The notion that 2001 Texas A&M University graduate Roozbeh Arianpour had a bright life ahead of him was, to many, a foregone conclusion. Not only did he graduate summa cum laude with a degree in genetics, Roozbeh also continued his education at Oxford University, where he earned his master’s degree, then returned to Texas, eager to begin medical school at the University of Texas in San Antonio.
However, what was surely destined to develop into a promising future was tragically cut short on June 6, 2003, when Roozbeh was shot by a childhood friend at the age of 23 while visiting family and friends in his hometown of Tyler, Texas.
Though gone, his memory was cemented in November 2009 with the completion of the Roozbeh Arianpour Endowed Memorial Scholarship in Biology. Established by his mother, Farideh Moharer Arianpour of Tyler through the Texas A&M Foundation, the $1,250 scholarship is awarded annually to well-deserving, full-time biology students pursuing graduate degrees as chosen by a committee of faculty and staff.
For Farideh, establishing a scholarship in her son’s name was an obvious decision. It would ensure that the legacy of the academically gifted young man, who made replicating strands of DNA seem as effortless as his groundstroke during a game of tennis — a testament to his propensity to excel both in and out of the classroom at favorite activities — would live vicariously through students who receive his scholarship and exhibit his same penchant for knowledge.
“I am hoping by this scholarship I will be able to keep Roozbeh’s name alive and achieve my broken dreams,” Farideh adds. “I am hoping that the students who will benefit from this scholarship will understand the depth of Roozbeh’s mission in life and science, and will be interested in his goals and remembering him.”
Silvana Paredes, a graduate student in Texas A&M Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Keith Maggert’s laboratory, is this year’s scholarship recipient. The Colombia native is currently researching Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, and the role of a cluster of genes located on the Y chromosome. Hoping to one day expand her work into a career in cancer research, Paredes is optimistic about the opportunities that may come from the scholarship.
“It is very comforting to know that my work is being recognized in our community, and that makes me want to keep working hard,” Parades says. “This scholarship is very positive for my career. Having recognition from the Department of Biology just proves that, with good work, I have fulfilled their standards. I know that this recognition will not be overlooked when I move forward in my career and try to get a job.”
Paredes will be officially recognized with the scholarship Thursday (March 25) — what would have been Roozbeh’s 30th birthday — at the Texas A&M College of Science’s Spring Recognition and Awards Dinner, to be held at Pebble Creek Country Club in College Station. Scholarships, Paredes says, are vital for students to reach their scholastic pinnacle, and for that, she is most grateful to be a recipient of the one memorializing Roozbeh.
“I think that scholarships are a very good way to encourage people to become the best of themselves and also give the chance to everyone to achieve their goals regardless of their economic background,” she says. “I want to thank the donors of the Roozbeh Arianpour Memorial Scholarship and the selection committee for honoring me with this award.”
It is a mentality that Roozbeh likely shared, as he was no stranger to illustrious academic awards or scholarships. He was named to the Dean’s List of Outstanding Undergraduate Excellence for three consecutive years at Texas A&M. He also earned several scholarships in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Department of Biochemistry. In addition, he was a published author in the field of genetics and a leader in such organizations as the Texas A&M Health Students of America and the American Medical Student Association.
Farideh says Roozbeh, who was mesmerized by his research and motivated by a profound thirst for knowledge, could often be found both day and night in the laboratory of Texas A&M biology professor Dr. Ira Greenbaum, one of his favorite instructors and most influential mentors.
“It was where Roozbeh found meaning for life and his philosophy, the place where Roozbeh carried a pillow to take a nap after long hours of lab work,” she recalls. “He would even ask me to call him at the lab, and I still have the lab’s phone number in my phone book. It was such a pleasure to call him while knowing he was wholeheartedly working on something he was passionate about.”
Described by many as a natural leader with a solid career in neuroscience on the horizon, Roozbeh made a memorable impact on most people he encountered in life, resulting in a large outpouring of support following his untimely death. However, two such supporters who were instrumental in raising funds for the memorial scholarship had never even met Roozbeh.
The first, Dr. Joseph H. Emmert, a Bastrop dentist and 1969 Texas A&M biology graduate, provided bridge funding for the scholarship in its early days so it could be awarded before it reached endowment level. In addition, it was Emmert’s final gift that put it over the top.
The second, Brian Dias, was a graduate student at The University of Texas in Austin when he first met Roozbeh’s sister, Rouzheen, during a game of volleyball in 2005. The more they talked, the more their friendship blossomed, Dias says, progressing to that of a surrogate sibling relationship.
As he learned more about Roozbeh from Rouzheen, Dias was intrigued by the striking similarities between himself and Roozbeh. They were the same age; Dias’ brother was the same age as Rouzheen; and both young men had chosen to pursue careers in the life sciences. Dias, who by now had grown quite close to the entire Arianpour family, felt a calling to honor Roozbeh in some way.
“It’s one of those things where the constellations just aligned,” Dias explains. “I’m a scientist. I’m quite grounded in how I think, but some things you just don’t question, and one of them is the Arianpours being a part of my life.”
When Rouzheen moved to Chicago in 2008, Dias, who is an avid runner, saw a shining opportunity to honor Roozbeh. He decided to run the Chicago Marathon in October that year and raise money in Roozbeh’s name for the memorial scholarship. After receiving the Arianpours’ blessing and contacting as many people as he could for support, Dias took on the grueling challenge.
“It was a very tough run, and it wasn’t my best by any stretch, but I wore his name and picture on my heart,” Dias says. “Roozbeh was my inspiration the whole way.”
Though he does not quite remember how much money was raised for Roozbeh, Dias recalls the response was overwhelming. Moreover, he believes that, with the support of so many of his friends firmly behind a complete stranger to complete a daunting run in order to help fund a memorial scholarship in his name, Roozbeh likely would have only been deeply appreciative.
“From what I’ve been told, he would’ve respected the response, but he would be nonchalant about it,” Dias adds. “He would just go about his work. He was on course to making a real difference in the world, and he was doing it in a very unassuming and humble way.”
Learn more about memorial scholarships or other giving opportunities through the Texas A&M Foundation.