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University of Alberta reeling and rebuilding one year after Iran plane crash

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One year after the downing of Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752, the loss of students and faculty members has led to changes at the University of Alberta. Breanna Karstens-Smith has more on that in the second of our three-part series – Jan 7, 2021

David Turpin was awoken by a text message from his chief of staff. It was the early morning of Jan. 8, 2020 and Turpin was president of the University of Alberta at the time.

He was told a plane had crashed in Iran and it was likely that members of the university had died.

Within hours it was confirmed that 13 of the 176 people killed when the plane was shot out of the sky had ties to the post-secondary institution.

Read more: University of Alberta identifies 10 victims of Iran plane crash with ties to university

They were professors and students, past and present.

“Each one of them was working to make the world a better place for everybody,” Turpin told Global News.

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One year later, the university community is still working to heal the wound of losing so many of their best and brightest.

That includes Mojgan Daneshmand. An engineering professor, Daneshmand was also juggling multiple research projects.

She was hoping to help diabetes patients by using sensors to detect tiny levels of glucose in blood.

Another set of her sensors could wrap around pipelines to detect leaks using a drone.

“Mojgan is with us. Her smiles, her words, her wisdom. Her eagerness to innovate and serve the community is living with us and will live with us as long as we live,” student Sameri Deif said in February 2020.

Deif believes life-changing, world-class research was lost when Daneshmand died.

Her husband had just as many projects on the go.

Pedram Mousavi was also an engineering professor and researcher and was remembered by his students as “the best boss.”

 

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Flight PS752: Remembering the victims of the Iran plane crash – Jan 6, 2021

While photos of the victims remain posted in offices and science labs throughout campus – reminders of the talent lost in the tragedy – there are also plans for a permanent memorial in the city; though exactly what it will look like and where it will be located is still being decided.

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This fall, two students of Iranian descent will receive scholarships in the names of the victims. Nearly 600 donors contributed more than $700,000 to the fund, including two GoFundMe initiatives organized by the Iranian community in Edmonton.

Iran’s ties to Alberta’s biggest university go back decades, according to Turpin.

Starting in the 1970s, many Iranian students came to study at the school. When those early trailblazers went on to find success, they encouraged others from Iran to follow in their path.

It’s estimated there are now close to 500 students of Iranian descent on campus. Most knew at least one of the 13 victims.

“All of them were remarkable individuals. They were brilliant,” said Turpin. “The only way they could get to the U of A from Iran was because they were absolutely remarkable.”

Read more: Iran plane crash, one year later: 13 victims with ties to Edmonton remembered as brilliant, loving

In the months that have followed the tragedy, several of the students were awarded posthumous degrees. Others had their names included in research papers they were working on and co-authored before their deaths.

“That is one of the things about contributing to the body of human knowledge is that it develops a bit of immortality. People will continue to read about the contributions of these individuals,” Turpin said.

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Nasim Rahmanifar was a graduate research assistant at the Faculty of Engineering at the U of A. Supplied

Nasim Rahmanifar is one of the victims whose research will live on.

She was developing wearable technology to help wheelchair users prevent injuries.

While that work initially stalled following the crash, her colleagues pushed to have it restarted as a tribute to the hard work Rahmanifar had put into her research.

“I hope to see, really the outcome of those projects that are accessible for patients in Alberta and in general in Canada or, you know, globally in the world,” said her supervisor Hossein Rouhani.

For him, Rahmanifar’s legacy will live on in more than just the papers she was working on. It will live on in how he teaches.

“It changed the way I look at every single student. Graduate student or undergraduate student,” Rouhani explained.

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“We should not consider them as numbers. We should not consider them as visitors or as tuition fee payers. We should see them as precious treasures that we have here.”

It’s a lesson Rouhani wishes it didn’t take a tragedy to learn, but one many have realized as the campus still reels one year later.

On Friday, to mark the anniversary of the tragedy, faculty and students will observe a moment of silence from their homes at 11 a.m.

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