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PARSA CF Awards $2.4M to Universities to Further Iranian Studies across North America

Source: PARSA Community Foundation

Over the past few months, PARSA Community Foundation has made a series of announcements detailing the results of its 2010 Mehrgan Grant Cycle, totaling over $3M in grants to causes, projects, and organizations of strategic importance to the Iranian-American community. Today PARSA CF announces its most expansive set of grants to date: $2,400,000 to launch and grow Iranian studies programs across North America. This last round of awards concludes PARSA CF's "Big Give" and brings the total amount of its 2010 Mehrgan grants to $5,452,250.

Iranian studies programs are a cornerstone for the preservation of Iran's cultural heritage and for promoting understanding of contemporary Iranian issues. Investing in the education of future generations is vital for the Iranian American community as well as for peaceful relations between the United States and Iran. PARSA's twelve Iranian studies grants provide seed funding to brand-new programs and help expand small programs that have shown great promise.

Endowment Grants to Universities

Five of the twelve Iranian studies gifts are endowment grants. The significance of an endowment grant is the perpetual support that it provides. The funds are invested and the payout generated is a source of ongoing income for the programs.

1. California State University, Fresno has received a $200,000 endowment grant to establish the"PARSA Community Foundation Visiting Scholar in Persian and Cultural Studies" position. We are delighted to report that this grant is matched dollar-for-dollar by Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute and is pooled with a $500,000 grant Roshan previously awarded CSU Fresno for a combined $900,000 endowment.

CSU Fresno is strategically located in California's Central Valley, where 20,000 Iranian families and students live, far from the urban centers of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Under the leadership of Dr. Vida Samiian, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, CSU Fresno is in the process of building and expanding its program in Persian Language and Culture as a component of its Middle East Studies Minor. As the minor includes a two-year language requirement in one of the languages of the region, the establishment of an Endowed Professorship in Persian Language and Culture is indispensable to the success of the program.

2. In order to createthe "PARSA Community Foundation Graduate Scholarship in Iranian Studies," Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec has been given a $75,000 endowment grant. This will allow the Iranian studies program at the university to award an annual scholarship to a student pursing a masters or Ph.D. degree in Iranian studies.

Concordia University has the only formal Iranian Studies program in Canada, and is already offering an undergraduate minor, with a major being planned as the program grows. It is an interdisciplinary program and graduate students can choose an Iranian focus in a number of departments, particularly the Religion Department and the Film Department.

The program, capably led by Dr. Richard Foltz, Associate Professor at Concordia University, is actively looking for support to create a chair in Persian Language in order to add language classes to its offerings. We encourage you to support the university in this endeavor and leverage the scholarship fund created by PARSA CF.

"Concordia's Iranian Studies program has begun attracting potential graduate students from around the world, including Iran. The availability of financial support is crucial to enabling many of these students to study at Concordia. The endowment provided by the PARSA Community Foundation is most helpful in this regard," says Dr. Foltz.

3. A $250,000 endowment grant has been awarded to the University of California, Davis to establish the "PARSA Community Foundation Lectureship in Iranian/Persianate Studies" under their existing Middle East/South Asia (ME/SA) Studies program. Currently ME/SA does not provide any country-specific minor, and the grant from PARSA CF will enable them to launch their firstsuch minor focusing on Iran. The lectureship will become a model for launching minors in Indian and Arab Studies down the road and is an important first step to building the Iranian/Persianate Studies (IPS) program.

In addition to the city of Davis, UC Davis serves the greater community of the state capitol, Sacramento, and the local Iranian-American community has been a great benefactor and beneficiary of the ME/SA's Iranian studies programming. Iranian related events arranged by ME/SA typically have attendance in the hundreds, and sometimes thousands. A lecture by Shirin Ebadi, the Noble Peace Prize Laureate, for example, attracted some 1,800 people to the campus.

The grant from PARSA CF has already energized the community and ME/SA to move forward with fundraising for the IPS program. With this significant seed funding, ME/SA will increase the IPS program's visibility and credibility, aiming to bring the size of the endowment to $1M and to convert it to an endowed professorship in IPS.

"The PARSA CF Endowed Visiting Lecturer in Iranian/Persianate Studies is a historic first for the ME/SA Studies Program and for the Division of Social Sciences at the University of California, Davis. The PARSA CF Endowment launches ME/SA on the path to building a dynamic program in modern Iranian studies, one of the few in the United States to focus on modern Iranian history, culture and society. It will reach national stature in a matter of a few years," said Professor Suad Joseph, Founding Director of the ME/SA Studies Program at UC Davis.

4. With the Orange County and Los Angeles area hosting the largest population of Iranians in the U.S. and outside of Iran, University of California, Irvine serves a very large Iranian American community. The Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at UC Irvine produces frequent programs, lecture series and events for the community, both in Persian and in English. For this reason PARSA CF has made one of its largest grants to UC Irvine, a $300,000 endowment grant for the "PARSA Community Foundation Lectureship in Persian Language and Culture," a collaboration between the Samuel Jordan Center, and the School of Humanities. The Samuel Jordan Center, under the leadership of Dr. Nasrin Rahimieh, is actively working toward establishing a full undergraduate program (minor and major) in Persian studies.

The appointment of a full-time PARSA CF Lecturer at UC Irvine provides the Samuel Jordan Center with the crucial foundation for an interdisciplinary undergraduate program in Persian Studies. UC Irvine has already hired a lecturer and the courses will start as early as this month.

"The grant from PARSA CF provides a vital and timely response to student demand for more advanced levels of Persian language instruction and strengthens the Center's role in the community," said Dr. Nasrin Rahimieh, Maseeh Chair and Director of the Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at UC Irvine.

5. Traditionally most of the attention to Iranian studies programs has gone to the coastal regions of the United States. PARSA CF is particularly excited about serving the Oklahoma and North Texas regions with a $310,000 endowment grant to the University of Oklahoma for the"PARSA Community Foundation Fund for Iranian Studies" under its International Programs. The area is known for its oil industry, and hence the exchange, travel, and immigration of Iranians in this region, particularly in the oil sector, go back for decades.

The fund will support the "PARSA Community Foundation Scholarship in Iranian Studies" as well as the "PARSA Community Foundation Lecture Series on Modern Iran." In conjunction with a generous $1M gift from the Farzaneh family to establish an endowed chair in Iranian Studies, the PARSA CF grant will put the Iranian Studies program at the University of Oklahoma on a fast track. The PARSA CF grant gives the Farzaneh Chair in Iranian Studies resources to recruit outstanding students and create new community outreach programs.

"The grant from PARSA came at just the right time. Coupled with a generous gift from the Farzaneh family, and significant backing from the University and OU President David Boren, our program is poised to take off. I am proud that after a national search we have hired Dr. Afshin Marashi - a first-rate scholar and teacher who is at the apex of his career. For the first time next fall, students at OU will be able to take "Modern Iran," exclaims Zachariah Messitte, Dean of the College of International Studies at University of Oklahoma.

We cannot emphasize enough that due to the nature of endowment grants, the size of the principal needs to be large enough to generate a reasonable amount of interest to support programs. For some of these grants other donors have already provided additional funding to increase the size of the endowed chair or program. Others will need further help and donations. PARSA CF's Board of Directors is bringing these endowed programs to the attention of other organizations and individual donors, and asks the Iranian community, whether close to or far from a certain university, to leverage the seed grants by adding their own contributions.

Regular Grants to Universities

While regular grants to universities last for a span of a few years rather than forever, they are crucial in establishing the importance of the program in the mind of the university as a whole, as well as local communities and supporters. In many cases, the two or three years of funding allows the program to establish itself, prove its importance, and show that it can grow, resulting in future support from university, other key donors, and the community at large.

1. Matched by a $100,000 grant from the Flora Family Foundation and contributions from other donors, Brown University has received a $250,000 grant from PARSA CF for "Expanding opportunities for the study of Iranian history, culture, and society."

The three year grant will allow Brown University to launch a rigorous, multi-disciplinary pilot program in Iranian studies in addition to its current Modern Persian program under the Center for Language Studies, by hiring three high-profile professors:

  • Dr. Shiva Balaghi, a specialist in Iranian contemporary art, will be hosted by the Departments of History of Art and Architecture and History;
  • Mehrangiz Kar, the internationally renowned scholar, lawyer, and activist, will teach at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women; and
  • Shahriar Mandanipour, one of Iran's most accomplished contemporary writers, will be housed at the Department of Literary Arts.

"Brown University is enormously grateful to PARSA CF for making a pilot program in Persian Studies possible. We are confident that our hopes for the program will exceed expectations," said Carolyn Dean, Senior Associate Dean of Faculty and John Hay Professor of International Studies at Brown University.

2. In order to enable Portland State University to hire an Iranian scholar in residence, PARSA CF has made a $150,000 grant for PSU's "Programs in Modern Persian/Iranian Studies." PSU is the largest university in Oregon, home to more than 10,000 Iranian-American families. Started in 1959, PSU's Middle East Studies program is very strong and includes foreign language courses inArabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, and Pashtu as well as area studies courses in a number of disciplines. The grant is intended to enhance the Middle East Studies program with Iranian/Persian studies, and plant the seeds for a more established Iranian studies program in the future.

During the two years that the scholar is in residence, they will advise the university on how to develop a strong Iranian studies program. Complementing this are other grant funded initiatives to create more engagement with the community and promote the arts and culture of Iran: hiring a graduate student to coordinate public events, and bringing a resident Iranian artist to the campus.

3. Paving the way to build a major and a graduate program in Persian Studies, San Francisco State University has received a $150,000 grant to establish a Minor in Persian Studies. Under the leadership of Dr. Mitra Ara, SFSU's Persian Studies Program has been offering an increasingly rich array of public lectures and courses examining Persian language, literature, arts, history, and culture, exposing students to both historic and modern Persian speaking countries.

In supporting SFSU to further its goal, PARSA CF has proudly awarded this grant to help launch a multi-disciplinary Minor in Persian Studies, which will be a first and a landmark in the California State University system's history. The minor in Persian Studies will serve students from a variety of majors and will provide cultural outreach programs to Persian speaking communities.

The Minor in Persian Studies program enhances SF State University's ability to meet its aim to internationalize its curriculum, so that in addition to gaining appreciation and respect for other cultures, graduates of the institution become informed, engaged, and active citizens in an ever-more interdependent world.

4. A third California State university, San Jose State University, has received a $200,000 grant for their "Iranian Studies at SJSU" initiative. It is a much-needed program at SJSU due to the large population of Iranian and Iranian-American students at and near the university.

The PARSA CF grant has enabled SJSU to develop the first phase of the program, build long term plans, launch a year-long event series, and develop the necessary infrastructure to pursue further planning, funding, and institutional support. With the help of public programs resulting from the PARSA CF grant, SJSU will be establishing and highlighting itself as one of the major go-to places in Silicon Valley for Iranian intellectual and cultural events. The $200,000 seeds a program which, given the current economic situation and its impact on the state university system, would have not been able to exist otherwise.

5. Recognizing the critical importance of understanding the nuances and complexities of Iran for successful diplomacy, PARSA CF has awarded Tufts University $300,000 for their "Persian Perspectives: Educating International Leaders and Promoting Public Dialogue" program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. The grant will be used to develop a new academic course on international relations named "The World Seen from Iran." Dr. Vali Nasr, Professor of International Politics and former Senior Advisor to Richard Holbrooke, will supervise this relevant and timely course.

With alumni come from 40 different countries, working in some 130 countries in careers including government, business, journalism and international affairs, Fletcher School has the influence to increase understanding of Iran at the leadership level across sectors and geographies. Further maximizing exposure and impact, this course will be made available to other institutions and the public via OpenCourseWare.

6. "Persian of Iran: A Multimedia Textbook and Curriculum for Modern Persian," an innovative project run by Dr. Kristen Brustad at University of Texas at Austin's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, has been awarded a $141,000 grant. The project builds on Dr. Brustad's experience creating a similar system for Arabic, and it will be completed with the support of the director of the center, Dr. Kamran Aghaie and the author of the course, Anousha Shahsavari. The project fulfills a need for an integrated course that combines appropriate methods and tools for teaching modern Persian. It interweaves narrative and dialogs into all of the material to teach students to not only understand and speak, but also to read and write Persian.

The significance of the course design and materials is that everything will be available on the Internet, and any other university or institution will be able to take advantage of this methodical and thorough system of teaching Persian as a second language.

Currently 15 out of about 35 lessons of the course, prepared in two books, are completed, and are being field tested at UT Austin as well as Qatar University.

7. University of California, Berkeley's Department of Near Eastern Studies has hosted courses, public lectures, and student activities related to Iran and its culture for many years, and PARSA CF is proud to help continue this legacy with a $50,000 grant for the "Persian Heritage Lecture and Film Series." The program combines a revised version of a successful past course taught by Dr. Jaleh Pirnazar, "Iranian Film and Fiction," with the screening of films from well-known Iranian filmmakers.

The goal of this project is to complement the screening of Iranian films with literary material exploring the same topics in Iranian society. Cultural and literary themes such as modernity, tradition, views of the West, gender, ethnicity, migration, diaspora, and civil and individual rights will be explored. The course will expand the UC Berkeley community's knowledge of Iran's rich culture and its current affairs.

In order to further enhance our investment in Iranian studies, PARSA CF has given a grant to Iran Heritage Foundation, to work with PARSA's North American university grantees. IHF has been working with universities in the U.K. for many years, and IHF America is already working with most of the universities mentioned above to build a network of Iranian studies programs across the U.S. They will facilitate the sharing of resources, exchange of ideas, and creation of a higher level of exposure for Iranian studies as a whole in the U.S. and U.K.

PARSA Community Foundation congratulates all of these universities for creating the important foundations for increased research, understanding, and promotion of Iran's rich cultural heritage. We encourage the global Iranian community to continue supporting them by spreading the word, attending events, and increasing financial support.

PARSA CF promotes strategic philanthropy and social entrepreneurship within the Persian-speaking communities around the globe. PARSA CF identifies organizations and projects with long term impact and supports them through grants and networking. To date, PARSA CF has awarded a total of $7.6M in grants through its general and donor-advised funds. To learn more about PARSA CF, please visit

... Payvand News - 07/05/11 ... --

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