Scholarships Affirm Efforts of Economics Student
Rod Motamedi with Dwight Merriam '68
at this year's scholarship awards
ceremony “Before coming to UMass Amherst I really didn’t know what economics is, or what economists do,” says Rod Motamedi ’08, who has been described as an economics junkie. Originally he thought business would be his major, but early in the process of fulfilling the prerequisites, Motamedi took a microeconomics course. “I really enjoyed it. That led to another—and the realization that all the things that I find most interesting about business are really the domain of economists. Economics is the rules of the game and the properties of the playing field. Business is the players running around, executing the game. Those who understand the rules and properties have a distinct advantage over those who only play!”
Motamedi is an outstanding student, and his efforts have been rewarded this year with several scholarships: the Sherry Barber Memorial Scholarship, established by the late Mildred (Sherry) Barber to support talented economics students; the Merriam Internship Scholarship, given for the first time this year, that was established by Dwight Merriam ’68 to support summer or semester-long internships in public policy, law, ecological conservation and/or real estate development; and the Opportunity Scholarship, funded by SBS alumni to honor high achieving students.
“I’m thrilled to know that my financial burden is now lighter, but it is humbling to receive all of these awards,” Motamedi says. “There is no shortage of qualified candidates, so I feel a little guilty about taking something from someone else. Still, it’s exciting. The internship I’m doing is at Regional Economic Models, Inc. They make economic forecasting models for governments and government agencies, and I’ll be helping out on various on-going projects. Aside from building my resume, I hope to hone my own interests in economics, since I’ll be exposed to different aspects of the field. This will help clarify what I might concentrate on in grad school.”
Motamedi isn’t one who has known all his life what he intends to do. “My life has come to me in periodic powerful revelations,” he says. That includes coming back to the United States alone, from Iran, when he was 17, because he “knew” it was right. And moving to Massachusetts, though he’d never been here, because he sensed it was where he should be.
Motamedi’s past might give these revelations some context. His parents came to the U.S. as Iranian students in the 1970s, fully expecting to complete their studies and return home. The Islamic Revolution and resulting social unrest altered those plans. They stayed, got married, had children. “We lived in Lawrence, Kansas, until I was 12,” Motamedi says. “It was 1995. After 25 years away, my parent wanted to be back with their families. So, I began 7th grade at the Tehran International School. Unfortunately my entire curriculum was in Farsi, and I spoke hardly any.”
Motamedi participated in a special program for those who needed to learn the language. “We started from the first-grade textbook and worked our way through the sixth-grade level—all in one semester. It was hard! The second semester and over the summer, we took the rest of our classes. We weren’t cut any slack. If we failed anything, we knew we’d be held back.”
Finishing high school, Motamedi decided to attend college in the U.S. Six months after graduation in December 2000, he moved to Arizona, joining his father’s cousin. “I was still a minor, so I needed someone to sign things for me,” he says, “but I really didn’t like it there.” When a friend from Iran said he needed a roommate that fall in Boston, Motamedi jumped.
“I worked for a few years, saving up for college and chose UMass Amherst because it was well respected and affordable (money was—and is—a concern). My friend came too, and so we continued to be roommates.” By then he was 21.
“I can’t think of a class I haven’t liked,” Motamedi reflects, noting that Econ 204H and Polisci 356 were real standouts. “I’ve been surrounded by excellence and have a wonderful relationship with the professors in my department, especially Professors Crotty, Aitken, Flaherty, Gonzalez-Brenes, and Stifler. Many of them have gone out of their way to help me, with jobs and references. I am sincerely grateful.”
Motamedi works hard, but he’s not shy about playing hard either. “Every weekend my friends and I get together to dance, eat, drink, socialize. We are Lebanese, Colombian, Puerto Rican, Persian, Slovakian—like the UN, except we all get along. These weekends are as important to me as class time. It’s an education that cannot be replicated later in life.”
His advice to other students: be assertive. “Resources are everywhere, but it’s up to you to use them. Friends don’t come if you won’t open up, and faculty can’t help if you don’t approach them. Internships, scholarships, and research assistantships go to those who apply. Tutoring is available for free. Academic advising is omnipresent, but you have to make an appointment and show up. I believe there is not a single college or university in this county that will give you an education, but at UMass Amherst you can take an education on par with anywhere else. Where in the world is anything given to those just sitting on the couch? You can’t even win the lottery without going to buy a ticket!”
As to the future, Motamedi refers back to his periodic revelations. “I hope to continue to have the courage to listen to them. They have done me well in the past. A false sense of complacency is what I fear. If I can’t be better today than yesterday, then what’s the point?
June 19, 2007