Tucked in Dr. Amir Mehrabi’s office at Endodonic Associates of Arkansas in west Little Rock is a framed and matted memento of the challenges he faced after leaving his home across the globe to come to a strange place where he didn’t speak the language.
“I remember one night studying for a biochemistry exam, and it was difficult,” said the 1991 UALR biology graduate. “It was two o’clock in the morning, and I was making flashcards to study, and for a moment I said, ‘There is no way I can make it; there is no way I can finish this program.’”
Then he picked one of the flashcards and scrawled a note to himself: “I am going to make it.” He tacked the note to his bulletin board and looked at it every day until he did make it.
His struggle was worth it. In addition to his degree from UALR, he went on to earn a doctor of dentistry degree from the University of Memphis and a master’s degree in dentistry from Boston University, qualifying him to specialize in root canal procedures.
Years later, his wife Lisa found the flashcard in a box of papers. She had it framed and presented it to him one Christmas. It now sits on the credenza in his office.
“To this day, if I have a tough day in the office, I look at it. It’s a reminder that you have to be determined and you have to work hard to achieve success,” he said.
Mehrabi grew up in the Middle East and heard his mother and father tell him and his two brothers that the key to a good life is to get a good education. Neither of his parents went to college, but he had an uncle who was a doctor. Mehrabi set his goal to get to America and become a dentist.
He arrived in Little Rock in 1984, speaking little English and knowing his family had exhausted their resources just to get him here.
“I chose UALR because it was centrally located in the state capital and I thought there would opportunities to work. UALR gave me the opportunity to be a full-time worker and a part-time student; the flexibility to do both – get a good education and be able to work. Because I had to work.”
He worked construction, waited tables, flipped burgers at the Burger King across the street from campus, tended bar, and delivered pizzas. “I’ve done it all,” he said. Because UALR offered an array of classes at different times of the day and night, he could find a job first and then find classes to fit around his work commitments.
“Nothing happens on its own, and you have to chase it and get it. At times it will be unattainable, or seem to be,” he said. “You had to work, you had to study – I would say, ‘How am I going to do this?’ But perseverance made me get through it.”
He graduated from UALR prepared to tackle dental school, graduating from the University of Tennessee in the top 25 percent of his class.
“There were people in my class who had graduated from Vanderbilt and other Ivy League schools, and I felt I had just as good of an education as they did,” he said. “I was prepared.”
With a thriving practice, a loving family that includes his wife and their two young sons, Mehrabi is enjoying the good life he envisioned as a high school student, thanks to his determination and his time at UALR.
“It was a great time, a great experience, and I am grateful for it,” he said.