Reza “Rae” Pourian has a document framed on the wall of his Northern California home: his daughter’s acceptance letter to MIT. In the years since that piece of paper arrived in the family’s mailbox, Jessica Pourian ’13 earned a degree from MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. She gained valuable experience along the way through Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) placements at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, spending time in the labs of Ann Graybiel PhD ’71, who studies the basis of neurodegenerative and developmental brain disorders, and Nancy Kanwisher ’80, PhD ’86, whose group specializes in a brain imaging method called fMRI to build fundamental understanding of how the brain works.
These days, Jessica is attending medical school, pursuing an interest in pediatrics and autism that was sparked by her undergraduate research experience. Meanwhile, work in the Graybiel and Kanwisher labs is moving forward, bolstered by a gift from the Pourian family.
The Pourians have also provided generous unrestricted support to the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research (KI) in support of its mission to confront cancer through the convergence of life sciences and engineering. “It looks like they are truly on the road — I call it the MIT road — to resolve the issue of many, many diseases, not only cancer, through the approach to research they have developed at the Koch Institute,” says Rae Pourian. KI has identified five areas of critical interdisciplinary research: nanotechnology-based cancer therapeutics; novel devices for cancer detection and monitoring; exploring the molecular and cellular basis of metastasis; advancing personalized medicine through analysis of cancer pathways and drug resistance; and engineering the immune system to fight cancer.
According to Pourian, the family’s gift to both the Koch Institute and the McGovern is aimed at supporting scientific discoveries that benefit the health of future generations—“we are the beneficiaries of a lot of pure research done by generations before us,” he says—and also to enhance the education of the current generation of MIT students. This is a factor he witnessed firsthand as an MIT parent: “What MIT offers is a culture of cooperation, opening their hearts and labs to undergraduate students so they can learn cutting-edge research.”
Born in Iran, Pourian came to the United States more than 50 years ago and built a long and varied career in manufacturing, with a focus on the automotive industry. His wife, Julia Madidi Pourian, works in banking, and older daughter Kristin is a practicing physician. He sees a common thread in all of their fields—something he believes his daughter Jessica is well prepared for no matter where her career takes her, thanks to her time in Cambridge. “More than anything else, MIT teaches their students problem solving and teamwork, and in any industry, in any aspect of life, the person who solves problems is the successful one,” he says. “MIT truly trains everybody equally and gives them the confidence to step out there and succeed.”