Gelayol and husband Armin Ahmadi setting by christmas tree.
The holiday season is relatively relaxing for The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) graduate students Gelayol Mohammadnazar, left, and husband Armin Ahmadi, right. During a hectic 50-day period in summer 2023, the couple completed three advanced degrees at UAH and welcomed baby Melody into the family, which also includes toddler Ryan. They will receive their degrees during commencement ceremonies on Dec. 11.
Courtesy Armin Ahmadi

How do you juggle three advanced degrees, one toddler and one new baby? Organize your time, use every minute well and remain flexible, say married couple Armin Ahmadi and Gelayol Mohammadnazar.

The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, will award degrees to the two graduate students during commencement ceremonies on Dec. 11. These degrees represent the harvest from more than six years of hard work and dedication that culminated in an especially hectic 50-day period in the summer of 2023.

First, Gelayol defended her master’s in civil engineering while she was 36 weeks pregnant. Two weeks later, Armin finished his MBA. Two weeks later, Gelayol gave birth to their second child, a daughter named Melody, who arrived to join their toddler son, Ryan. Two weeks later, Armin defended his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

“We had a ton on our plates,” Armin says.

“When a couple loves each other,” Gelayol says, “they can do anything that they want.”

Armin and Gelayol’s UAH story began in 2016 when Armin came to the U.S. to present his master’s research at the annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference. He also visited his brother, Amir Ahmadi, who was a Ph.D. student at UAH.

Armin talked to UAH faculty and decided that the Rocket City was the best place to further his research. But there was one problem. His wife was back in Iran, and there was no guarantee that the couple would be allowed into the U.S. if he went home to get her.

Armin says he and Gelayol have known each other “forever”: “We were high school sweethearts.”

He returned to Iran.

Determined to pursue their American dream, the couple traveled to Turkey and on to Cyprus to reach a U.S. Embassy, which gave them a visa. Six months after his conference presentation, both of them were back at UAH on a student visa. He was an F1 student; she was an F2 dependent.

Gelayol had to put her master’s work on hold for a few years until she could get her immigration status changed to F1. Then she was able to finish her master’s in a year – despite dealing with terrible morning sickness throughout her pregnancy.

At the same time, Armin was pursuing simultaneous degrees.

“I got a master’s in chemical engineering while I was a Ph.D. student,” Armin says, “and then I was admitted to the UAH College of Business to do an MBA. I had to take MBA classes at night and work on the weekends while finishing my Ph.D.”

Armin says he is grateful for the encouragement and support he received from his UAH professors, particularly Dr. Jerome Baudry, the Mrs. Pei-Ling Chan Professor of Biological Sciences.

“The last two and half years, I worked with Dr. Baudry, and my research was all computational. He gave me the flexibility to go to the lab in the middle of the night, come late in the morning, go early in the morning. As long as I delivered the results, he gave me the flexibility to do my own stuff. And he was very supportive of me getting the MBA done.”

Armin and Gelayol are also especially thankful for the long-term support of their parents, all of whom live in Iran. Except for Gelayol’s mother, who was able to get a six-month visa to be here when Melody was born, the couple have been able to see their parents only online for the past four-and-a-half years.

“They made a huge sacrifice so we could come to the U.S. and do all these things,” Armin says. “My parents have three sons, and we all came to U.S. graduate schools to get Ph.D.s. Their only wish was to be present at the commencement ceremony.”

Their parents won’t be able to attend this commencement, but perhaps they can make the next ceremony. Gelayol is now a Ph.D. student in civil engineering. Armin is working at UAH as a postdoctoral research assistant in the biology department.