Couple ‘pays it forward’ with gifts to UHCL-Pearland Campus

Nizam and Jesmin Meah are immigrants living the American dream — a dream that impelled the Pearland couple to pledge $300,000 in two significant donations to University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Pearland Campus.

Both emigrated from Bangladesh, became U.S. citizens, went to college, met and married. Nizam is a gastroenterologist with clinics in Pearland, Lake Jackson and Friendswood. Jesmin, an electrical engineer by education, is a stay-at-home mom who volunteers in Pearland schools. Both came from families that prized higher education, family and service as virtues — values they are passing on to their four children through the creation of the Meah Family Foundation.

The foundation committed to a gift of $200,000 to equip the nursing simulation lab in UHCL-Pearland Campus’ new Health Sciences and Classroom Building, which opens this spring. A naming gift of $100,000 will benefit the expansion of UHCL’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities onto the Pearland Campus.

“I make my living in health care. Our families have a long legacy in health care,” Nizam said. “So this perfectly matches our interests.”

“Both my parents are teachers,” he added, “and my wife’s dad is a teacher. The whole idea of our family foundation is to commemorate the legacy of our parents.”

Nizam is one of nine siblings; Jesmin is one of four. Both sets of parents “wanted all of their children to have a higher education,” Jesmin said. “They encouraged each of us to be a full functioning member of the community, to give back to the community.”

The Meahs have lived in Pearland area about 10 years. “We are proud Pearlanders,” Jesmin said. “In order to be part of the community, you have to support the community. We don’t just want to live here. We want to be a full support organization for the community.”

She added, “We are two immigrant stories. Our parents wanted a better life for us. We got a better life, and we want to pay it forward.”

Jesmin’s family moved to the U.S. when her father obtained a scholarship to Texas A&M, where he received master’s and doctorate degrees in civil engineering.

Nizam said he came to the U.S. as a young man “with $23 in my pocket.”  But he knew as a young teen that America was his destiny.

He recalled sitting at his family’s kitchen table as an 8th-grader, listening to his sister read Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. “That drew my attention. So I read it myself. I liked it so much that from that time, I said, ‘I’m going to America and I’m going to make my life there.’

“My American dream,” he said. “I think the American dream is a lot bigger than America. Maybe Americans who are born and brought up here don’t know that.  For Americans like me, who have, by choice, adopted this nation, the American dream is a desire and a commitment to improve yourself. But to be truly successful, you have to help others succeed.  To me, that’s the American dream.”

Richard Zalesak, UHCL’s associate director of development for University Advancement, said the Meahs’ gifts will help train nurses “for many, many years” as well as provide therapy services for children on the autism spectrum.

“Giving does two things,” Zalesak said. “It’s a blessing to the recipients. But it also changes our hearts. What we invest in, we become very concerned about.”

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