Iranian-American Scholarship Fund raises money for student scholarships at Rancho Santa Fe fundraiser

By Kristina Houck

Growing up in Iran, Pouya Jamshidi dreamed of being an opera conductor. He discovered a new dream when he came to the United States: neuroscience.

“A conductor cannot make the music. If they can build trust with the musicians, they can create something bigger than both of them,” said Jamshidi, who served as the assistant conductor for the Tehran Philharmonic while living in Iran. “I feel there is a parallel here with medicine. If I can build trust with my patients and show them that we are on the same team, we can improve their health.”

Jamshidi moved to the United States just before he turned 21 years old. He transferred from Santa Monica College to UC San Diego, where he launched his own orchestra at the International House. He also excelled in his studies, earning a variety of scholarships, including an Iranian-American scholarship.

“I was looking for different scholarship opportunities because at the time, I was working in a bank. I was hoping to focus most of my attention on my studies,” Jamshidi said. “I was very pleasantly surprised to see there was a scholarship for Iranian Americans.”

As a junior and senior at UC San Diego, Jamshidi received two $1,500 scholarships from the Iranian-American Scholarship Fund (IASF). Now 32 years old, he is a second year medical student at the campus.

“The scholarship absolutely helped me financially,” Jamshidi said, “but the Iranian-American Scholarship Fund is more than just a monetary gift or scholarship. It’s being connected to a very dedicated group of professionals in this community. That has been, for me, the greatest gift. It has become an extended family.”

It was family that inspired Shahri Estakhry to launch the Iranian-American Scholarship Fund 16 years ago. At the time, her third cousin had recently graduated from high school with a 4.4 GPA. He was set to go to UC Davis but was disappointed to discover the school didn’t offer scholarships specifically for students with Iranian heritage.

“It really shook me,” said Estakhry, Iranian-American Scholarship Fund founder, board member and trustee. “Our community cares about education. It’s important to us for the future generation.”

Estakhry approached UC San Diego with the idea to start a scholarship fund for Iranian-American students. Within days after the school’s approval, Estakhry and her friends raised $5,000. Iranian-American Scholarship Fund awarded five $1,000 scholarships in its first year.

Although the scholarship fund was established in 1997 at UC San Diego, Iranian-American Scholarship Fund now operates as a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization. The organization has awarded 205 scholarships since it first launched.

Last year, it gave $50,000 in scholarships. This year, Iranian-American Scholarship Fund aims to double that number, Estakhry said.

To help raise money, the organization hosted an invitation-only fundraiser Feb. 8 at a private residence in Rancho Santa Fe.

“In supporting a scholarship, you can’t go wrong. It is the greatest investment that we can make,” Estakhry said. “Investments don’t always have to be funds in our own pockets. We do it for our future generations, for our communities, for the betterment of humanity.”

For more information about the Iranian-American Scholarship Fund and to donate, visit