Two years ago, the University of Guelph lost two graduate students who were aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down near Tehran.

Ghanimat Azhdari and Milad Ghasemi Ariani, both Iranian nationals, were returning on Jan. 8, 2020, to resume their studies at U of G after visiting their home country during the winter break. They were among 176 people killed in the crash.

Azhdari was a PhD student in the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics, and Ariani was pursuing a doctorate in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies.

In their honour, the University established two scholarships, awarded for the first time this past year. The $5,000 scholarships will be offered to qualified graduate students for the next five years. Donations were made online for the two scholarships, and all funds raised were matched by the University.

Milad Ghasemi Ariani and Ghanimat Azhdari

The Ghanimat Azhdari Memorial Scholarship is open to entering international graduate students studying issues related to Indigenous communities and populations. The Milad Ghasemi Ariani Memorial Scholarship supports an international graduate student entering any graduate program, with preference given to PhD or M.Sc. students in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies.

Amirhossein Alaghmandfard, a PhD candidate in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS), received the Ghanimat Azhdari Memorial Scholarship. He studies synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials and nanocomposites for various uses.

Akierah Binns, a first-year PhD management student in organizational behaviour in the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, received the Milad Ghasemi Ariani Scholarship for 2021.

“As a community, we continue to seek ways to commemorate the indelible impact Ghanimat and Milad made on U of G and on the world – as individuals, as loved ones and friends, and as promising young scholars,” said U of G president Charlotte Yates. “I am delighted to congratulate Amirhossein and Akierah on being selected as the inaugural recipients of these memorial scholarships. Their dedication to graduate studies in their respective fields and to academic excellence will help U of G honour the legacies of Ghanimat and Milad.”

Akierah, who is from Jamaica, said she was inspired by Ariani’s drive to have an impact on our world. She said her research reflects her passion for understanding how communication among stakeholders helps organizations succeed. She is particularly interested in examining how organizational communication strategies have informed downsizing processes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is a privilege to have been selected as the inaugural scholarship recipient,” she said. “When I read about Milad, I was impressed by what he had accomplished and how he sought to bring people together and motivate others in his community. Receiving this scholarship means I have been given the opportunity to honour him through the scholarship and to continue his great legacy. To achieve this, I will develop worthwhile partnerships and friendships within the U of G community, bringing people together and cultivating resilience throughout my studies.”

She said receiving the scholarship is “a significant confidence booster” that will motivate and inspire her to conduct relevant research in management and organizational leadership.

Dr. Khashayar Ghandi, a CEPS professor and adviser to Alaghmandfard, said the award has made the PhD student “more determined than ever to do his best in his research and studies, and to honour those who supported him in getting this award.”

Alaghmandfard is making devices using environmentally friendly materials and processes to detect pathogens and diseases in humans and animals. The work has benefits for people around the world, especially Indigenous people, Ghandi said.

Azhdari is remembered as an effervescent personality, tireless scholar and much-loved teaching assistant. She was an Indigenous person born into the nomadic Qashqai tribe in southwestern Iran and was studying biocultural conservation at U of G.

Known for her great respect for Indigenous lands around the world, she dedicated her life to the protection of such lands and their rich biodiversity – lands she called “territories of life,” said her supervisor, Dr. Faisal Moola, Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics.

“Ghanimat had become an expert in working with local tribes’ people to collect and map these critical areas of both ecological and cultural significance,” Moola said, adding that his student belonged to the ICCA Consortium, an international association of Indigenous peoples and local communities conserving territories and areas.

“The loss of Ghanimat Azhdari and many other talented students in the airline disaster has been devastating for their families and university communities across Canada. It is our hope that the scholarship which has been created in her name will help support other students to participate in research that weaves together western science and Indigenous ways of knowing.”

He said members of U of G’s People, Plants and Policy Lab are continuing Azhdari’s important work in partnership with the Miawpukek First Nation in Newfoundland to assess the biocultural richness of their traditional territories.

Ariani used econometric and machine learning approaches to study consumers’ preferences for product attributes. Involved in research activities outside the University, he is remembered for his willingness to help other students succeed.

Dr. Towhidul Islam, Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, said Ariani took additional courses to acquire the skills he needed to tackle complex roles. Although Ariani was at U of G for only a short time, he was a rising star as a researcher who left a lasting impression, Islam said.

The provincial government also created scholarships to honour Canadian scholars who died in the airline disaster. The Ontario Remembrance Scholarships, which were recently renewed, recognize undergraduates with proven academic excellence, demonstrated financial need and commitment to generosity, curiosity and collaboration.

U of G gave preference to international post-secondary students in allocating the $10,000 provincial awards in fall 2020 to undergraduates Abhinav Chatterjee and Arshia Nazem.