CBC News: Scholarship created in name of promising U of Manitoba scientist who died in Iran plane crash

As people mourned Friday at a memorial service for one of the victims of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752, there was a note of hope with the announcement of a scholarship established in honour of Forough Khadem.

Khadem graduated from the University of Manitoba with a PhD in immunology in 2016, and was a promising scientist who made an important discovery about a deadly parasitic disease called leishmaniasis.

Brent Wennekes, director of business development at the non-profit research organization Mitacs, announced the establishment of the Dr. Forough Khadem scholarship during the Friday service, saying it was created “to honour her life, spirit and work.”

Before she died in the Jan. 8 crash, Khadem worked in the Winnipeg offices of Mitacs, a Canada-wide non-profit that works to make connections between industry and researchers.

The two-year, $30,000 scholarship is focused on international female post-secondary graduate students working in the fields of science, technology, engineering or math.

It’s intended to help the scholarship recipient “come to Canada and finish her education and to make the world a better place,” said Wennekes.

“The recipient will demonstrate leadership, a desire to have an impact on the world through her science, and will embody a pioneering spirit — just like Forough,” he said.

“We sincerely hope that the Dr. Forough Khadem scholarship will support the next generation of women STEM researchers, who will follow in her footsteps, and pay tribute to — and honour — the legacy of our dear friend and colleague.”

Khadem “exemplified the best qualities of scientist, scholar, colleague and friend,” said Sara Israels, vice-dean of academic affairs at the U of M’s Rady faculty of health sciences. 

“Dr. Forough Khadem was a remarkably high achiever, but she was also a generous soul who sought to lift others up through leadership, mentorship and collaboration,” Israels said.

A highlight of Khadem’s career was her invitation to a prestigious conference in 2018.

The U of M grad was one of 600 people from 84 countries chosen to participate in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, which connects up-and-coming scientists with Nobel Prize laureates. 

‘You were an angel’

Khadem was one of eight people from Winnipeg who died when Flight PS752 was shot down earlier this month by an Iranian missile just outside Tehran, shortly after takeoff. None of the 176 people on board survived.

During Friday’s memorial, it was clear her presence is dearly missed by the people she left behind, as more than a dozen professors, colleagues and friends described her, and the mark she left. 

“Forough was taken away from us too soon, and it’s really very hard to accept that she is gone,” said Jude Uzonna, Khadem’s PhD mentor and friend.

“You were an angel, and angels like you have no place here on our wicked Earth. Angels reside in heaven, where they are nurtured, pampered and cherished,” he said, fighting back tears. 

As a scientist, Khadem paid attention to every detail, no matter how small, but was still able to explain her findings so that anyone could understand their significance, Uzonna said.

Uzonna said Khadem made him a better mentor, saying she helped him realize mentorship is not “one-size-fits-all” and that every student has different strengths and weaknesses.

Above all, Uzonna said he will miss Khadem’s personality; her love, kindness, “infectious optimism,” and her belief that every person was good.

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