When Lily Ranjbar, director of online programs for the College of Engineering’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, left Iran to pursue her doctorate in the United States, she didn’t know when she would get to return. Continuing her education in nuclear engineering at Oregon State University meant relocating thousands of miles from her family and committing to a single-entry visa. As an Iranian national studying nuclear energy, Ranjbar ran into the personal impacts of international policy.
“Everybody told me I didn’t have a chance,” Ranjbar said. “But I had to try. I wanted to make the best future for myself, and I felt that coming to the U.S. and studying at Oregon State was the best choice for me.”
Ranjbar persevered through the challenges of admission, getting a visa, and moving halfway around the world. When she arrived in Corvallis in 2012, she lived with a family for the first several days, as part of Oregon State’s homestay program for international students.
“It was a really great experience for me,” she said. “My husband and I stayed with a couple and they showed us around, helped us find a place to live. We didn’t get culture shock as bad. We call them our American grandparents.”
Ranjbar’s doctoral research in Oregon State’s Radiation Detection Group, headed by Abi Farsoni, associate professor of nuclear science and engineering, focused on designing, developing, and making radioxenon detection systems for nuclear weapons test monitoring.
“It promotes global peace,” Ranjbar said. “We try to make the world a better, safer place with our research.”
When she finished her doctorate in 2016, Ranjbar decided to keep working in academia. She leapt at the chance to stay at Oregon State and transition to teaching.
“I love university culture,” she said. “It’s a place full of passion and energy. I’m always interacting with people who have new ideas and want to try new things.”
Ranjbar began her academic career as an instructor and has since transitioned to her directorial role. She’s been instrumental in developing online courses and expanding the radiation health physics online master’s program, which is delivered through Oregon State Ecampus.
Ranjbar has focused on building community by helping online distance learners feel more connected to their campus peers and on using innovative technology to create interactive lessons.
“We always try to find new methods to explain things in nuclear engineering and radiation health physics,” she said. “Ecampus is really supportive. They always help us find new ways to express things.”
Online education has many benefits, according to Ranjbar. It allows students, many of whom are already working professionals, to continue with their employment and remain present for their families. In order to personalize the experience, Ranjbar chats via Skype or Zoom. She also created what she calls Student Lounge, where students can ask questions of each other virtually and find study partners.
Ranjbar divides her time between teaching, research, and her work as director. She also sits on doctoral advisory committees and is known among students for her compassion and support.
She’s still expanding on her doctoral research, working to make radioxenon detectors even more sensitive, and is also involved in nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear security research.
“The nuclear field is still new and challenging,” Ranjbar said. “A lot of things with this major are experimental, and I like experimental procedures.”
Despite some of the doubts and obstacles she initially encountered, Ranjbar is glad she stuck to her path, and she tries to instill that same persistence in her students.
“I always use myself as an example, how hard it was to come from a village and continue my education as a first-generation student,” she said. “But I tell them, no matter how hard it is, to keep following the light in their path and to keep moving forward.”
— Meriden Vitale