Human rights activist named winner of Gabriel Zimmerman Scholarship

Sociology major wins third award named for UC Santa Cruz alumnus, slain congressional aide

Abuoali "Arash" Mohajerinejad graduated in sociology after winter quarter and plans to attend law school "to be a voice for the voiceless."

As a young man growing up in Iran, Abuoali "Arash" Mohajerinejad decided to devote his life to engaging with problems of social justice and injustice. He became active in human rights movements, particularly the student protests in 1999, and was later forced to flee.

Mohajerinejad left Iran in 2003 at 21 and went first to Turkey. After traveling through Europe and living in the United Kingdom for six years, he ended up in the Bay Area in 2009 where he attended Laney College in Oakland. Two years later he transferred to UC Santa Cruz as a sociology major affilated with Oakes College. Since then "he has displayed remarkable leadership, a profound sense of social responsibility, and remakable intellectual skills while taking on increasingly challenging projects," according to the letter nominating him for the Gabriel Zimmerman Memorial Scholarship at UC Santa Cruz.

Mohajerinejad is the third winner of the scholarship named for the 2002 UCSC grad (Stevenson, sociology) who was killed in the 2011 shooting that wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The scholarship was founded by two UCSC alums and later supported by hundreds of donors. It awards $2,500 to a UCSC undergraduate in the social sciences who is committed to a career in public service.

"I am humbled by the honor to be recognized for this award and I plan to continue being an active community member on a local and global level," Mohajerinejad said. "I am proud to have attended the same university as this great man."

Mohajerinejad said he was trying to decide where to transfer and visited UCSC. "I was amazed by the community that cared for the well-being of others and how close the school was to nature," he said. "This university felt like a second home to me where I could grow and evolve not only as an individual but also as an active member of the community."

As a student he helped form the Global Nuclear Awareness Coalition on campus and also volunteered with Meals on Wheels in Santa Cruz. Twice a week he volunteered at the San Francisco Sheriff's Department working as a prisoner legal advisor making sure inmates receive appropriate services and representation. On weekends he organized fundraisers for the homeless community in Oakland. He is still an active member in the International Alliance of Iranian Students.

All this while maintaining a 3.92 cumulative grade point average, described in the nomination letter as "one of the most distinguished academic records" in the sociology department.

Mohajerinejad graduated after winter quarter. He said wants to "continue being involved with different organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights" and plans to go to law school "to be a voice for the voiceless."