Retired St. Thomas Math Professor Receives Honorary Degree from University in Scotland

Chehrzad Shakiban, PhD, a retired math professor at the University of St. Thomas and a senior fellow in its Center for Common Good, received an honorary degree from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland on June 19, in recognition of her commitment and contributions to advancing education around the world.

She was presented with the title of Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science during a summer graduation ceremony at the university’s Edinburgh campus. She was honored along with other influential figures who have made an impact on education, including the President of the Republic of Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema. 

“This honor signifies not only personal and professional achievement but also serves as an inspiration to continue striving for excellence and making a positive impact in my field and community,” Shakiban said. “It reinforces the importance of perseverance, hard work, and the pursuit of knowledge, and I am deeply grateful for this acknowledgment.” 

Shakiban, a member of the Bahá’í community, came to the U.S. as a refugee during the Islamic Revolution. She was raised in Teheran, where she studied mathematics during a time of deep political and social unrest. After coming to America, Shakiban received a master’s degree from Harvard. In 1979, she became the first woman from Iran to gain a doctorate in mathematics from Brown University.  

“My time as a professor at St. Thomas profoundly shaped my understanding of the importance of education."

Chehrzad Shakiban, PhD

Shakiban recently retired after teaching math at the University of St. Thomas for 37 years, where she has been a faculty member since 1983. A true trailblazer, she was also the first Iranian woman to be appointed to the position of mathematics professor – the first at any university, anywhere in the world.  

“My time as a professor at St. Thomas profoundly shaped my understanding of the importance of education,” said Shakiban, who also served as the first female chair of the mathematics department, serving for eight years (1996-2004). “I saw how knowledge can ignite curiosity, foster critical thinking and open up new opportunities. Engaging with diverse groups of students and colleagues broadened my perspective and deepened my appreciation for the role of education in promoting social mobility and personal growth.” 

Chehrzad Shakiban
Dr. Chehrzad Shakiban taught math at the University of St. Thomas for 37 years. She retired in 2020.

Since retiring, she has remained active with the University of St. Thomas as a senior fellow in the Center for Common Good – yet another example of her lifelong dedication to the service of her community. 

After receiving the honorary degree and recognition in Scotland, Shakiban reflected on what she’s learned about her lifelong passion that is learning itself. “I learned that learning doesn't stop after formal education,” she said. “It's a continuous, lifelong process. Learning can be challenging and requires perseverance. Mistakes and failures are integral parts of the learning process and provide valuable lessons that contribute to growth.”