This year International Student and Scholar Services received so many excellent nominations for International Parents of the Year, it became difficult to choose one recipient. So we chose two, and are very happy to announce both.
Peter and Krista Mueller of Petrolia, Canada, are the parents of second year undergraduate student Marissa Mueller. Marissa is pursuing a major in biomedical engineering as well as studying pre-medicine and is also in the Honors Program. She is a distinguished member of the University of Iowa’s track and field team, throwing javelin for the Hawkeyes.
Marissa states that the most difficult part of transitioning from her high school in Canada to becoming a Hawkeye was saying goodbye to her family in order to begin the next chapter of her life. “They instilled values in me through leading by example, and I do not know of any couple more deserving to be recognized as International Parents of the Year. Their selfless service to others through community-career engagement makes me proud to be their daughter, and their unconditional support keeps me going when things get tough. It is my hope to someday grow into an individual who follows in their example of everyday philanthropy and genuine altruism towards all those in my circle of influence.”
The love of community, athletics, and education stands out in all that the Muellers do. Both Mr. and Mrs. Mueller are high school teachers at Lambton Central Collegiate and Vocational Institute. Peter is a member of the Petrolia Men’s Baseball League, in addition to playing tennis, hockey, and soccer, and is an avid follower of all Hawkeye sports. So is Marissa’s mother, Krista. “My parents became immediate Hawkeye super-fans. They follow all Iowa sports and have even subscribed to international programming to keep up with results. They are always interested in my workouts and competitions, and often know results and rankings before I do,” says Marissa.
Mrs. Mueller is also interested in music, songwriting, and creative writing, and performs occasionally for weddings and funerals. Both of the Muellers serve as program leaders in local children’s camps, as worship leaders in the Oil Heritage Family Church, and as event co-organizers in their town. Marissa describes one significant impact her parents had on the community: “In the past few years, they have also served as advocates for tennis in Petrolia and Lambton County. They and my brother raised over $22,000 to resurface local courts and bring the game back to Petrolia; there are now extensive wait times for the courts and the town is even considering building more due to renewed interest. My parents then started a tennis team through the high school which, after its third year, now has 32 students trying out in a school of 750, with 4 even qualifying for the OFSAA Championships (the highest level of competition in Ontario High School Sports). To facilitate a higher level of competition through year-long training opportunities, my parents have collaborated with the City of Sarnia and are currently working to raise 2.2 million dollars to build an indoor tennis and multi-sport indoor complex.”
Marissa believes her parents exemplify the phrase, “see a need, fill a need.” “They have dedicated countless hours of their time to provide extracurricular opportunities for students without pay or formal recognition. Students line up, crying, to hug my mother goodbye at the end of a semester. They come back and visit my father years later, thanking him for the influence he had on their lives after investing hours of mentorship. My parents have been invited to countless students’ weddings and have boxes at home filled with thank-you cards. The testaments to their investment in students is endless. Success is not only measured in trophies, titles, degrees, awards, and accolades but also in intangible personal impacts. My parents exemplify this ideology. If tears of empathy, shoulders of support, words of wisdom, and notes of affirmation could be documented as scientific accomplishments, my parents would be Nobel candidates. Others often remind me ‘how lucky I am to have the parents I do,’ and I could not agree more.”
“Amidst all their involvements in their school and community, my parents have unconditionally sacrificed of their time, energy, and resources to provide my brother and me opportunities to pursue academic, athletic, and extracurricular endeavors. They put food on our table, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads; in learning to live independently, I have come to a newfound appreciation for all they have done. They supported my brother and me in our education by providing enrichment opportunities both at home and in the community for us to think outside the box through new and exciting challenges. In choosing my major and in preparing to pursue an eventual career, they provided advice without imposing expectations. When friends and family members ask what I am planning to do upon graduation, my father replies, “As of right now, she is studying biomedical engineering in pre-med. However, this may all change as she really enjoys engineering and research. I will trust and support her in whatever she decides.” They constantly remind me that, no matter what happens, they will always love me simply because ‘I’m their girl.’ They ask about student organizations I am a part of and the places where I volunteer; whenever we FaceTime, their faces light up when I talk about helping others. I tell them about the cards I get from patients and children I work with when volunteering. I know that simple acts of kindness mean more to them than an NCAA championship. They let me know when I am doing something right and support me whenever I need help. They laugh when I laugh, cry when I cry, and celebrate when I celebrate. Though separated by a large distance, we remain close at heart.”
The theme of community service and the role of an educator carries over into our other International Parent of the Year, Mrs. Altafun Nessa Shireen, mother of graduate student Mohammad Shafkat Islam, who goes by his nickname, Rafin. Rafin is entering his fourth year of study in the doctoral program in electrical and computer engineering.
A resident of Chittagong, a port city in Bangladesh, Mrs. Shireen is described by Rafin as a housewife who sacrificed her career to focus on her family. Tragedy struck the family when Rafin was a teenager and experiencing his own health issues: “My father, Mohammad Habibul Islam, died of a heart attack without any previous symptoms. All of us woke up in the middle of the night, and before we could take him to the hospital, he died in my mother’s arms. The whole world collapsed for all of us, especially my mother who now had to single-handedly take care of two teen-aged children.” To make things worse, Rafin’s own health suffered and he did not have the physical or mental strength to attend his father’s funeral and recalls being traumatized by the most devastating event of his life. “At that time, she realized now is the time to take care of her children, so she wiped her tears and took charge of the family and never looked back from that moment. So, I think the most unique quality that my mother possesses is overcoming challenges in most adverse situations.”
“Due to a family crisis and financial constraints her educational opportunities were limited, and she could not finish her bachelor’s degree. However, that did not stop her from spreading awareness about the importance of education. She has served the local community for over 20 years by teaching the local poor children. In her young age, she used to teach English and mathematics to the young children, who later got respectable jobs.” Mrs. Shireen has also provided financial support to young female children who were previously deprived of educational opportunities. “She convinced their parents about the need for basic education. With her encouragement and financial support, they were able to go to pursue their dreams. They remain ever grateful to my mother for providing them the opportunity to pursue education and treat my mother with utmost respect.”
“When I decided to go abroad for my Ph.D., my mother provided thorough support. I was able to come abroad only because of her support both mentally and financially. I remember in 2008, when I was in my freshman year in engineering school, I felt the need for a laptop for coursework. She bought me my first laptop as a surprise gift. That turned out to be the best gift of my life since I was highly motivated and completely focused on my research. I brought the laptop with me and I still use it.”
“She has always been my motivator, source of inspiration. Even now, whenever I am upset with my research progress, she encourages me to work harder. She has a favorite saying: ‘Life is like an ocean. Waves will try to knock you down and push you back to where you started. But once you fight through them, the entire ocean is yours.’ My mother has taught me to persevere, to never give up. She has taught me to be compassionate and empathetic towards others.”
“My mother is my Wonder Woman and I really love her most in the world. I really hope to make her proud of me one day.”
We have no doubt that both Mr. and Mrs. Mueller and Mrs. Shireen, although at nearly opposite sides of the globe yet tirelessly working to educate and build community, are all extremely proud of their University of Iowa students, Marissa Mueller and Mohammad Shafkat Islam. Congratulations to both families on being the International Parents of the Year for 2018!