(L-R) Zahra Naghibi, Mohammad Abbaspour Ghadi, Pedram Jadidi, Samira Bashiri and Hamidreza Setareh Kokab will be remembered by friends, faculty and staff as vital contributors and caring companions.
Plane crash victims remembered as talented scholars and loving friends
They were dedicated researchers who were bolstering bridge safety with artificial intelligence, improving the accuracy of critical medical procedures and using solar energy to increase greenhouse efficiency.
They were friends who never forgot a birthday, supported each other like family and reminded others of the importance of living in the moment.
On Jan. 8, 2020 the University of Windsor lost five cherished members of its community, who were returning to campus, when Ukrainian International Airlines’ Flight PS752 crashed in Iran and claimed the lives of all 176 on board.
“We all feel the tremendous depth of human suffering caused by this tragedy,” says Dr. Robert Gordon, UWindsor president and vice-chancellor. “Our own students were standing on the very doorstep of discovery in their research careers and their potential was limitless. We will never know what life-changing contributions they may have made in their areas of study and academic pursuits — and that loss is unfathomable.”
Engineering doctoral candidates Hamidreza Setareh Kokab, Pedram Jadidi, Zahra Naghibi and her spouse Mohammad Abbaspour Ghadi and biology research assistant Samira Bashiri will be remembered by friends, faculty and staff as vital contributors and caring companions.
“I can tell you that Zahra’s innovative work in bringing solar energy into food production was unrivaled,” says Dr. Rupp Carriveau, Naghibi’s faculty advisor. “She really expanded our portfolio in terms of research in agriculture and renewable energy. If anyone here ever met Zahra, I'm sure you would realize how remarkably affable and sweet she was.”
Friends say Naghibi was the type of person who always remembered birthdays and enjoyed giving hand-picked presents. Her husband Ghadi was remembered for his warm welcomes and gathering friends for get-togethers that always had them in stitches.
Jadidi was returning from mourning the one-year anniversary of his father’s death with family and friends in Iran. Despite losing his father weeks before he started his PhD research, Jadidi’s “enthusiasm and tactfulness” helped him garner a reputation as an exceptional researcher.
Dr. Shaohong Cheng, Jadidi’s faculty advisor, says he was at the forefront of his field.
“If his work is completed successfully, it’s expected to have a huge impact on the bridge industry and engineering community,” she says. “I never doubted that someday he would become an excellent researcher. He was such a polite and generous young man, who was very reliable and responsible.”
Cheng says she could count on him for almost anything.
“If I ever needed his help, his response would always be, ‘Dr. Cheng, consider it done.’”
Bashiri and Kokab were known as the glue that held fellow Iranian students together. Friends say the couple provided endless support, motivation and joy that helped form a home away from home.
Dr. Jill Urbanic says barely a year into his PhD research, Kokab received a young research award for his machine learning and CAD design for modeling organs and skeletal elements. His research focused on improving biomechanical mannequins used to train medical students on lumbar punctures and thoracentesis — an invasive procedure that involves inserting a needle into the chest to remove fluid or air.
“Rarely, has anyone made such a contribution in such a short period of time,” Urbanic says.
Bashiri was a veterinarian who started as a volunteer in Dr. Lisa Porter’s cancer cell research lab. Bashiri worked tirelessly day and night proving to everyone in the lab how intelligent, talented and motivated she was, Porter says.
“She was so capable, so we turned her position into a paid research assistant,” Porter adds.
Bashiri used Instagram to share what she was learning about Canadian values in addition to sharing what she treasured about her own culture and life in Iran.
“We need people like Samira who embrace different cultures and use creativity and happiness to show us that peace, freedom, equality and education are the way forward,” Porter says. “We need people like Samira to truly make the world a better place.”
Engineering Dean Mehrdad Saif says faculty, staff and students were heartbroken by the news. The university held a campus memorial, which was attended by thousands of community members and live-streamed for family and friends who live outside of Windsor. It is still available on YouTube under the name UWindsor Memorial Service live at 1 p.m. Friday Jan 10.
Honouring their legacy
The university has partnered with the Iranian community in Windsor and the City of Windsor to honour the victims by creating a memorial site on the west end of the city’s riverfront not far from campus. The commemorative site will include a plaque, benches and a tree.
Following the news of their deaths, the university received an immediate outpouring of support from the UWindsor community and general public to establish the Iranian Students Memorial Scholarship - Remembering Flight PS752, a graduate scholarship endowment that will support international students conducting vital research in the Faculties of Engineering and Science.
Dr. Shervin Erfani, a UWindsor Engineering professor, has committed to matching up to $10K in donations to help the university reach its goal in permanently endowing the scholarship. Dr. Erfani, an Iranian-Canadian, has been a long-time supporter of engineering students at UWindsor and was deeply touched by this tragedy. He hopes to encourage others to give to uphold the legacy of the exceptional students honoured by this memorial fund.
Donations to the memorial fund will be matched 1:1. Donations can be made by credit card online using this link or by contacting Katie Mazzuca, the Faculty of Engineering’s major gift officer, at 519-253-3000, ext. 5959 or firstname.lastname@example.org.