Damineh Akhavan

Damineh Akhavan
Damineh Akhavan

Category: Presidents' Alumni Awards

Name: Damineh Akhavan

UVic degrees and years: Bachelor of Engineering, 2005; Bachelor of Science, 2006; Master of Business Administration, 2011               

Current hometown: West Vancouver, BC      

Birthplace: Tehran, Iran

Damineh Akhavan was born in the post-revolution pre-war Iran. Her father would read her stories about life, the world, social issues and humanity, and she would stare at the beautiful Tehran sky. That is when her love affair with the sky and space started. At age three, when she watched Sally Ride aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger as the first American woman in space, Akhavan knew she wanted to be an astronaut. This goal eventually led her family to move to Canada when she was a teenager.

Today, she is a senior engineer at Viking Air, with 17 years of experience in the aerospace industry. She has been an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion for women in STEM, and a champion for women in engineering, a passion that has only grown after becoming a mother. She is a founder and CEO of Global Women in STEM Inc., promoting equality for women and other underrepresented groups.

She enjoys playing and watching sports (tennis, swimming, soccer, Formula 1, to name a few), playing and listening to music, and anything and everything science.

Q: What was the moment you realized your career calling?

DA: I wanted to be an astronaut since I was three years old, and that manifested itself in various career choices through my childhood and teenage years. I aligned all my activities and studies around that single goal; however, an extensive emergency retina surgery meant that I had to re-evaluate the only path I knew.

In mid 2007, I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Ali Dastmalchian, the founding member, and former Dean of the University of Victoria Gustavson School of Business. I was 27 years old, had recently experienced two life-changing, career-path-altering health events, and was trying to figure out if the MBA program was the right fit for me.

We talked about our similar backgrounds, my career path and the events of the past six months. I expected a generic response. Instead, he looked at me with a grin and asked: “So in all of that, what is your true calling?” At the end of that meeting, we agreed that the MBA program would be the right fit; however, it took us five or six casual discussions for me to realize that the one sentence about me wanting to be “an astronaut to fly all the underprivileged people on Earth to the planet I had discovered on the spacecraft I had built” I always tell in my childhood story is the reason behind most of the work I do as an engineer and beyond my engineering work in the community.

Through my discussions with Ali, and later Dr. Elangovan, I realized that my true calling was not becoming an astronaut; it was about making a difference in the lives of the underprivileged and underrepresented here at home. I had completed my engineering and science degrees, I had been working in the aerospace industry doing what I loved, and I was already involved with various organizations in the community.

Q: What is a favourite book you read in the last five years and why:

DA: Wonder by RJ Palacio. My son and I have been routinely reading the children’s book, We’re All Wonders, over the past few years. As a result, I picked up the novel, Wonder, by the same author last year. The book made an impact on how my son sees everyone as wonders; he truly believes we are all wonders despite our differences. In addition, the story made me change how I see the imperfections in others, and, more importantly, in myself. The book tells a beautiful story of love, kindness, empathy, heartache and courage.       

Q: What is your favourite memory of being a student at UVic?

DA: There are many memories from my 10 years at UVic, but the two-week trip to India and Hong Kong as part of our MBA international integrated management project is the most memorable. We visited great organizations on this trip, explored every corner of each city we visited, ate great food, and enjoyed every moment with a fantastic group of people. Unfortunately, I dropped my hard drive after that trip and lost all my photos.

Q: What do you hope you and your work will ultimately contribute toward a better future for people and the planet?

DA: Life is short, and we are only here on this planet for a finite time. I hope during my time here and with the work I do as a professional engineer and a champion for the underrepresented in our community, I can inspire others to do better and be better for ourselves, others and our planet. We are all in this together. 


For the full list of 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, click here.