College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

IE graduate student finds a little slice of her Iranian homeland in Ames

A young lady smiles for the camera
Motina Kashanian

Even though she now lives halfway across the world, one industrial engineering (IE) graduate student has found a little slice of her Iranian home here in Ames.

In addition to being a Ph.D. student in IE, Motina Kashanian also serves as treasurer of Iowa State University’s Iranian Students’ and Scholars’ Association (ISSA). ISSA aims to bring together students from Iran and from Iranian families, or anyone else in the Ames area who has an interest in Persian culture and language. The group hosts regular meetings and special events to celebrate the history and culture of Iran.

Kashanian recently served as the master of ceremonies during the group’s annual Norooz event, which marks the Persian New Year and the beginning of spring. Though the official Norooz holiday landed on the morning of March 20, the group hosted their event on March 22 at Cornerstone Church in Ames.

“We planned several fun activities for the around 160 participants, which included traditional Iranian food, a live musical performance, three different types of Persian dance performances, a trivia game and more,” said Kashanian. “Together we made some wonderful memories and wished each other an amazing year ahead.”

Kashanian grew up in Tehran, the capital of Iran. She always had an interest in “discovering how things work” and studied IE as an undergraduate at Amirkabir University of Technology – Tehran Polytechnic in Iran’s capital city.

“This experience opened my eyes to the excitement and wider benefit of mathematical programming and the art of translating problems from an application area into tractable mathematical formulations,” she said.

After completing her B.S., she went across town and pursued her M.S. in IE from the Iran University of Science and Technology where she specialized in macroeconomic systems and renewable energy. Through her research she developed a robust sourcing plan for a sustainable biomass portfolio using multi-stage stochastic programming.

She knew she wanted to dive even deeper into this field after completing her M.S., so she applied to and was admitted into Iowa State University’s Ph.D. program in IE. She was attracted to what she saw as a “great educational environment” at Iowa State, which included strong faculty who conducted research in her field as well as opportunities for both networking and the ability to gain real-world experience by working with external companies.

A student poses next to her professor
Kashanian poses with Dr. Ryan beside a HaftSeen arrangement, a traditional Persian decoration for Norooz.

Kashanian works in the lab of Sarah Ryan, a professor of IE who was recently named the C.G. “Turk” and Joyce A. Therkildsen Department Chair. They are currently working on a NSF-funded project that examines the supply chain design of particular types of chemicals from biomass using mathematical modeling and optimization under uncertainty. Kashanian is also a trainee with the DataFEWsion program, which is overseen by Ryan.

To unwind after a busy day, Kashanian said she likes to work out at the campus recreation facilities to maintain both her physical and mental health. She also enjoys music, movies and sports, and recently started taking online singing lessons.

Having come from the big city of Tehran, with a population of more than eight million people, she said she’s grown to appreciate the tranquility of Ames. She has found the public transportation makes it easy to get around town and appreciates that the people are “nice, warm and welcoming.” She admits that adapting to the cold, snowy winter has been one of the biggest challenges she has faced since living in Ames.

“In the last days of September, that famous Game of Thrones quote kept running through my head: Winter is coming,” she said with a laugh. “However, the spring has now come. I am looking forward to longer and warmer days.”

Kashanian plans to complete her Ph.D. in 2025. She hopes to pursue a career in academia after graduating. In addition to advancing research and teaching in the field of operations research and artificial intelligence, she hopes to also serve as a supportive role model to encourage other young women to pursue studies in STEM.

“I want to do my part to pave the way for female scientists and engineers. I hope that I can advance gender equality and use industrial and systems engineering techniques to make the world a better place to live,” she said.