18 February 2004
Houtan Scholarships Support Study of Iranian Language, Culture
Mina Houtan says greater understanding, knowledge bridge differences
By Anthony Kujawa
Washington -- "Lighting the pathway for others" is the spirit that drives Mina Houtan, founder of the U.S.-based Houtan Scholarship Foundation that grants scholarships to graduate students pursing academic study in Iranian language and culture.
"The more we know about the past, the more we can do about the future," said Houtan, in a February 11 interview with the Washington File. The Houtan Scholarship Foundation aims to foster continued scholarship on Persian history, culture, civilization and language, she said.
But Houtan said the scholarship is not only given to students who are studying Persian literature or culture. "It [the scholarship] is open for any student studying, any major, as long as he or she is actively involved in promoting our ancient culture," said Houtan.
Born in Tehran to a family which placed its "highest priority" on education, Houtan received a doctorate degree from Esfahan University School of Pharmaceutical Sciences in 1967 and later a doctoral degree in Organic Chemistry from State University of New York -- Binghamton. She applied to U.S. universities through the American Friends of the Middle East (AMIDEAST) -- a private, nonprofit organization that strengthens mutual understanding and cooperation between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa.
Education, hard work and persistence, said Houtan, are keys to overcoming obstacles and achieving one's goals. While working in the pharmaceutical industry, Houtan has always had a passion for teaching, education and helping others, and she established the foundation in 1999.
Since 2000, twenty students have received the foundation's $2500 scholarship, renewable each semester for up to eight semesters. Houtan said recipients must demonstrate financial need and an "active interest in promoting Persian culture." Recent recipients include students from Greece, Hungary, Italy and Russia studying Persian literature, and an Iranian student pursuing a doctoral degree in the Achaemenid language at a university in Germany. Houtan said the scholarship recipient studying Achaemenid works for a museum in Tehran and plans to translate excavated tablets to increase understanding of the Achaemenid Dynasty, which existed from 550 B.C. to 420 B.C..
Another recipient, studying human rights law in New York, is helping immigrants gain access to social services and conducting advocacy on behalf of Iranians who have been arrested or detained in the United States, due to post-9/11 immigration policies such as the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program.
Commenting on U.S.-Iran relations, Houtan called "impressive" both the support U.S. citizens have shown for fundraising and rescue missions following the Bam earthquake disaster in Iran and the response of sympathy and cooperation from Iran following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York and Washington.
"People in Iran were walking with one candle in one hand, one flower in another hand," gathering in remembrance at city squares following the September 11 terror attacks, said Houtan.
"We Americans and Iranians are excellent in getting united during a time of need," she said. "People can live with each other without any problems ... if the politicians let them," she added.
In a message directed toward students pursuing their goals, Houtan said, "Never give up at any time in your life -- persistence pays off."
"Do not forget: At the end of any dark tunnel, there is a light waiting for you. Once you get there, hold the torch up to light the pathway for the others."
Houtan said she is currently looking for sponsors to establish two more scholarships, one for undergraduate students globally, and another for high school students in Iran to enable them to compete in the International Olympiad -- an annual academic competition.
More information about the Houtan Scholarship Foundation is available at: www.houtan.org