Helping others is embedded in her DNA.

a robotic arm holds a caduceus, a staff with two snakes wrapped around it, a symbol associated with healing

Kindness and generosity go back generations in Saba Moallem鈥檚 family. And because of their bravery and sacrifices, she sees the world through a humble lens 鈥 and wants to build on their example.

Moallem at a protest holding a sign that says "My Voice Will Change the World"
Saba Moallem is an advocate for equality, participating in protests like Portland's
freedom rally for Iran in October 2022.

Moallem鈥檚 family story began in Iran in the mid-1980s when her parents were just 16 and 17. Her mother鈥檚 home was set on fire as an act of persecution against the family鈥檚 Bah谩鈥檌 faith, a religion that originated in the Middle East in the 19th century and focuses on the unity and equality of all people. But the Bah谩鈥檌 faith is not recognized by the government, and those who follow it have been widely persecuted in Iran for decades.

Moallem鈥檚 mother and grandparents were able to escape their home through a small window crack, only to be met by more people attempting to block their escape. At just the right moment, an acquaintance arrived to pick them up. He risked his life to save them because Moallem鈥檚 grandmother, a midwife, had delivered the man鈥檚 wife鈥檚 baby. Moallem鈥檚 grandfather, a pharmacist, had saved the man鈥檚 father鈥檚 life by providing medication they couldn鈥檛 otherwise afford.

Following their rescue, Moallem鈥檚 mother and father met by chance 鈥 when their families gathered together to plan their final escape from Iran. Her father was asked to look over her mother as they joined a group of fellow teenagers on a harrowing journey to the United States, with nothing but a small bag of almonds and a few gold coins that were sewn into her mother鈥檚 skirt. They arrived in the U.S. in 1989 and married in 1992.

Because her parents went through so much to get to America and build a new life for their family, Moallem鈥檚 drive to give back is incredibly strong. A fourth-year computer science student in the College of Engineering, she wants to develop artificial intelligence applications for medical procedures, a way to reduce patient risks and increase survival rates, and a field where she is looking forward to gaining real-world experience.

Moallem鈥檚 career goal is inspired by her relationship with her maternal grandmother, who left Iran in 1995 and joined the family in Oregon. She got sick and was considered too high-risk to undergo the procedure she needed. But AI could help reduce some patient risks 鈥 by allowing doctors to program a robot to perform full surgical procedures or controlling and moving the robot themselves throughout the surgery. This reduces potential human errors like the slightest shake of a hand.

鈥淚 know I鈥檓 here on this Earth to help other people. If I can do that with my work 鈥 and help people benefit from life-changing procedures 鈥 I will 110% do it.鈥

-Saba Moallem


a family of 4 standing in front of trees wearing warm jackets
Moallem, along with her mother Azita and father Bahman, celebrated her sister Ava鈥檚 middle school graduation in June 2022.

Moallem pays it forward in other ways, too. She is the social media chair for the student group Yes, I Am, which aims to help students come out of their comfort zone and reach their potential. With the help of the group鈥檚 founder, she created an annual event called Visionary, an art exhibition for students to showcase their work, build their confidence and see themselves as leaders. In addition, Moallem helps with several events in the  and for the , also known as the Divine Nine. She is a photographer in her spare time and often captures portraits and event photos for both groups. Moallem says having the opportunity to participate in groups like these has helped her embrace her culture even more.

鈥淜nowing a lot of different people of color and hearing their life experiences 鈥 even though they are not exactly the same 鈥 makes it easier to connect on those deeper levels than I had before,鈥 she says.

Looking ahead, Moallem has many goals: land her dream job, grow her photography business and see all her family members together again 鈥 especially those still living in Iran. She also wants to help her parents visit Iran, a place they haven鈥檛 been able to return to for more than 30 years.

鈥淓ach journey I go on is all for them 鈥 to show them I鈥檓 grateful,鈥 she says. 鈥淚 will do the best I can to bring a better future for my family and millions of other families around the world.鈥

It鈥檚 a journey that鈥檚 already well underway.