DU Alumni

Iranian exile and DU alum recognized as a ‘great immigrant’ by Carnegie Corporation

The Carnegie Corporation of New York honored Ali Malekzadeh as one of 38 “great immigrants” the nonprofit recognizes annually for their contributions to America’s social fabric.  Photo courtesy of Roosevelt University

The Carnegie Corporation of New York honored Ali Malekzadeh as one of 38 “great immigrants” the nonprofit recognizes annually for their contributions to America’s social fabric. Photo courtesy of Roosevelt University

In the winter of 1979, with Iran in the throes of a revolution that would transform the nation from a pro-Western, one-party state into an Islamic theocracy, Ali Malekzadeh was far from his home country in more ways than one.

The previous year, Malekzadeh (BSBA ’77, MBA ’78) had finished his master’s degree at the University of Denver’s business school (now the Daniels College of Business). The shock of the Iranian Revolution, combined with the quality of the education he’d received at DU, convinced him to seek political asylum in the U.S. and pursue his own career in education.

“The country of Iran became a theocracy, and both my wife and I had relatives imprisoned by the new regime,” he recalls. “My time at DU helped me see that education was important work, so my wife and I decided to stay in the U.S. and pursue our doctorates here.”

That decision has paid off in any number of ways. After rising to become a business school dean and accomplished fundraiser at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, Xavier University in Cincinnati and Kansas State University, Malekzadeh was named president of Chicago’s Roosevelt University in July. Just days later, the Carnegie Corporation of New York honored him as one of 38 “great immigrants” the nonprofit recognizes annually for their contributions to America’s social fabric. Other 2015 honorees include such heavy hitters as “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels and Preet Bharara, a New York-based U.S. attorney who handles high-profile white-collar crime and terrorism cases. All 38 award winners had their stories highlighted on the organization’s website and were featured in a full-page ad in the July 4 edition of the New York Times.

“In light of his remarkable journey and contributions to American higher education, it was a pleasure for Carnegie Corporation of New York to honor Dr. Malekzadeh as part of this year’s Great Immigrants campaign,” says Carnegie Corp. President Vartan Gregorian.

“When I got the call from Carnegie Corporation, my first reaction was that it was a mistake,” Malekzadeh jokes. “I hadn’t done anything to deserve that kind of recognition. My parents [who live in Los Angeles] were very happy about it, but five minutes later the real work began.”

That work, helping Roosevelt University cope with challenges like declining enrollment and budget deficits, is something Malekzadeh has the educational track record to handle. An expert on strategic management, he has co-authored two books on organizational behavior with his wife, Afsaneh Nahavandi (BA ’78), an accomplished academic in her own right and the chair of the Department of Leadership Studies at the University of San Diego.

“As a student of strategic management,” he says, “I have to make sure [Roosevelt’s] strategy, structure, culture, technology and leadership fit our environment so that we can compete with numerous universities in our region.”

His contributions to higher education have been more than managerial or theoretical: At Kansas State, he boosted student retention by launching an executive mentoring program for undergraduates, and he founded a four year professional development program that helped drive the school’s job placement rate to 96 percent.

He’s also been a remarkably effective fundraiser. When he arrived at the Kansas State University College of Business Administration in 2011, the school received about $2 million per year in donations. In 2014, the last year of his tenure, the school raised $40 million.

“Fundraising is a matter of timing,” he says. “My approach is to show up and ask. If they say no, give them time to think about it and ask again later. Alumni give when they realize that without the scholarship they received when they went to school, they wouldn’t be where they are today. That convinces them to try and give back.”

If not for his time at DU, Malekzadeh concedes that his own interest in education might have remained dormant. It’s striking that such a vital chapter in his life started accidentally: Arriving in Denver in 1969 to visit friends from Aurora he’d met traveling in Tehran, he was stunned and smitten by the city’s geographic resemblance to the place he’d left behind. He resolved to attend DU shortly thereafter.

“Denver feels just like Tehran, with its beautiful mountains, four seasons and lots of snow,” he says. “Tehran is also a mile high.”

In addition to making financial contributions to DU, Malekzadeh has championed the University by recruiting eight members of his own family to attend the school, including his wife, brother, uncle and cousin.

“When you have a revolution, you realize that all the belongings you have can be taken away,” he said. “The only thing people cannot take away from you is your education.”

 

One Comment

  1. Paul Stephenson says:

    Congratulations on this very distinguished award. I hope all is well and wish you much continued success.

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