Podcast: Caldwell Fellow Kourosh Salamati, Pt. 1
On this episode of the NC State Philanthropy Podcast, we’re talking to Kourosh Salamati about how the Caldwell Fellows program and other campus support systems are helping him think and do the extraordinary. Kourosh takes listeners from his early life in Iran to his acceptance to NC State and, now, his passion-fueled time on campus — complete with how private support made it possible for him to spend all four years of his undergraduate career here.
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Theme Song (00:01):
Please listen carefully.
Taylor Pardue (00:06):
Welcome to the NC State Philanthropy Podcast, telling the world how we think and do the extraordinary through the support of our friends, alumni and more. I’m your host, Taylor Pardue. On today’s episode, I’m interviewing Kourosh Salamati, a senior here at NC State who has made the most of his time with the Pack by being a member of the Caldwell Fellow program and much, much more. Welcome to the NC State Philanthropy Podcast. Uh, I’m pleased to have Kourosh Salamati with me here today. He’s a senior here at NC State majoring in biochemistry and also taking on a minor in global health. Uh, actually two minors. He’s, uh, minoring in entrepreneurship as well, and really maximizing his time here, uh, at NC State. He’s actually a Caldwell Fellow, which has enabled him to accomplish so many of these things and, uh, some of the other ones that he’s gonna talk to us about today, but welcome to the podcast, Kourosh.
Kourosh Salamati (01:12):
Thank you for having me, Taylor.
Taylor Pardue (01:14):
Uh, tell us a little bit about yourself, just your early life, everything that led up to you deciding to join us here at NC State.
Kourosh Salamati (01:21):
So, yeah, my background. I was, um, I was born in California, and when I was a month old, my parents, um, moved back to Iran, which is where they are from and where I was raised, and I was there until I was 16 years old, um, before I had the opportunity to come back here. I, um, decided to leave the country and move here since I was a citizen and I had the opportunity and, like, throughout my life, I always wanted to move here and I’d seen my, um, other friends that had gone, like had to go through way harder, um, ways of moving to the U.S. And I was always, I was thinking I have this opportunity, but then actually the year before, when I was 15, I got the opportunity to come to the U.S. and go to school for a month, and I was in love with it.
Kourosh Salamati (02:17):
But at that point, um, my parents weren’t ready to move, and my sister, who I would be living with when I move moved here, um, she wasn’t ready to, um, host me in her house, um, either. So, my sophomore year of high school, I moved back to Iran to do another year of school there, and, eventually, my junior year, um, I got the opportunity and I take it with both of my hands and I run. Um, and I move here. I go to school, um, for two years here at, um, Apex High School, which is a school, uh, local to Apex, North Carolina. And my first year, uh, my junior year of high school, I did not have any friends — not because of my language skills, necessary, because I started learning English when I was 7 years old, and I had the opportunity to, I didn’t have the opportunity to speak, um, it as much, but I had the, all of the knowledge to be able to communicate, but I did not have the belief in me that I’m gonna be able to connect with someone from a different culture. So, it took me a whole year before my senior year of high school, um, one of my now very good friends, uh, friends, actually two of them, uh, one of them go to, to State and, sadly, the other one goes to UNC, but, um …
Taylor Pardue (03:46):
But you’re still friends with them, it sounds like. That’s what friends do: they forgive and forget and, uh, move forward.
Kourosh Salamati (03:52):
I’m trying to be a good friend here. Um, but yeah, he, uh, we, we connect and he introduces me to his group of friends. And, um, in, in that sense, he, he teaches me that it is not impossible to make connections with other people because you are from a different culture or different language. You just, uh, you, you speak a different language. You just have to be able to be curious and want to learn about someone else. And, um, that is a mentality that I start, um, college with.
Taylor Pardue (04:33):
That’s, uh, that’s such a tough time just in general, socially, and then to come from a whole ’nother country, and such a different country, and try to make friends in the Triangle area. Tell us a little bit about how you made that life choice to want to come to NC State, too. I mean, that’s a big enough choice where you wanna go to college without all of these other challenges.
Kourosh Salamati (05:00):
My first introduction to NC State was through my sister my sophomore year when, um, when I came here for that one month. And, um, at that point, like she had gotten her MBA from NC State and she was teaching, um, here, and it was just a very beautiful campus and seeing my sister there teaching and doing great things, that was just amazing to me and that inspired me. But then, um, my senior year, when I, when it, when it came time to apply to schools, I had the choice I wanted to go to either UNC or NC State and for different reasons, UNC …
Taylor Pardue (05:50):
[Laughs] Pick your words carefully.
Kourosh Salamati (05:51):
[Laughs] Yeah. Yeah.
Kourosh Salamati (05:53):
Um, UNC had a very good, uh, pre, pre-med program.
And I did not know that like NC State offered the pre-med, uh, program as well. Not, not although officially, but the pre-med program here is very great. Um, with the help of everyone at the, um, Career Development Center and, uh, specifically, Dr. Ray Easterlen. So, UNC, um, completely rejected me and, um, NC State also deferred me at first, um, which is understandable because State is a very good school and, um, there’s a lot of competition and a person coming to the U.S. during their, um, junior year of high school would not be the most competitive, um, person — specifically, since I came from a culture and an education system where, um, there was no emphasis on extracurricular activities, um, and all of the focus was just on studying and making good grades. Um, and I appreciate that the American, uh, education system focuses a lot on also doing things outside of just studying. But, when I got deferred, I, I was, of course, heartbroken, but also was, like, looking at Wake Tech because I did not know if I could afford to go to either of the four-year, um, colleges. So, I thought to myself, I would go to a two-year college and then transfer from there to either, um, at that point, it was either UNC or State again.
Taylor Pardue (07:39):
So, yeah, tell a little bit about how financial aid made it possible for you to go ahead and start as a freshman and do your whole four years here.
Kourosh Salamati (07:47):
So, one day I woke up to, um, this email, um, from NC State saying that there has been a change in my admission, um, status, and I see that I got into NC State. And, um, I also got the Pack Promise scholarship, which is a full-ride scholarship that helped me to commit to State knowing that I can afford to, um, do it and not have to worry about any financial shortcomings.
Taylor Pardue (08:21):
Can you tell us a little bit about what all is involved with Pack Promise?
Kourosh Salamati (08:24):
Yeah. So, Pack Promise is a need-based, uh, scholarship that, um, ties to one’s FAFSA, at least to the best of my understanding, um, because I did not have to go through any other application processes to, uh, get it, but just tie to my FAFSA, and, together, they helped me to be able to commit to State and get a full-ride scholarship. So, after I got the Pack Promise, um, scholarship and I, um, committed to State, I started my freshman year with that mentality of curiosity. And, um, also knowing that everybody else was also new and was looking for friends was, um, made it much easier for me to connect to others. And, specifically, I lived in the Honors and Scholars Village, which, um, is on one corner of the campus and it has own small community, um, which I’m also very grateful for because I met a lot of my friends through that village.
Kourosh Salamati (09:27):
And, um, the people in that village brought me a lot of opportunities that, um, made me the person that I am. So, once in college, not only I got to meet those awesome friends, uh, that we’ve already talked about, but also, um, a lot of other opportunities just through looking through emails, um, came to me, one of them being, um, the TRIO programs that I got their email for because I was a Pack Promise recipient and I applied and I was able to become a part of that program as well, which, uh, my mentors in that program and my coaches have supported me a lot, uh, whether when it came to me doing work study and be able to tutor others or just, um, for personal, for the sake of personal development and, um, learning more about what resources around campus that I needed, but I did not know of and, and any other, um, things that I did not know that they needed.
Kourosh Salamati (10:39):
And they provided to me, um, one of the major ones, again, being another community of, um, people who, um, supported me and helped me to become the person that I am today. And, um, throughout through the villages itself, I also got another work-study job, which was working in the Honors and Scholars office. And, um, that job changed my life a lot. Um, not necessarily because of what the job itself was, but because of the people I was working with and because, um, my supervisor at that time was, um, and even now, um, she has been very supportive of me and, um, she was a person that recommended me to apply to the Caldwell Fellows program before I even knew what the program was or what it, uh, stood for.
Taylor Pardue (11:44):
Uh, how did you get involved with it and what all does that entail for someone who may not know what Caldwell Fellows is here at NC State?
Kourosh Salamati (11:50):
Yeah. So, uh, firstly starting off the Caldwell Fellows program is a program that revolves around the idea of servant leadership and being a leader that serves the community rather than, and listens to the community rather than pushing their own ideas. Um, whenever, um, they go out to the community and just the outside board, but, um, to tell more about it, I first got introduced through it through now, one of my very good friends, um, when she was at the Honors and Scholars, uh, quad, and she was telling everyone about how she’s a part of the program and it is a very good program and they should apply. And, um, that was my very first exposure to it, uh, sounded interesting, but then to be honest, I completely forgot about it until my, um, work-study supervisor at the Honors and Scholars office, um, she also brought it up and, uh, she told me that that would be a very good opportunity, uh, for me to grow and, um, showcase more of my potentials and, uh, and a sense, uh, flourish.
Kourosh Salamati (13:01):
So, after she mentioned it and she pushed me, uh, towards it, I went ahead and I looked at the website and, um, it genuinely sounded very interesting. It was all that I, I wanted. And I knew that I could be better at, which was, uh, leadership, finding my authentic self and also be able to reflect ’cause since I had moved to here, I had gone through a lot, uh, like we mentioned with high school and have to find friends and building relationships and coming to college fresh. So, being able to have a community that would support me to do all of that reflection and to be able to grow was something very valuable to me. And so, I applied and uh, my supervisor, she was very nice to actually, actually, uh, be, write my letter of recommendation, too. And after I applied, I waited, um, I got through the first round of in-person interviews and, to this day, um, we had our, so we had our own, uh, selection day for the class of 2025 weeks ago,
Kourosh Salamati (14:17):
and I was talking to the program directors, uh, to ask them, what was that first, uh, semi-finalist we can, what was it that we, that they were looking for and that, um, semi-finalist session for people to move on to the finalist round and, to this day, I’m still confused at what was it that they looked at. But I think that’s also part of the fun of it, um, to know that somebody else saw a potential in you that, um, you are still after it to find more about it. And after semi-final day, we had to wait another nerve-wracking two weeks, um, before we got another email for, um, finals and selection day and, um, semi-final day was very, um, to me. So, for finals day I promised myself that I’m going to go there, make as many friends as possible and meet as many people as I can and just have fun.
Kourosh Salamati (15:22):
And that is what I did, um, to start off that it was a little bit stressful, but afterwards, um, um, I told myself that I’m gonna do, do that and have fun. And so, that is all I did, just being curious about others, um, learning about them and also sharing, um, about who I am. And, um, I got selected and I’m very grateful for the opportunity, um, ever since the, they called rose. Like they have been my, uh, my closest and best friends, some of my closest and best friends, um, around campus and people that have ever known.
Taylor Pardue (16:05):
Well, you mentioned, um, not, not understanding why you were able to be chosen. Um, you mentioned servant leadership as well. I, I have to imagine that’s something they saw in you. Um, that level of humility is something that really factors in well to a, a, a good servant leader. Um, yeah. And, and just the relationships you’ve built and everything — that’s the, the, the ground level of that.
Kourosh Salamati (16:33):
Yeah. Thank you.
Taylor Pardue (16:34):
Um, and just some other, uh, info about the Caldwell Fellows program. It was actually named for one of our former chancellors, uh, for, for those who may not know. Our former chancellor John T. Caldwell retired in 1978, and this was a way to honor his contributions to the university. Um, it’s also, you, you noted that you heard about it when you were already on NC State’s campus. I think that’s noteworthy. This is actually the only merit-based scholarship that’s available to students after they begin their time at NC State. You’ve told us about getting into the program, but tell us a little bit about what all you’ve done as a Caldwell Fellow since then. What are some of the different, um, experiences that you or memories that you’ve made with these friends that you’ve, uh, found here on campus?
Kourosh Salamati (17:18):
Yeah. Um, so once one gets into the program, um, the first ever, um, activity that I was involved in that, um, with, with the other, uh, fellows was SATELLITE, which is a summer STEM camp, uh, tell towards high school, sophomores to learn more about STEM and, uh, what it looks like to go to college, um, with the hope that make them more interested into pursuing a path and getting higher education. And, um, that was a lot of fun. The spring that I got into the program was when pandemic started. So, that was the first time that we had the camp online, and although we didn’t get to come to campus and see the, um, campers in person and interact with them, still being able to interact with them and other Fellows over Zoom was very fun. And, um, we were able to get closer together.
Kourosh Salamati (18:25):
And so the fall after one gets into the program, there is a sophomore seminar, um, which, um, again, focuses a lot on that servant leadership, what it means, and a part of it is to help the community through different, um, service groups that we have. For example, I was a part of the open-door clinic service group, and we, um, we volunteered at the open-door clinic of Urban Ministries of Wake county, which is a nonprofit organization that, uh, helps provide, um, health services to those, um, who are not covered by any of the federal or government programs, um, through healthcare, but also cannot, um, provide their own private insurance. And that doesn’t sound like, um, a, a, a big group of individuals, but it is actually a very big gap and to be able to learn more, more about that and be able to help another organization, uh, with what they need to achieve their mission and provide health services to more individuals in need was very meaningful and something that I enjoyed a lot.
Kourosh Salamati (19:47):
Um, some other organizations were, are some other service groups, um, at least that I can remember off the top of my head where one that worked with Habitat for Humanity. Um, there was one that worked on campus. Um, it is called Vita Pack and it, um, is tailored towards learning more about the story of, um, the Fellow faculty and, um, people on campus that, um, work behind the scenes. And we otherwise wouldn’t get to know their story, which is a lot of people. And that is very interesting and personally very cool to me, to be able to learn more about somebody else that otherwise didn’t have an opportunity to.
Taylor Pardue (20:44):
The timing is just unreal. Uh, it’s just so great for these programs in general are great, but you really came along at the perfect time to be able to help with these, uh, different programs during the pandemic, too, just to really increase your efficacy.
Kourosh Salamati (21:00):
Yeah. Um, our class was, um, we were, at the time, we were a little bit upset ’cause sure. Um, we didn’t get to have all the, uh, dinner seminars that all of the other classes before us had or anything like that. But at the same time, I think that was a part of what made our class closer together, ’cause we had to try harder to hang and get to know each other and also, um, work towards helping the community.
Taylor Pardue (21:34):
I think that says a lot about the spirit of the different Calwell Fellows, too, that they were able to overcome and not just be disappointed that their college experience wasn’t starting necessarily the way they had expected, but to not only rally and to have a good spirit about it themselves, but also to reach out and to give to others at a time where they could have, you know, been upset and just been, um, dejected about that. But …
Kourosh Salamati (21:58):
Yeah, um, that is, that’s of course, like because of, um, the support of the, um, program directors, ’cause without, without them, like, the program, wouldn’t be where it is now or, and also being able to have the seminars. Um, despite the fact that after the first two weeks that fall we went back to online again, um, being able to still, like, keep up the seminars and um, focus, um, that was very, uh, meaningful and not only the director, but also our, um, fellow upperclassmen, which were the TAs for each of the service groups that we were a part of. Um, ’cause, um, they also, they were the people who were our mentors when we were working in all of these, uh, uh, smaller service groups to help us navigate through any problems that we had and help us to reflect better on them. ’Cause as a part of being in the service group, um, we would have meetings where, uh, we had assignments about reflection on what we had learned through those experiences and how had that, um, had those experiences helped us to grow and learn more.
Taylor Pardue (23:20):
So, Caldwell Fellows and many other areas across campus were, uh, benefited by our recent Think and Do the Extraordinary Campaign that came to a close last, uh, December. You were actually a speaker at our final Red and White Night for the campaign, uh, back in October. Can you tell us a little bit about just what was it like getting to talk to all those people and tell them how the campaign had benefited you?
Kourosh Salamati (23:41):
Yes. Um, so first I was very honored when the, the director of the, uh, program reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to share my experience of how the program and the generous donations of all of the donors of the campaign, um, had impacted me. And I must say that the imposter syndrome was a very big thing for me at that time. ’Cause I was thinking about the fact that there are so many amazing people that are doing a lot, both in the colorful program and I’m sure in all the other programs, um, around campus that benefit from these donations. Um, and I was very honored, um, to be able to share my personal experience. Um, the opportunity actually helped me to rethink where I was in life and how much of what I had accomplished was because of other people for that I previously hadn’t thought about. So, being able to have that opportunity again, to first reflect on what was it that I had accomplished and be able to share that experience with others and let them know that it has been because of their work, that I have been able to do all of these amazing things. Um, that was a very extraordinary experience, and one that, to this day, I’m grateful for.
Taylor Pardue (25:18):
Thank you so much for participating. We really were honored that you were able to join us.
Kourosh Salamati (25:22):
Yeah. Thank you so much for the experience. Again, another reason the program has helped me to, um, grow as a leader has been, um, through other opportunities, um, and activities that the program as a whole is involved in, um, which Shackathon is one of the major ones and um, we love the Caldwell shack. Um, and we are there every year, even during pandemic when, um, there was no one on campus except for people who built the shacks, um, Caldwell shack was one of them. And um, for anyone that doesn’t know, um,
Taylor Pardue (26:02):
Yeah, what all is involved with the Shackathon?
Kourosh Salamati (26:05):
Shackathon is a weeklong event at NC State, um, during which student organizations build, uh, build temporary wooden shacks on the Brickyard to fundraise for Habitat for Humanity as well as, um, also promote awareness about affordable housing issues in Raleigh. And, um, it has been a tradition for over 20 years to do that. Um, but also, um, at least for us students more than that, it’s an opportunity to come together, um, both as a program through Caldwell and also as a university and a wider community to help address an issue that affects thousands of our neighbors. Um, for example, every year we have, um, people who either donate their time through coming to the shack and, um, doing activities with us or, um, donate a lot of plants. We have a lot of, um, very kind people and uh, organizations, nurseries that, um, donate us plants so that we can sell them and raise money for Habitat for Humanity or our own, um, Fellow classmates that, um, that help us build, um, or make bracelets and sell them as a sellable or different activities. So, it is really about community, both in the sense of all what’s coming together and also helping the rest of the community by raising money to, um, address this issue.
Taylor Pardue (27:44):
It really seems like a perfect fit for the Caldwell Fellow program, um, with the community and the servant-leadership. Stay tuned for more from our interview with Kourosh in part two of this episode, which will air in two weeks. If you’d like to hear even more stories of Wolfpack success, please subscribe to the NC Philanthropy Podcast today in the Apple or Google podcast stores, on Spotify or through Stitcher. Be sure to leave us a comment and rating as well to let us know how we’re doing. Thanks for listening, and as always, go Pack.