May 27, 2008
Cuttino bestowed on born mentor
BY Carol Clark
Economics Chair Hashem Dezhbakhsh was born in Shiraz, an ancient city in southwest Iran. His father was a high-ranking military officer, and Dezhbakhsh was raised in a regimental atmosphere, both at home and at school.
“I grew up in a culture where the distance between students and teachers is substantial. It’s very formal,” says Dezhbakhsh, whose open-door policy helped earn him the 2008 George P. Cuttino Award for Excellence in Mentoring, established by alumnus John T. Glover ’68C.
“In elementary school, we had tough discipline for how you dressed, spoke and walked. Everything was rehearsed,” he says. “I didn’t see it as a burden, rather as guidance.”
Cultural norms prohibited Dezhbakhsh from finding a mentor among his own teachers. Early on, however, he showed a tendency to become an educator who reaches out to students in an informal, personalized way.
“When I was little, I tried to mentor younger kids,” he says. “We had a big yard with a pool and I would organize outdoor study groups for the neighborhood. We also played soccer. It seems to me that it’s not any different from what I do now,” adds Dezhbakhsh, who plays on Emory’s Economic Optimizers soccer team when he’s not teaching or doing administrative duties, which include serving as director of undergraduate studies.
The key to successful mentoring is being approachable, he says, especially in these technological times, when students often take exams, turn in papers and communicate online.
Dezhbakhsh cherishes the connections with students he has cultivated, which often extend beyond their graduations, as they send him news of their careers. “One moment a confused teenager walks into your office, debating what they need to do with their lives,” Dezhbakhsh says. “You have a chat, some follow-up, and before you know it, you have a lawyer or investment banker sharing stories about their successes.”
That’s really amazing.”