Shams Rahmani’s journey from Afghanistan to Indiana is a lesson in persistence and adaptability. Although his home province of Nangarhar is largely agricultural, Rahmani knew only a little about agriculture when his college-entrance examinations placed him into that program at Kabul University. After graduating, he was hired as a teaching assistant in the agronomy department there. Through Purdue’s partnership with five universities in Afghanistan, Rahmani earned a fellowship for master’s-level study at Purdue University beginning in 2012. “I was very blessed by that,” he says, but it also meant not seeing his wife, two young children, parents and siblings for two-and-a-half years. He went from living with 18 family members to being alone in a place where the language, food, and especially the educational system were unfamiliar and overwhelming. His family’s encouragement and support from the Purdue community drove him to complete a master’s degree in 2014. He had returned to Afghanistan and taught for one semester when he was offered a doctoral research assistantship at Purdue with Darrell Schulze, professor of soil science. In 2015, he was able to bring his wife, son, 7, and daughter, 5; the family grew by a second daughter about six months ago.
“I study soil variability that affects the productivity of crops,” Rahmani explains. Noting that agriculture in his home country is largely for self-consumption rather than market distribution, farmers’ need for accurate information and soil mapping is particularly acute, he adds. The soil maps his research is helping to improve could be delivered via a Purdue-developed app and online to provide location-specific information that helps farmers better manage seed, fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation.
When Rahmani first arrived at Purdue, he was stunned by faculty members’ willingness to help him, the wealth of professional development opportunities, and Purdue’s research facilities. “The faster computers that we have here are like, wow!” he says. “The cutting-edge technology and the friendly environment made me come back. Purdue is like a family for me now.”
When Rahmani completes his Ph.D., likely in late 2018, a teaching position will be available for him in Afghanistan. “I’m looking forward to an academic position related to food security,” he says. “My main goal is to serve humanity.” In his leisure time, he enjoys playing volleyball, watching cricket, which is hugely popular in Afghanistan, and spending time with family and friends.