Graduate student returns to his roots in Eagle Heights community

By Meghan Chua


For many people, the place where they spent their childhood holds a special meaning. It’s certainly true for Hossein Panahi, who grew up in the Eagle Heights university housing community.

Now a graduate student with a family of his own, Panahi is embracing that connection by living in Eagle Heights again.

“Coming back here, it was really valuable to be able to relive old times,” Panahi said.

An aerial view of campus shows trees and buildings arranged in geometric patterns.
The Eagle Heights and University Housing communities are shown in this aerial shot of the UW-Madison campus. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

In the late 70s and early 80s, Panahi lived with his parents in Eagle Heights while his father pursued a PhD. He remembers playing soccer in the grass with other children of UW–Madison students. Sometimes, he and his sister would play around in their family’s apartment, causing the neighbors to complain about the noise. He attended the daycare at Eagle Heights before it became Eagle’s Wing Child Care.

“It was a very nice feeling to be with other kids. I felt like we were in a global village because we had people from all over the world,” Panahi remembers. “Eagle Heights is a village where we were introduced to the whole world at once.”

That introduction helped deepen his understanding of life, Panahi said. Between that, and his father’s career as a sociologist, Panahi became interested in sociology himself.

Panahi’s father got a job as a professor in northern Wisconsin after graduating, and the family moved out of Eagle Heights. Later, they moved to their home country of Iran, where Panahi graduated high school. There, he went on to earn a master’s degree in sociology with a dual focus in management, as well as get married.

With his new lens as a sociologist, Panahi decided he wanted to return to Eagle Heights. He was accepted to a doctoral program at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, giving him his chance to come back home.

“When I was in Iran I always had great memories of Madison and coming back,” he said.

Panahi is now a resident manager at Eagle Heights. His perspective as someone who grew up in the area, and went to primary school in Madison, allows him to better help other residents – especially those with children. And in his own family, he’s able to watch his daughter attend the same school he attended as a child.

A chalkboard shows different vegetables harvested from the garden, while students sit around a picnic table in the background enjoying a meal.
Students enjoy a group dinner in the Eagle Heights Community Gardens. The Eagle Heights community often comes together for events like this one. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

“You can’t put any value on that. It’s just surreal,” he said.

There have been changes, though. Panahi noticed that there are fewer families with kids living in Eagle Heights than there were when he was growing up. Now, single graduate students who live alone or with a roommate account for about a third of University Apartments residents, and almost half of the families in Eagle Heights do not have dependents.

Still, the social events hosted in the Eagle Heights community allow Panahi and his family to connect with other families and meet new people. Their favorite event to attend is the Wisconsin Festival, a fair held at the community center where special guests include Bucky Badger and the UW Marching Band. Panahi has also enjoyed international potlucks, where residents of Eagle Heights represent their home countries with a traditional dish.

“That food made the connection with the culture and with the overall, general atmosphere we have in Eagle Heights – that international atmosphere,” Panahi said.