Alumna stranded in Middle East


Nazanin Zinouri was unable to return to her home in South Carolina because of President Trumps temporary ban on immigration after visiting family in Iran. 

By Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKalb | Alumna Nazanin Zinouri was left wondering about her car, dog and the majority of her belongings when she was denied the ability to board her flight back to America after visiting Iran.

Zinouri received her master’s degree in industrial systems and engineering from NIU in 2012, where she accomplished a 4.0 GPA. She was granted membership to Alpha Pi Mu, an industrial engineering honor society, based on her high performance, according to her GoFundMe page.

Before Zinouri left Iran to attend NIU, her sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Although her sister’s diagnosis made it difficult for her to leave her family, Zinouri said on her GoFundMe page she knew she could make a positive change by pursuing her education in America.

After going through a tedious process, Zinouri finally obtained an F-1 visa and arrived in the U.S. Aug. 13, 2010.

This admission to the U.S. was interrupted when Trump signed the controversial executive order Friday that places a 90-day U.S. entry ban for individuals from Iran, Iraq, Syria,Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Sudan, according to a Jan. 31 The Washington Post article.

Additionally, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is to be suspended for 120 days, while admission of Syrian refugees is suspended indefinitely, according to the order.

During a recent trip to visit family in Iran, Zinouri began to hear word of a ban against Iranians which denied them entry to the U.S., according to a Jan. 28 Facebook post made by Zinouri.

When Zinouri realized the rumors of the ban had became a reality, she cut her trip with her family short and booked the next available flight out of Iran.

A few hours after learning of the ban, Zinouri found herself about to board a Dubai flight headed to Washington where she was confronted by Transportation Security Administration officers who told her she had been denied boarding.

“No one warned me when I was leaving, no one cared what would happen to my dog or my job or my life there,” Zinouri said in the post. “No one told me what I should do with my car that is still parked at the airport parking. Or what to do with my house and all my belongings. They didn’t say it with words but with their actions, that my life doesn’t matter. Everything I worked for all these years doesn’t matter.”

When Zinouri attended NIU, she worked in the Industrial and Systems Engineering Department as a teaching assistant for Assistant Professor Ehsan Asoudegi.

“She was unbelievable,” Asoudegi said. “She’s a model student.”

In addition to working as a teaching assistant, Zinouri was selected for researcher position on a project headed by Purushothaman Damodaran, Industrial and Systems Engineering Department Chair.

“She has a very good work ethic,” Damodaran said. “She was a [teaching assistant]; some people take that lightly, but she’s not the type of person.”

However, tragedy struck Zinouri in January 2013 when she received a phone call that her father had been involved in a fatal car accident, according to her GoFundMe page.

Zinouri remained persistent and finished the semester despite the devastating news.

Once the semester ended, Zinouri planned to return to Iran and visit her family but hesitated to leave because she was concerned she would be denied a visa renewal.

After returning home to the U.S., Zinouri went to Clemson University to pursue her PhD in industrial engineering but promised herself that she would return home once a year to visit her widowed mother and ill sister.

Damodaran described Zinouri as a quiet young woman who is very diligent.

“I saw her picture on CNN, but she looks very different from the last five years,” Damodaran said. “She looks more professional.”

During her time at NIU,Zinouri was also part of Institute of Industrial Engineers and Society of Women Engineers.

After earning her PhD from Clemson University in South Carolina, Zinouri has been working as a data modeler for Modjoul, a computer software company, according to her LinkedIn page.

Many people have shown Zinouri support, including Modjoul’s founder Eric Martinez, who has launched the #letNAZin campaign, according to a Wednesday Forbes article.

In the article, Martinez said Zinouri – whose only social support in America are her friends – expects her visa to expire in March.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) made a statement regarding Zinouri’s situation at Modjoul.

“From what I’ve been told by her friends, she was taken off a plane in Dubai,” Graham said. “The TSA agents in Dubai said it was the result of the order issued by President Trump. If that’s the case, we made a mistake. My goal is to protect Americans from terrorists coming into this country, not keep this young lady out.”

During his visit at Modjoul, Graham said the recent and unexpected executive order was not thought out and stressed the importance of maintaining good relations with the countries implicated by this ban in order to fight terrorism.

On Wednesday, Zinouri made another Facebook post from Tehran, Iran, thanking Graham, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Rep. Jeff Duncan and all the other people who have been working diligently to allow her to return home.

The post included a photo of her dog Dexter, who is currently being cared for by Zinouri’s friends.

“I advise all my [international] students to not go [home] unless they have multiple visas,” Asoudegi said. “I had one student, even under Obama two years ago; I told him ‘don’t go’ and he went back [to Iran] and I didn’t see him for two months.”

On Jan. 30, President Baker released a statement addressing the implementation of Trump’s travel ban. He said in the email that NIU “will not abandon its core value of embracing diversity in all forms,” and will stand with those who were directly affected by the order.

A total of 21 international students came from the seven countries affected by the ban in fall 2015, according to the NIU 2015-2016 Databook.

Both Damodaran and Graduate School Dean Bradley Bond both said no international students have approached them with concerns stemming from Trump’s executive order.

“I wish I had an answer to escape this uncertainty and anxiety,” Zinouri said in Wednesday’s Facebook post. “Unfortunately, it is still unclear if/when I will be able to return to the United States and I don’t know when I might get an update.”

Zinouri could not be reached for comment.