Kennesaw State alum who overcame homelessness to succeed returns to deliver lecture

KENNESAW, Ga. | May 4, 2023

From sleeping in his car near the student center to a highly consequential career in science, Kennesaw State University alumnus Ali Shilatifard has come a long way since his arrival in the United States from Iran in the mid-1980s. He overcame homelessness to graduate from KSU in 1990 with a bachelor’s in organic chemistry. He went on to earn a doctoral degree in biochemistry before enjoying a three-decade career in research and teaching, expanding the body of knowledge on the causes of pediatric cancer and improving pediatric care by discovering new drugs for treatment of the disease. 
Currently the chair of the department of biochemistry and molecular genetics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, as well as a professor of pediatrics, he returned to KSU’s campus in March for the first time since he graduated to deliver a lecture on epigenetics, receive a distinguished alumnus award from the College of Science and Mathematics. A video crew spent some time with him as he met with College of Science and Mathematics Dean Kojo Mensa-Wilmot, students and faculty. He also toured a campus radically different than the place he left years ago. 

-Story by Dave Shelles

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit