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In The Spotlight: Persian Scholarship Funds

07/07/08 Report by PARSA Community Foundation

Scholarship Funds Support Academic Achievement in the Community


According to a 2004 study conducted by the Iranian Studies Group at MIT, there are more than 500 Iranian-American professors teaching and doing research at top-ranking U.S. universities and colleges. The 2000 U.S. census data also suggests that Iranian-Americans are the most highly educated ethnic group in the United States. However, it is perhaps academia that has been most adversely affected by geopolitics for the past quarter century, at times making students of Iranian origin subject to prejudice and bias. The exchange of academics between the two countries, which was beginning to show promising signs in 2000, has almost come to a standstill since September 11, 2001. Iranian students willing to continue their studies in the U.S. are faced with often insurmountable obstacles in obtaining visas. When they finally manage to arrive in the U.S. they are not allowed to work or receive financial help from their universities.

To help outstanding but financially constrained Iranian or Iranian-American students pursue higher education in the U.S., several Iranian-American philanthropists have set up scholarship funds in recent years. Dozens of Iranian students have benefited from such funds and the figures are growing. The scholarship funds, some of which are profiled here, cover different academic levels and rely on donations to make grants. As the San Diego-based Iranian-American Scholarship Fund declares on its website, "It is our hope that individuals, organizations, and companies throughout the country will join in this important endeavor to help us offer opportunities of scholarships to our young scholars, throughout the nation." Thanks to the generosity of Iranian philanthropists, increasing numbers of talented students are being given the opportunity to pursue their academic goals. Here are some examples: 


Iranian-American Scholarship Fund


The 2007-08 academic year marked the 10th anniversary of the Iranian-American Scholarship Fund, with 75 scholarships awarded so far. Board member Shahri Estakhry says, "We are now a national scholarship fund, and we are extremely proud and enthusiastic of the support we have received nationally from our community for this important cause."


The fund accepts applications from students of Iranian-American heritage in undergraduate (2nd year and above), as well as graduate (Masters) program studies. Applicants must be attending an accredited educational institution within the United States. The fund does not provide any scholarships for studies outside of the United States. For complete requirements please review application section.


After confirmation from their attending school, student applications are reviewed by a team of academic scholars, and at their recommendation the Board of Directors awards the scholarships.

Iranian Artist Scholarship


The Washington, D.C.-based Iranian Artist Scholarship began in 2001 through donations by individuals in the United States. A jury panel selects an artist every year to receive $1,000 towards their studies of Fine Arts. To be eligible you must be an Iranian or Iranian-American artist between the ages of 18-30 living and studying Fine Arts in the United States. The organization holds annual exhibitions showcasing bi-cultural artists and its annual Iranian-American Scholarship in Fine Arts.


Iranian Federated Women's Club (I.F.W.C.)

The Iranian Federated Women's Club is a local non-profit educational and service organization that promotes and introduces the Iranian community to the San Francisco Bay Area. Its local charitable endeavors include scholarships, and projects such as Braille and audio-taped books for the blind and service to the elderly.

The Club's scholarship fund helps students of Iranian descent who are attending an American University and maintain a grade point average of at least 3.5. Students with a history of community work have an advantage. The scholarship award can be as high as $10,000 per year. It also grants scholarships of $500 a year to students at Payvand, an Iranian Cultural School at De Anza College. The school fosters an interest in Iranian culture by teaching Iranian heritage, traditions and language.



Iranian Scholarship Fund


In the spring of 2000, Azadeh Hariri founded the Iranian Youth Scholarship under the umbrella of the Iranian Federated Women's Club (IFWC) with the vision of starting a meaningful scholarship program for Iranian-American students. This later became a basis for the creation of the Iranian Scholarship Foundation (ISF) in 2005.


"In the early days, many students were not aware that such a scholarship existed, and that they could apply for it," Ms. Hariri says. "Now although we have raised our criteria for accepting applications, each year we receive hundreds of applications."


Currently the undergraduate scholarship fund is open to undergraduate students of Iranian descent studying in a four-year college in the U.S. Once a student is awarded the scholarship, which can be up to $10,000, the student is supported for four years or until the student graduates, whichever comes first. The scholarship recipients are required to perform at least 100 hours of volunteer work each year in their community.



Momeni Foundation


Momeni Foundation is dedicated to providing scholarships to graduating high school students and full time college students of Iranian descent anywhere in the world. According to Mojtaba Momeni, the Foundation's president, the idea of providing scholarships to students of Iranian descent originated in 1984, when "I realized that without the benefit of scholarships I could not have achieved what I was achieving in my life."

In 1993, Mr. Momeni started a small local scholarship program through the Iranian Professional Society of Oregon, which in 2001 evolved into Momeni Foundation.  The foundation grants ten scholarships for amounts of $500 to $1000 each to graduating high school students and current college students of Iranian descent at undergraduate, graduate and PhD levels regardless of citizenship or country of residency. In addition, every year at least three scholarships for an amount of $1,000 are awarded to students that are graduating from high school and are citizens or permanent residents of United States.

Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute


Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes scholarship on Iranian culture and heritage has established the Roshan Institute Fellowship for Excellence in Persian Studies at the a number of universities around the country:

  • California State University, Fresno  - For students enrolled in Persian Language and/or Iranian Studies courses.
  • University of Washington - To support Persian Studies specifically at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
  • University of Maryland at College Park  - In addition to the Roshan Institute Fellowship for Excellence in Persian Studies  there is also a Roshan Institute Undergraduate Scholarship for Excellence in Persian Studies for students in theRoshan Institute Center for Persian Studies.
  • University of California, Los Angeles - Restricted to the last dissertation-year of outstanding Ph.D. students in all aspects of Persian or Iranian Studies.

Society of Iranian American Women for Education (SIAWE)

A major activity of this organization is to provide scholarships to qualified college or university students to enhance their educational opportunities. Each year a number of students are selected based on available funding, the number of applicants and their qualifications to receive an SIAWE's scholarship.

The scholarship recipients do not receive any cash rewards from SIAWE; instead the award money is credited to the students' account at their enrolling school to be used toward their tuition and books for the fall and spring semesters. At the end of each academic year any unused scholarship funding is returned to SIAWE to be redistributed into the scholarship fund for future candidates.

The H.A.N.D. Foundation Scholarships
The H.A.N.D. Research Foundation Scholarship: The H.A.N.D. Research Foundation seeks Persian-speaking individuals with high academic standing who are committed to pursuing a PhD or postgraduate studies in the field of economics. Currently, one grant of up to $30,000 per academic year will be awarded to cover tuition, fees, books and materials, and living expenses for a first-year PhD student.  Current recipients have benefited from funding for University of Chicago and MIT.
Bita Daryabari Scholarship for Women in Economics
: Bita Daryabari, founder and President of Unique Zan Foundation in Menlo Park, CA, has established this scholarship which is granted to Persian-speaking women who have been admitted to economics PhD programs in one of twenty of the most highly-respected institutions. Says Daryabari, "I am committed to helping women establish themselves in positions of leadership and be role models to other women".
The Houtan Foundation
The Houtan Scholarship Foundation seeks students from all origins who have high academic performance and proven interest in promoting Iran's great culture, heritage, language and civilization. Currently, one award of $2500 per semester is given toward a graduate school education for the selected applicant. The award is offered each fall and spring semester. The applicant should have a working knowledge of Persian and should demonstrate an active interest in Iranian culture, heritage and literature, as well as distinguished academic performance or a significant increase of academic performance over the course of his/her academic career. Financial need will be a factor in determining the scholarship recipients.

For more information about scholarships for Iranian Americans please see NIAC's report.

Other Opportunities for Students: Summer Internship opportunities at PARSA Community Foundation

If you are a student looking for an internship opportunity this summer please contact us with a paragraph about yourself and key highlights of your past experiences, interests and ways you believe you can help. Volunteers are needed at our office in Redwood City, CA, but specific projects can be crafted for people elsewhere. Please let us know if you are interested so we can stay in contact with you. Please send your email to

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