IRVINE — Traveling into space was always a dream for Anousheh Ansari, co-founder and chairwoman of the Internet company Prodea Systems.
In 2006, she went to the International Space Station, making her the first woman to travel into space as a private citizen.
The Texas resident was among the Iranian American women Coastline Community College honored Sunday for professional and societal accomplishments.
"The most important thing is to inspire women to go after their dreams," she said. "No matter how difficult it is, if you put your mind to it, you'll be able to achieve it."
It's women like Ansari, who set and achieve goals that make a difference, who Mariam Khosravani gathered for the first Iranian American Women's Leadership Conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Irvine.
Khosravani, executive director of the college foundation, had a vision to hold a conference highlighting the accomplishments of women in America who, like her, emigrated from their homelands to United States.
"We wanted to showcase their contributions to this society because these women are the ones who are out there in our community," Khosravani said. "They are teaching our kids. They are doctors in hospitals helping people. All these women contribute so much to this society in the United States, and we just wanted to acknowledge them."
The Pathways to Success conference attracted more than 500 women whose hands have touched multiple industries.
Almost 40 Iranian American women were featured during the event. They contributed to various sessions, from health and nutrition to leadership.
One of the main goals of the conference was to dispel stereotypes some hold of Middle Eastern women, namely that they are weak and oppressed, Khosravani said.
"We were hoping (that) by showcasing their successes and contributions, we show the real faces of Iranian American women, who are the heart of the community," Khosravani said.
Ansari was among a panel of women who spoke during the lunch hour in the hotel's Grand Ballroom.
Before the discussion began, a presentation showed pictures of dozens of Iranian American women, including international journalist Christiane Amanpour.
Marcy Koukhab of Los Angeles couldn't hold back her tears.
"I'm so proud," said Michelle Samani, an L.A. attorney who attended with Koukhab.
Khosravani said Monday that she didn't think she would get such a positive response from the event.
"I keep crying," she said. "They feel like what we had done just changed their lives yesterday. I personally didn't have any idea that it was going to have this impact on the people. The results were amazing."
Khosravani said she is hoping to repeat the conference and include successful women of other ethnicities.
Funds raised from the conference will go toward college programs, Khosravani said.