KENNESAW, Ga. | May 31, 2023
Three days a week, Kennesaw State University students Emily and Calvin Ghasemi attend classes remotely from their home in Woodstock, Georgia. They watch lectures on Zoom and Microsoft Teams and receive assignments from their professors via email.
Two days a week, they come to campus, each doing their own research and projects, hanging out with friends, participating in student groups and taking in as much of the college experience as they can.
The future physicians also receive some on-the-job training of a sort. At home they care for their mother, Mehrnaz, who has multiple sclerosis, while enrolled at KSU and taking on full course loads.
“It’s character-building,” said Calvin, a freshman biology major. “We just make sure our mom is comfortable, and we keep doing well in our classes. It’s difficult sometimes, but we manage.”
Emily said in addition to caring for their mother, she and Calvin also handle the clerical and administrative tasks surrounding her medical care. That means they spend much time working with medical care providers such as her doctors and nurses, and with their mother’s Medicaid service.
“We have an uncle who helps us out when he can, but it’s mostly Calvin and I doing the paperwork,” Emily said. “It’s all about helping our mom, and we’ll do what we can.”
The Ghasemi siblings said their mom set the tone for them as students. An English teacher before she retired in 2020 because of her MS, Mehrnaz held a high standard for both of her children and encouraged them to excel from an early age. Since enrolling at KSU, both Emily and Calvin have made the Dean’s and President’s lists during their time at KSU, and they’ve attributed their diligence as students to their mother’s inspiration.
“I would come home with a 97 on my test and be happy about it, and mom would ask where the other three points went,” Calvin said. “So I’d shoot for 110 next time. That has inspired me to do my best no matter what.”
The two have also enriched their experiences with undergraduate research. Emily joined assistant professor of mathematics Somayeh Mashayekhi for two projects using mathematical concepts to explain biological phenomena, presenting them at the Symposium of Student Scholars in Spring and Fall 2022. Calvin joined the lab of assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry Mohammad Halim through the First-Year Scholars program and presented a project on therapeutic peptides at the Symposium in Spring 2023.
Calvin spoke so passionately about his research experience that he persuaded Emily to join the Halim lab as well. She presented her research on peptides that enhance antibiotics in April’s Symposium. For his part, Halim is happy to have the two siblings in his research group.
“Calvin is one of the most enthusiastic and hard-working freshmen I have ever seen. He is truly a gifted genius,” Halim said. “Emily is a diligent and hard-working student who will make important contributions to any research problem she undertakes. I believe she will be a role model empowering our young women in science research at KSU and in Georgia.”
Emily, who is also active in the Muslim Students Association and the KSU chapter of the American Medical Students Association, said she has completed her research and will focus on classes this fall in hopes of graduating in December before spending early 2024 on her medical school applications. Calvin will continue with his research in Halim’s lab this summer as a Birla Carbon Scholar, which carries a stipend that he said will help with school expenses. After that, he said he’ll continue to pursue research projects that will help his medical ambitions.
The two have set their sights on careers as doctors—Calvin wants to be a heart surgeon while also making care more accessible to those who need it most. Emily would like to work as a general practitioner before shifting to teaching in medical school.
For now, the two continue to balance schoolwork and home life with an eye on the future. They said Mehrnaz is doing as well as she can, given the circumstances, and that they’ll continue to care for her.
“It’s hard to balance sometimes but not impossible,” Emily said. “We know we’re doing the best we can, and we just want to make our mom proud.”
– Dave Shelles
Photos by Darnell Wilburn Jr.
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 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 kennesaw.edu.