By Bita Milanian, Los Angeles, CA (Source: Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA))
In June 2011, the University of Southern California Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences announced that Dr. Peyman Nojoumian had been named the Assistant Professor of Persian in the new Middle East Studies Program at the university.
Made possible through funds donated by Farhang Foundation as part of its Iranian Studies Initiative at USC, the hiring of Dr. Nojoumian and the launch of Persian language classes mark a momentous occasion in the history of the university, as such courses have never been offered at the school
We thank Dr. Nojoumian for taking the time to discuss with us the significance and future of the Iranian Studies Initiative at USC.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself, background, and the style of teaching you hope to implement at USC...
I graduated from Allame Tabataba'i University, Tehran in 1999 and got my first Master's degree in Linguistics & Teaching Persian as a Foreign Language (TPFL). I was among the first group of graduate students who were admitted to TPFL. We did courses in Persian linguistics, teaching, culture and literature. In 1998, we established a private teaching institute with other students and started teaching Persian to foreign students in Tehran. I was interested in developing instructional technologies; therefore, I moved to Belgium in 2000 and did my MSc in Speech & Language Technology at the K.U.Leuven. I started my Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University of Ottawa, Canada in 2004. I joined University of Maryland as a Persian lecturer in 2007 and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009.
I have been able to develop a pool of instructional materials and e-learning resources for teaching of the Persian language and culture based on the latest communicative and task-based language teaching methodologies. Apart from Persian language courses, I have also taught courses on Islam & politics in Iran, social issues, culture, commerce and modern Iranian identity. I have been trained by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and my curriculum complies with the ACTFL's teaching and assessment guidelines and standards. I will use the same methodology and adapt it to the Iranian heritage learner's needs at USC.
2) Until Farhang Foundation intervened, there was no Iranian Studies program at USC. What are your thoughts on this, considering that the university is located in the heart of Los Angeles?
It was a surprise for me to know that such a program did not exist in such an important research institution in the heart of Los Angeles. Although there are few related programs elsewhere in southern California, an Iranian Studies center should be present at USC because of a significant population of Iranian heritage students at this university as well as USC's importance as a leading research university. When I heard about the initiative by Farhang Foundation, I decided to move to LA and do my best to get this program started as soon as possible.
3) Had you heard of Farhang Foundation prior to discovering that USC was seeking a professor of Persian language? What are your thoughts on Farhang Foundation and the work it is doing?
Not really. But I know that Iranian cultural foundations and communities in the US including Farhang Foundation have been very active in promoting our rich language and cultural heritage. I believe that they are doing a fantastic job by providing educational opportunities especially for the young Iranian Americans. I hope they continue their strong support since it is an invaluable cultural investment for our future generations.
4) You will be the first professor of Persian language at the University. What challenges do you anticipate facing initially?
I would not be worried about the challenges ahead because of my prior relevant experience. However, I know that any new program on this large scale demands a continuous support from the community as well as students. We need to encourage our fellow Iranian and American students to register in the Persian classes to benefit from this great opportunity. The community can also help students in need of financial aid by providing fellowships and scholarships in the future phases of the initiative. You can check our web site for updates on new Persian courses at: http://dornsife.usc.edu/persian
5) What is the social impact/significance of this program?
It engages the community in promoting cultural programs while benefiting young Iranian Americans. It will also increase cultural awareness and open new and effective ways of communications between the nations. In order for the Iranian community in diaspora to be heard, we need to create a deeper understanding of our cultural values and identity for our fellow Americans. We need more presence in US society and higher education institutions in particular, in terms of cultural programs.
6) What is your vision for the future of this program?
I have no doubt that this program will be very successful because of a very supportive community and enthusiastic students. We have a duty to preserve our rich cultural heritage and to pass it on to the younger Iranian Americans. It gives me immense pleasure whenever I see my students enjoy learning about their language and culture and are able to know their cultural heritage and create the identity that they deserve. Many students of non-Iranian background also want to learn Persian and Iranian culture. These students will create much needed bridges of their own between the Iranian and American peoples.
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