In the Spotlight: Maryam Mohaghegh

Mohaghegh in her office in Withers Hall. Photo: NC State University Communications.

At the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures we put a lot of emphasis on diversity — that is, linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, scholarly diversity, and also experiential diversity. This last one, particularly when it comes to our faculty and staff, is really really important.

A case in point is Farsi-Persian professor Maryam Mohaghegh. Before joining the Wolfpack family, professor Mohaghegh had a promising career as a scientist that she forsook in order to pursue her passion for languages and translation. So, when she teaches her students every day, what they get from her is not only a passionate and highly skilled instructor of Farsi, but also the clarity and attentiveness to detail of a trained scientist.

Mohaghegh received both her bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and master’s in virology from Tehran University in Iran. You might ask how she transitioned from the sciences to teaching a language. She mentions, “I was always fascinated with English, ever since I was a teenager. I have been curious about how we, as Iranians, are perceived by other nations and how I can shed light into the misconceptions and bring a better understanding.” She channeled this fascination into a job, as she has taught English part time since high school. In her undergraduate years, Mohaghegh became an official oral examiner for Cambridge University in Tehran, stating, “This experience allowed me to witness my fellow citizen’s challenges of learning a second language and their major problems and pitfalls while evaluating them as an oral examiner.”

After she had her first child, Mohaghegh left her profession as a virologist and began working at Kanoon International Affairs at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults. Here, she served as a Farsi-English translator. Meanwhile, she and a friend established a language school for children between the ages of four and ten. The school initially taught 20 students and in just two years expanded to serve 2,000!

Professor Mohaghegh has yet to slow down when it comes to helping her community. She has also served as the country coordinator between the Netherlands and Iran in an exchange program formed by KIT, an organization which aims to improve health and ensure equal socio-economic development. And in 2012, she was asked to join the National Geographic Magazine-Farsi team as a reviewer.

Mohaghegh reveals for her, “Farsi is an opportunity to expose students to the language and perspectives of Iranian culture and teach them how to pursue their interests and move forward.” Persian has only been taught as a second language in the U.S. for the past 40 years. Therefore, comprehensive resources and teaching material is harder to come by. However, through her own ESL teaching experiences, Mohaghegh has been able to develop material in an easy to understand and approachable fashion to benefit her students. She says, “I advise my students to be aware of their involuntary resistance toward the new language.” This approach will allow them to ignore the difficulty of learning the language and will support a more relaxed and enthusiastic atmosphere.

On the other hand, there is still a travel ban in place for students wishing to visit Iran. Of course, this hasn’t stopped Mohaghegh. With the support of the FL&L department head Dr. Ruth Gross, she aided NC State to become one of few universities in the U.S.—Harvard and Boston University are also among the few—to have an education partnership with IMVBox, an Iranian movie streaming website. Last fall, she and Dr. Gross partnered with the NC State Iranian Students Association to present a screening of Maz Jobrani’s movie “Jimmy Vestvood” on par with New York, London, and Los Angeles, with more than 240 people in attendance.

Mohaghegh continues to organize movie nights, field trips, and cultural presentation sessions to incorporate aspects of the language that are not in the course syllabus. She shows her passion for teaching through her belief that, “Learning a new language provides a new perspective, like adding color to a black and white canvas, it makes the picture more vibrant and beautiful.”

Thank you for your dedication and enthusiasm, Professor Mohaghegh! We are proud to call you a part of The Pack.

Note: This story benefited from interview notes made by Hiral Patel.

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