Growing up, Pouya Amin lived in a two-story house with his parents and grandparents in Tehran, Iran. His aunts and uncles were always coming through to visit. “Iranian culture — we’re all together, supporting each other,” says Pouya. “It’s more community-oriented. Here, it’s a more of an individualistic culture. It’s different.”
When Pouya was 7, he came to the U.S. with his parents and older brother. “It was very challenging coming to the U.S.,” he says. “I lost most of my meaningful relationships, all my friends from school. We had to adapt to a new life.”
Pouya didn’t enjoy school. He was shy to raise his hand at first, and he didn’t understand his American classmates, who acted much differently than his peers at school in Iran. “They seemed bombastic,” he says of the San Jose students he met. “They had too much energy. In Iran, you had to be ceaselessly respectful to the teachers. If you said something out of line, you’d get your hand hit with a ruler. The dynamics of the American classroom eluded me.”
Pouya’s parents encouraged him to do well in school, but didn’t know how to support him beyond that encouragement. In the 10th grade, Pouya’s high school sent him to a community center with other kids who were having trouble in school. “It was confusing. It was not helpful to my adjustment to America, nor my academic development. I felt that they didn’t understand my situation and didn’t want to support me. It was kind of a wake-up call for me.”
After a semester at the community center, Pouya switched high schools and started to work hard in class. “I was like, ‘I’m going to prove these guys wrong.’” After high school, he went to DeAnza College in Cupertino, and two years later, he graduated with a 4.0 GPA. In 2017, he transferred to UC Berkeley.
This May, he’ll be graduating from Berkeley with degrees in three fields: molecular and cell biology — immunology and pathogenesis; nutritional sciences — physiology and metabolism; and psychology. He’ll also be graduating summa cum laude with honors.
“All my majors explore different aspects of the human experience,” he says. “In molecular immunology, you’re looking at infectious diseases, you’re looking at how pathogens grow inside of cells. Nutritional science is focused on how the human body works as a metabolizing machine. Psychology allows us to understand and affect behavior. They’re all interconnected.”
Pouya intends to be a medical scientist — one who helps advance medicine by looking at the root causes of disease. “I want to delve more deeply into the systems of the body,” he says, “and find ways that we can treat disease better than we are now. I want people to be able to live their best healthy lives.”
And, he says, he couldn’t have succeeded at Berkeley without his professors’ support. “Without my professors’ guidance — their advice, motivation and encouragement — I probably would have given up. It’s extremely competitive here. You have to be constantly studying. They’ve always given me the knowledge that I need to move to the next step.”