The Afghan Family Legacy: Education Is the Gift of a Lifetime

Afghan brothers
Left to right: Abdi, Hamid, Ali, Reza

Houran Afghan always told her four sons that education is a gift no one can take away from you. Believing that education is a prerequisite for success – along with a strong desire to improve the lives of others – is the foundation of the Afghan family legacy. Throughout the 1970s, members of the Afghan family migrated from Iran to Portland. PSU served as an important gateway for the family’s journey. Houran’s brother-in-law, four sons and nephews would all go on to attend PSU and have successful careers. And the next generation is continuing the legacy.

Building a Bridge to Education in the United States

Hamid Afghan

Hamid Afghan, oldest of the brothers, was nine years old when their father passed away. His mother, Houran, raised him and his three younger brothers by herself in Tehran. She was a strong-willed person who firmly believed in education. In 1972 her brother-in-law Amir Tamjidi, had obtained his MBA at PSU sponsored by the Iranian air force. An older student, Amir created connections with faculty and made friends in Portland. Through these connections, Houran saw an opportunity for her sons to receive an education in the U.S. and brought them here one by one when they became old enough.

Amir returned to Tehran, and shortly afterward Hamid arrived on his own in Portland. He had recently graduated from high school at the age of 16. “There were a dozen Iranians at PSU and we formed a family. I’m still in contact with some of those friends today,” Hamid recalls. “I felt rejuvenated at PSU, and my undergraduate years were the best years of my life.”

Hamid (’77 B.S. ’80 M.S., Engineering and Applied Science- Structural Engineering) had a natural inclination for engineering. In January 1974, he enrolled in what is now known as the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science at PSU. The late Maseeh College Dean, Dr. Chik Erzurumlu, became the young student’s advisor and helped him procure an internship at Mackenzie Engineering – a firm where he would eventually work for 13 years. Hamid co-founded Afghan Rippey Consulting, and later launched Afghan Associates Inc. (now AAI Engineering). He remains the founding and managing principal of AAI Engineering. “A lot of credit goes to PSU in helping me get me where I am now,” he asserts.

Reza Afghan

Houran brought Mahmoud “Reza” Afghan, her third son, to Portland at the age of 15 to finish high school and left him in Hamid’s care. Reza went on to attend the Maseeh College for a year and a half, and he has fond memories of listening to Dr. Erzurumlu speak about the Fremont Bridge’s construction. The bridge had been prefabricated and floated into position, but it wouldn’t “fit” in its new location.

“They called in Dr. Erzurumlu, and he told them to wait until 2:00 p.m. when the rising temperature of the day would allow the bridge to sync into place,” he recalls. “That got me interested in the real-world applications of mathematics.”

Reza completed his mathematics degree with a minor in electrical engineering at Oregon State University (OSU) and started his career as an instructor at Clackamas Community College. He then worked in Silicon Valley for over 15 years as a high-level executive for several private and public high-tech companies before returning to Portland to be closer to his family. Reza then worked at Intel for several years as Director of Engineering Alliances and as Director of Patent and Intellectual Property.  He decided to retire early and now does occasional consulting.

In the end, all the Afghan brothers chose to go into engineering. “We all had a natural affinity for engineering and math,” Reza says. “Our mom valued education as a way to get ahead in life and insisted you can never take away a good education; no matter where you live, it will always be with you.”

Abdi Afghan

Houran then escorted Abdi Afghan, her fourth son (’93 BS Civil Engineering), to Portland on his fifteenth birthday. He finished high school and went to community college for one year in 1980. Abdi decided to follow in Reza’s footsteps and went to OSU. Homesick for Portland, he returned to the city and worked and attended college sporadically. In 1990, Adbi rededicated himself to education fulltime.

“Going through school on-and-off was a challenge, and Dr. Franz Rad, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at PSU, gave me a second chance – he believed in me when I said I was serious this time,” recalls Abdi. “If it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have gone back. He became a mentor, and I’m grateful to him.”

After Abdi graduated PSU, he joined Hamid’s business and the two brothers worked together for 18 years. Abdi was a project manager, focusing on structural engineering. Then he tried something completely different.

“I went to work for an import/export company, and now I’m vice president at API International,” he says. “I learned problem-solving at PSU, and I learned how to deal with people by watching Hamid. I didn’t know I had that skill in me until I tried this new adventure. It’s made me a more successful person.”

Ali Afghan

Ali Afghan (’83 Mechanical Engineering) is the second oldest Afghan brother, but he had to go to Canada at the age of 17 while waiting on his U.S. visa and decided to return home instead. By the time he came to Portland in 1978, all of his brothers were here. “Our mom was incredibly brave to send her teenage sons across the globe in the hope of getting an education and becoming better people, and PSU was our gateway,” he says.

Originally fascinated by automobiles and airplanes, Ali’s PSU engineering courses focused on machine design and aerodynamics. His senior year project, however, was how to reduce energy costs in Science Building 2 under Dr. Graig A. Spolek. “We got into building infrastructure, HVAC and lighting – things I’d never explored before,” he recalls. “I wanted a hands-on project and this work opened my eyes to a new branch of engineering where I had a passion.” Ali worked at two local engineering consulting firms as a designer, project engineer, and project manager for 12 years before joining Intel for 17 years.

In 2009, Ali was diagnosed with leukemia. After he recovered from the illness, Ali retired from Intel in 2014 as corporate global health and safety director. The following year, he joined Genentech – the biotechnology company that helped save his life. Now the Director of Personalized Cancer Vaccine Engineering, his work focuses on equipment for cancer vaccines and he leads the team for an upcoming Genentech manufacturing plant in Hillsboro.

Family Affair

The four brothers and their uncle started a family legacy at PSU that continued with the next generation. Hamid’s son, Andisheh Afghan, studied at the university, and both of Ali’s daughters, Sara Afghan (’16 Science and Public Health) and Roya Afghan (’15 Science and Public Health), attended PSU – as well as his wife, Billy Afghan (’99 MBA). Roya and Sara’s mother, Azita Shadyab (’82) and Andisheh’s mother, Beverly Afghan (’87) as well as Houran’s nephews, Mo Tamjidi (’84) and Babak Afghani-Rad (’98) all graduated from PSU.

“Much of my family’s story started at PSU,” asserts Roya. “My sister Sara and our cousin Andisheh represent the third generation of Afghans who attended here.”

Afghan Family kids
Left to right: Sara, Roya, Andisheh, Paymonn (Reza’s Son)

After completing her pre-required courses for nursing school, Roya became passionate about the business side of advocating for those who do not have access to healthcare. She currently leads advocacy and government affairs as a planning and project manager for the nonprofit, TrueCare, providing equitable health care for all. She recently received her MBA from California State University in Monterey in May 2021.

Sara Afghan knew she wanted to go into the medical field. After graduating from PSU, she went to nursing school in Philadelphia and now works as a registered nurse in OHSU’s bone marrow transplant unit. She was recently nominated for the Nightingale Award for being the best care provider in her unit. “PSU was a really great place to make some lifelong friends,” Sara says. “I’m very close to my family and attending PSU felt like a family tradition.”

Andisheh majored in mathematics with a minor in business at PSU. He is engaged in a career in music as a recording and performing violinist, working for a label in Las Vegas responsible for over 60 platinum records. With many known connections between math and music, he believes his studies served him extremely well as both a practical and theoretical knowledge base for his career. His time at the university provided a strong foundation of critical thinking, problem solving, and business knowledge that have helped him navigate the music industry. “When I attended PSU, I often thought of my father, uncles, and other family that have enrolled there over the past half-century,” he reflected. “The university prepared me very well to think for myself and navigate an industry in which there isn’t a lot of hand-holding.”

Strong Ties

PSU is proud to count members of the Afghan family among its alumni as they continue to work to improve the lives of others and our community. They offer their service to PSU in many ways: Hamid is an emeritus member of PSU's CEE (civil and environmental engineering) Advisory Council, and he often offers seminars at the university. Ali is a member of the PSU Maseeh College Dean's Executive Council. Both Hamid and Ali are members of the Maseeh College Academy of Distinguished Alumni of the Maseeh College.

"PSU has been very good to us and I feel like our destiny was to be in Portland," notes Hamid.  

Ali says getting a degree at PSU created roots in the community. “PSU made our whole family end up in this city. It helped us create a future here.”

There were many mentors that helped each brother along the way, most notably Dr. Rad who grew from being a mentor to a colleague and is now one of Hamid’s friends. It was the advice and guidance of Dr. Erzurumlu and Tom Mackenzie who helped to shape Hamid’s professional life.

The brothers have fond memories of their professors, Drs. Wendelin Henry Mueller III, Graig A. Spolek, Herman J. Migliore, Nan-Teh Hsu, Pah Chen, George A. Tsongas, to name a few.

Still, each son gives the ultimate credit for their achievements to their mom. Hamid sums up their collective respect and admiration, "She had the will, courage and fortitude to send us here and make sure we succeeded,” he says. “Our mother entrusted PSU with her sons' futures, and with the help of its excellent curriculum and faculty, her hopes and dreams were fulfilled."

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