Life takes a star turn

An Asylum Seeker Scholarship from Monash has created unexpected opportunities for Pouya Heidari.

BY LARISSA DUBECKI

Pouya Heidari is still finding it hard to believe he recently met his role model, the scientist, author and cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The second-year Bachelor of Science student, recipient of an Asylum Seeker Scholarship from Monash University, received an unexpected call in July from Access Monash.

“They told me deGrasse Tyson would be in Melbourne for his A Cosmic Perspective tour in a week or so and could I make it? I said yes, I’d cancel anything to go! I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “How he expresses science is so fantastic, and I met him after the show and got him to sign one of my books.”

It’s not the only exciting thing to happen to him this year. In March, the 21-year-old received notice from the Federal Government that his refugee application had been successful.

It was the life-changing news he had been waiting for: he and his mother and brother had finally been granted permanent residency status. “The best day of my life,” Heidari says.

It’s a huge turnaround from four years ago, when he found himself in Australia on a bridging visa with no right to a publicly funded education. Religious persecution meant his native Iran was no longer safe, but in Australia his dream of becoming an astrophysicist seemed as remote as the stars he so loves studying.

It took a dedicated scholarship from Monash University to change his life.

“I owe the scholarship donors everything... If everyone had the same level of support to study the world would be a different place.”

The Asylum Seeker Scholarship is a recent addition to Monash University’s raft of equity scholarships committed to helping people from diverse backgrounds attend university.

For the first time, philanthropic gifts are supporting a scholarship specifically for asylum seekers, giving recipients such as Heidari full tuition fees plus $3000 a year for living expenses.

I owe the scholarship donors everything,” he says. “It gave me a totally different life, to be honest. If everyone had the same level of support to study the world would be a different place

Halfway through his second year studying science with an intended major in astrophysics, life is good.

“I’ve made some great friends, and I’m enjoying my subjects and lecturers. I do astrophotography as a hobby. We go out to Heathcote with a telescope and take pictures. Then we do Photoshop, clean up the light pollution. It’s like observational astronomy.”

He and several friends have also started a Facebook group for the Monash astrophysicists. “We try to get other people’s ideas, and solve problems together.”

Second year at university has proved easier than the first. It’s not hard to see he has found his groove. “Last year was about adjusting,” he says. “I belong to uni now.”