Department of Computer Science creates graduate scholarship in memory of Iranian plane crash victims

Second fund to honour U of T community members lost during the tragedy
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY
FIONA TUNG/THE VARSITY

On January 30, U of T’s Department of Computer Science announced its plan to launch the Beiruti and Saleheh Memorial Fund — an endowed scholarship for international students seeking graduate degrees in computer science. The fund was established to honour the memory of Mohammad Amin Beiruti and Mohammad Saleheh, PhD students in computer science who were killed in the recent crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in Iran. This is the second scholarship that U of T will establish in the name of the crash victims.

The flight’s 176 passengers and crew were killed on January 8 when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard mistook the plane for an enemy aircraft and shot it down, according to Iranian officials. The incident happened amidst heightened tensions between Iran and the US, following the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani. Eight members of the U of T community — six of whom were students — were among the victims of the crash, part of the 138 passengers connecting to Canada.

The department is asking for donations to help set up the fund, which will be awarded in perpetuity. It will be matching donations up to $50,000 at a one-to-one rate.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of two vibrant members of our computer science community,” said Marsha Chechik, Interim Chair of the Department of Computer Science, in a statement posted to the Faculty of Arts & Science webpage. “By establishing this fund we hope to honour the impact Mohammad Amin Beiruti and Mohammad Saleheh made on the department and support future international graduate students [pursuing] education in computer science.”

On its donations page, the Department of Computer Science also honours Zahra Hassani, who was returning to Toronto to begin graduate studies at U of T. Hassani and Saleheh were married.

Beiruti was described as “an innovator, with a natural ability for deep thinking” in a press release from the department. As a teaching assistant and mentor at U of T, he was committed to supporting undergraduate students. Through his research in theoretical modelling and system analysis and design, Beiruti sought to make meaningful contributions to technology, as he believed “that the more technology improved, the better the world would be.” He had travelled to Iran that winter to spend time with his family following the death of his grandmother.

Saleheh had been an avid programmer since elementary school, where he designed his first video game for a Commodore 64 home computer. He was an instructor at Sharif University and created an online course in Farsi to teach web programming — a course which is still used by thousands each year. He is remembered as “an outstanding scientist and a top-rate engineer,” who made the most out of his short time at U of T by collaborating with Samsung and AT&T, and publishing multiple peer-reviewed papers.

Hassani was a physics graduate from Sharif University who was about to begin her studies at U of T. She was described as “caring, devoted to her friends and family, spiritual, and [having] a unique perspective where she enjoyed life to its fullest.”  Hassani and Saleheh are remembered as a “great couple.”

The Beiruti and Saleheh Memorial Fund is now the second memorial scholarship to be created at U of T in honour of the victims of flight PS752. On January 15, U of T announced that it would establish the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will provide needs-based scholarships to students from Iran or any student interested in pursuing Iranian studies at U of T.

Vice-President Advancement David Palmer, one of the co-creators of the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund, said to U of T News that the aim of this scholarship was to “ensure that the names of those we lost will not be forgotten.” He went on to say that “these students and scholars were among the very brightest of their generation. We hope that this scholarship will allow their memory to serve as an inspiration for generations to come.”

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