George Sehi, Ph.D. is the Founder of Women Walking West, Inc. He was born in Mashhad, Iran. In 1975, at the age of 18, he landed at New York’s JFK airport with $500 in his pocket. His dream was to get the best possible education in America. As a foreign student with an F-1 visa, he enrolled at the Southern Illinois University Center for English as a Second Language. As a foreign student he was only allowed to work 20 hours a week while enrolled full time. This was a requirement of the Immigration and Naturalization Services. The language difficulties, financial constraints, and cultural barriers made it very challenging for George to navigate through the system and maintain a good academic standing. He understood from day one that the resources available so freely to American students were not available to him.
On September 16, 1978, George was a sophomore in college when a tragedy happened in his life. On that day he was watching the national news when Walter Cronkite, CBS anchorman, reported news that was shocking for George. An earthquake occurred in Tabas where George was raised, and the earthquake killed over 25,000 people. This tragedy devastated George and his two brothers who were also living in the US. Twenty four hours later, George found out that over 50 family members and close friends, including his father, died in the earthquake. He withdrew from college and went home to see what had happened in his hometown. The town was completely destroyed. George could not even find his way to the house he had lived in for 14 years. After returning from Iran, he and his brothers did not receive any financial support from their parents since their father had died and almost all their belongings were destroyed.
Life after the earthquake was very difficult. It was almost impossible to stay in college full time and be self-supporting, especially since the college tuition alone was $750.00 per semester. Working more than 20 hours a week was not allowed by Immigration and Naturalization Services for students with an F-1 visa. In order to survive, George did odd jobs for neighbors to subsidize his income. As a non-US resident, George was not eligible for any financial aid such as government loans or scholarships. With the hope of getting some help from the university, he made an appointment to see Dr. Charles Klasek, Director of International Students, at Southern Illinois University. To George’s surprise, Dr. Klasek offered to pay one third of George’s tuition as long as he maintained a 2.5 GPA. This was a turning point. The University’s support made it possible for George to complete his undergraduate degree.
In 1981, George graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and completed his master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1984 from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. By this time George had experienced firsthand the challenges and difficulties facing foreign students. These challenges are even more severe for foreign female students. George’s love for teaching brought him to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1984 where he started teaching at a local college. He was determined to pursue his doctoral degree and make a career in higher education. He never forgot the challenges he had encountered while attending college and the tremendous support he received from Dr. Charles Klasek. He owed a debt of gratitude to those who extended their support and encouragement along the way. George knew and appreciated the fact that, without the support and caring attitude offered to him by his friends and university staff, he would not have achieved his educational goals.
During George’s early experience in higher education, he made a commitment to give back to those who experience similar challenges in their lives. It was around 1990 that the thought of creating a nonprofit organization was planted in his mind. He wanted to help students achieve their educational goals. However, the daily challenges associated with raising two daughters and working extra hours to support his family didn’t allow George the time or resources to follow his dream. In 1986 he was hired as an associate professor and chair of the Mechanical Engineering Technology Department at a community college in Ohio. In 1990, he completed his doctorate degree in Academic Administration from Southern Illinois University and became a tenured full professor. He moved through the ranks and was appointed the dean of the Engineering and Industrial Technologies division in 1993, a position he held for 14 years. In 2003, he graduated from the Harvard Leadership and Management in Education Institute, in the Graduate School of Education.
George became the Founding Executive Dean of his community college expansion campus in Mason, Ohio and served as the Chief Administrative Officer of the campus for 5 years. As the senior administrator for the campus, he was instrumental in increasing enrollment from 345 students in fall 2007 to 1400 in fall 2012. George also created the Southwest University Partnership. Under this partnership, Miami University, Wright State University, University of Dayton, University of Cincinnati, and Wilmington College can offer upper division and graduate level courses and programs on campus.
George has served the educational community in Ohio and across the nation for over 30 years. More than70 academic institutions across the United States and abroad have benefited from his expertise while he has served on boards and commissions. He has been a consulting evaluator for North Central Association, TAC/ABET, ACICS and other accrediting commissions. George received the Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement from the Engineering & Science Foundation of Dayton in 1998 and also received the 1999 Frederick J. Berger award through the American Society for Engineering Education. He has received the status of Fellow Member from the American Society for Mechanical Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education. In 2010, he received the Executive of The Year award from the Northeast Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. George has been a national speaker and consultant in Canada, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Iran, Singapore, and China. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Cincinnati Eye Institute Foundation, Mason-Deerfield Chamber of Commerce where he served as the Chair of the Board of Directors and the Warren County Area Progress Council.
George’s career in higher education came to an end when he retired in 2012. Throughout his career he advised and guided hundreds of students so they could achieve their educational goals. He never forgot the challenges students face, especially foreign students, as they try to navigate through the system. He personally mentored many students and believed that a personal touch and a caring attitude was the main ingredient for student success. After retirement, when both of his daughters had grown and gone, he felt it was time to pursue his real dream and establish Women Walking West, Inc. This nonprofit was established to provide an organization to help foreign born women achieve their educational goals. The main reason for focusing on women was that he firmly believes that women are at a greater disadvantage than men when they come to the US, especially those coming from Third World countries.