli. Like Daneshmand and Mousavi, he emigrated to Canada from Iran and found a supportive community in Edmonton.

The couple made sure other newcomers were taken care of.

"For Pedram and Mojgan, work and family were like the same thing. There was a lot of overlap."

This meant that graduate students coming to work with Mojgan and Pedram were welcomed like family.

Hossein Saghlatoon completed his PhD under Pedram's supervision a year ago and is now working as a research associate in Pedram's lab. While working on his master's degree at the Tampere University in Finland, he'd learned of Pedram and Mojgan by their research reputations. During a Skype interview with Mousavi to discuss coming to the University of Alberta, Saghlatoon promised Pedram he would not seek placements at other universities.

He kept his word and for the next six years learned from "the best boss I've ever had."

Pedram's high energy and sharp intellect were equaled only by his kindness, Saghlatoon and other students say.

"He would come to my office and call me 'Boss' and I'd say, 'No-I'm working for you,' " said Saghlatoon. "And he would say, 'No, you're not working for me-we're working together to solve a problem.'"

Mojgan held the Canada Research Chair in Radio Frequency Microsystems for Communication and Sensing and, in addition to being a highly respected and accomplished researcher, was a passionate teacher who treated each of her students as individuals.

"She never once compared one of us to another," said Zahra Abbasi, who is in the third year of her PhD studies.

Mojgan was also dedicated to being a role model to women in engineering-especially in her field of study.

"She didn't just talk about it. She was doing it," said Abbasi, who was being supervised in her studies by Mojgan.

Late last year Mojgan published an important paper in the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine about how being a woman in her field affected her life.

Here on campus, Mojgan would visit girls' clubs with Engineering's DiscoverE outreach program, to nurture their interest in science and engineering.

"She went there and talked about the work she does in terms they could understand. She was very excited to be there," Abbasi said. "Going on a Saturday morning to talk to school girls is not something everyone does."

At conferences, Mojgan worked tirelessly to meet with as many delegates as possible. "If it took her two hours, she would meet every person in a room. And by the last day of the conference, everyone knew her. It was important to her."

Speaking at a city-wide memorial service for victims of the flight 752 tragedy on Jan. 12,, mechanical engineering professor Brian Fleck recalled Mojgan's dedication to improving gender diversity and inclusivity in engineering.

"I remember she once said to me, 'You just have to work harder than men do,' " Fleck recalled.

Like many members of the engineering family, Fleck became friends with the couple, spending social time together. Mojgan and Pedram's children, Dorina and Daria, often took care of the Fleck family dogs.

Ultimately, family was their priority.

"Pedram often told me how important it was to make his family proud. . . . He would say to me, 'I don't care what I get in my annual evaluation; I just want to be sure Mojgan's mom is proud of me.' "

Pedram was with the Department of Mechanical Engineering and held the NSERC-AITF Industrial Research Chair in Intelligent Integrated Sensors and Antennas.

His mission was to commercialize research, establish strong connections between industries and universities, and stimulate industry-relevant research in wireless technologies. He built and led several professional teams at universities and start-up companies.

An internationally recognized scholar, Mojgan was appointed as a Canada Research Chair in Radio Frequency Microsystems when she joined the U of A's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2008.

Celebrated locally with the awarding of the U of A's Martha Cook Piper Research Prize in 2018, she earned a global reputation for her research expertise and national recognition for her commitment to mentoring and supporting women in science and engineering.