It would not be unusual for an international student to feel anxious about starting a new life in an unfamiliar country. But for Amir Hossein Saeedinia, an innate sense of adventure and a boundless passion for research far outweighed any trepidation he may have felt about travelling to Canada to start his graduate studies.
“Amir was really excited for the opportunities to study here at the university,” says James Hogan, his PhD supervisor. “He was even excited about experiencing our cold weather.”
Amir Hossein Saeedinia was one of 176 people to die in the Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 crash on January 8—and one of 10 with direct associations to the University of Alberta.
He was to begin his PhD program in mechanical engineering this month, traveling from Tehran, Iran, with his long-term classmate and friend, Nasim Rahmanifar, who was a master’s student in the same department.
“I got that first phone call shortly after nine o'clock,” says Hogan. “Amir was on the plane, and Nasim was on the plane. At the time I thought, how tragic that is for them—the opportunities, their lives ... And then you wake up the next morning and realize just how many Canadians are on the plane, how many Edmontonians. All of the layers are so tragic.”
Amir’s passion for mechanical engineering was evident to Hogan from their very first exchange. Typically, Hogan explains, email queries from prospective students are long, generic and may even go unanswered due to the high volume. But something about Amir’s email resonated with the assistant professor.
“The language he used in that email was convincing and so personable, I emailed him back a day later and set up a Skype call for the following week,” says Hogan. “At the time there wasn't really a job that was open for him, but his email was so good it made me want to talk to him and try to work something out.”
Drawn in initially by Amir’s ebullient personality, Hogan found his resume equally impressive. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Tehran’s Petroleum University of Technology, Amir completed a master’s degree in biomedical engineering at Amirkabir University of Technology, also in Tehran, in the fall of 2019. He had also published papers, several as first author — unusual for an international student, according to Hogan.
“You could see this upward trajectory,” he says.
The Skype calls became a weekly affair and each time Amir came armed with a list of questions. He was studying computational modelling of material behaviour and its applications for mitigating wear and corrosion in the oil and gas industry. Passionate about this field of research, he felt he could contribute in a meaningful way to Hogan’s research group, and he eagerly engaged not only with Hogan but with other members of the group, as well. He would often proofread their papers, provide feedback and offer congratulations, building trust with his future academic peers.
His enthusiasm was so keen, in fact, he actively recruited other Iranian students to the program, some of whom will begin at the U of A in the fall of 2020. It is on this point that Hogan becomes visibly emotional, noting that opportunities once available to Amir will now be shared with others.
“He was excited to come to Canada, and Nasim was excited to show him Canada,” he says. “The stories that I’ve heard about Amir since the crash directly aligned with my experiences with him. He was a genuine person, with a big smile.”