Nothing short of a miracle

Scholarship support for Shahed Bayesteh allows him to give back to his community.

FoMD news staff - 17 March 2017

Shahed Bayesteh was only eight years old when he left the small Iranian town of Hesarak, Karaj, to start a new life in Canada. While on the plane, his mother taught him his first sentence in English: "Hello, my name is Shahed."

Now in his second year of dentistry at the University of Alberta, Shahed is excelling. His perseverance has earned him scholarships and afforded him the chance to give back.

Looking to Canada for a chance at success

Shahed, his parents and older brother emigrated from Iran in 2002, a story he describes as "nothing short of a miracle." His mother, the only one who spoke English, overcame many obstacles to bring her family to Canada―navigating recruitment processes typically only offered to men. After one rejection, the family finally received approval to resettle in Calgary. Even though they did not know a soul in Canada, Shahed says the trek was worthwhile.

"It's tough to make a name for yourself in Iran, to become someone," says Shahed. "No matter how talented people are, not everyone starts with as much of a fair playing ground as they might here. My mom's motivation was to go abroad so her children could have a better chance at success."

Adapting to a new life was not easy. In Iran, Shahed's father worked for his city, and his mom was a psychologist working at a university. Their professional backgrounds were not recognized when they arrived in Canada, and the couple had to put in long hours at auto body repair shops and childcare centres to make ends meet for the first few years.

"They gave up a lot, sacrificed everything they owned and knew," reflects Shahed. "When I think about it, I don't know if I'd be able to do what they did."

Infinitely grateful for his family's sacrifices that opened the doors for his future opportunities, Shahed says his experiences as a new Canadian were integral to shaping him into the young man he is today.

"My brother and I growing up really didn't have much, but we had wonderful parents. It was the only life we knew; to us our quality of life was great. My upbringing has given me the ability to put things into perspective, and allowed me to be positive, mindful and balanced. That's who I strive to be."

Shining a positive green and gold light

In high school, Shahed knew he wanted to become a health professional because he was drawn to the promise of positively affecting people's lives. After a thorough search, he found his calling at the U of A's Doctor of Dental Surgery program.

"It's been a blast, honestly. I can't say enough good things about the program," says Shahed. "The faculty and the people I'm meeting are awesome. They treat you with respect; you're a junior colleague and not just a student, which is very refreshing."

His goal is to expand that positive impact to patients so that they will no longer associate a visit to the dentist with pain and discomfort, but rather as a rewarding experience receiving the care they need, similar to "friends catching up over a cup of coffee or tea."

Shahed combines his academic life with sports―especially basketball―spending time with friends and engaging in out-of-the-box initiatives to help others.

Herb Link Memorial Award

The Herb Link Memorial Award is presented annually to a student completing the first year in the Department of Dentistry with satisfactory academic standing, who makes distinguished contributions to the dental profession and displays strong leadership and sportsmanship abilities in the community.

Colleagues, friends and family endowed the scholarship in memory of Herb Link (1953-1994), a renowned dentist and soccer enthusiast who graduated from the University of Alberta in 1978. He received an Ambassador of the City award in 1988 and was involved in organizing, playing and coaching soccer. The Herb Link Park is in the residential neighbourhood of Dunluce in north Edmonton.

Students are eligible for the award through nomination from the Department of Dentistry.

He led the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry's Movember campaign in November 2016 to raise awareness about prostate cancer and men's mental health issues. Shahed has participated with the nationwide initiative Oral Health, Total Health and he is the co-president of the Health Sciences Students' Association (HSSA), a U of A group that encourages interdisciplinary practices and collaboration.

He says none of his efforts to help others would have been possible without the generous support he received through scholarships, and more recently, the U of A's Herb Link Memorial Award presented to students who contribute to the dental profession and demonstrate strong leadership in the community.

"Dentistry is one of the most expensive programs to pursue," Shahed explains. "The scholarships I received did not completely cover my tuition, but they certainly lessened the burden. The gifts of student financial support allowed me to worry less about micro managing my finances and helped me focus on the things that really matter to me."

Shahed says all contributions from donors to support students are crucial and make a real difference to the student experience at the U of A, regardless of the amount of the gift.

"Just being selected for an award, that's so powerful to further motivate a student; that extends beyond any monetary value," he says. The recognition and aide received along the way have certainly pushed Shahed to pursue success, to realize the future his parents dreamed for him.

"They're very proud," he says, with a big smile. "This is what they envisioned and their sacrifices are finally being rewarded."