Shadi Zamani ’20 finally feels settled into her new apartment in New Jersey. Just six months ago, she felt like a young woman without a home.
Sure, she had her room in Mills Hall, where she connected with fellow students as their resident assistant (RA). And she had what she considers her second homes with members of the campus community who have offered her support, housing, funding, food, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on when things turned tough.
But her true home, where she grew up in Andisheh, just 30 minutes northwest of Tehran, Iran, is a memory, a place where she can likely never return. And her family — her parents and her two younger sisters — can never come to visit her.
“I knew that the path I chose would be emotionally difficult,” says Zamani of her decision to earn a college degree in the United States. She couldn’t have known exactly how difficult it would be.
Zamani’s UNH experience was unlike many other students, but thanks to support from the UNH community, she not only made it through to earn her degree in chemical engineering, but she’s now gainfully employed at LTS Research Laboratories in New York.
“I remember sitting up at night, not sleeping, and each time someone would donate even $5, it would make me so happy."
But for the latter part of her undergraduate career, she was in crisis. Because of the federal economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S. and the federal travel ban targeting predominately Muslim countries enacted in 2017, during her junior year, Zamani’s family was no longer able to support her financially.
That led to months of panic and worry about how to pay for school and stay in Durham. She sought advice from the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS), and connected with the Rev. Larry Brickner Wood, chaplain and former executive director of the Waysmeet Center, known also as the United Campus Ministry at UNH. He helped her create a public fundraising webpage so that people could donate to support her tuition and room and board.
“I remember sitting up at night, not sleeping, and each time someone would donate even $5, it would make me so happy,” she says.
Soon, guardian angels stepped in. Donors gave in every amount from $1 to an anonymous $27,000 gift to help Zamani stay in school. A staff member’s family offered her a rent-free apartment in their home. Soon, the RA position and other part-time jobs on campus helped make up the difference, carrying her through to graduation.
Zamani counts among those guardian angels President James Dean, whom she got to know after meeting him at an OISS event, and who quickly became an ally, seeking out ways she could improve her situation.
“If any one of those people weren’t there for me at any point, I would not have been able to finish my degree and graduate in May,” she says.
But the relief was short-lived, as graduating and looking for her first full-time job amid a global pandemic presented new challenges. Her friend President Dean and his wife Jan, who called to check in on Zamani regularly, suggested graduate school. While she considered that, she went on countless job interviews. She got good news in June that she was being offered a position at LTS as a research and development engineer, and she solidified plans to make the move once the official offer letter arrived in August.
She says her work in the classrooms and labs at UNH helps her daily in her role at LTS, including research analysis and writing, as well as what she learned in her mass transfer and organic chemistry classes.
Through it all, she also learned a little bit about her own resilience, and the kindness of strangers, namely those within the UNH community.
“I learned to have hope until the very last moment, never give up. You never know where help is going to come from, “ Zamani says. “Never lose your hope.”