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$300,000 Gift for Persian Studies

Persian Studies Program Receives $300,000 Grant

SJSU’s first-ever Elementary Persian class, held in fall 2012 through the College of International and Extended Studies. “We want to create an opportunity to share the rich Persian language and culture,” said Professor Persis Karim, Middle Eastern Studies coordinator (Layla Forooghi photo).

SAN JOSE, CA - The Persian Studies Program at San Jose State University will continue its mission to educate students and promote Iranian culture and Persian language for the next three years through a generous grant of $300,000 from the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute. The grant has been awarded to Persis Karim, principal investigator and professor of English and comparative literature within the College of Humanities and the Arts.  The funds will support language instruction, cultural events, lectures, faculty research and scholarships as well as a conference on the Iranian Diaspora culture in 2014.

The program directors include Karim, who also serves as coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies, and Shahin Gerami, professor of interdisciplinary social sciences and coordinator of the Women’s Studies Program. Both Karim and Gerami welcome the opportunity to expand the Persian Studies Program, which was initiated in 2011 with seed money from the PARSA Community Foundation. SJSU made an appeal for private support to establish a Persian Studies Program and was granted a generous $200,000 grant from the PARSA Community Foundation during the 2010 Mehregan grant cycle. These donations recognize the importance of teaching Persian language, as well as introducing Iran’s rich heritage to university students.

Iranian Diaspora Studies

Because Silicon Valley is home to California’s second largest population of Iranian immigrants and their second-generation children, the Persian Studies Program increases participation in the emerging field of Iranian Diaspora Studies; it also supports students and scholars engaging with Iran and its diaspora community.  A conference about the Iranian Diaspora is set for spring 2014, when the program will invite scholars to share information and experiences about California’s Iranian-American communities and the rich contributions they are making to American society.

“We couldn’t be more pleased about the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute’s support for Persian Studies at SJSU,” said Karim. “This generous gift establishes a precedent for academic programs, research and public outreach that serves both a student population and a community that has roots in Iran, but that is contributing to and innovating the culture of Silicon Valley. By offering courses in Persian and presenting lectures and programs about Iran and Persian culture, we can engage more constructively with a country that too often is seen only through the prism of negative media headlines. And we can recognize the ways that the Iranian American community is evolving.”

Evolution of a Community

With previous support, the Persian Studies Program developed lecture events, scholarships for students, and initiated an oral history project titled Iranian-American Voices of Silicon Valley: Evolution of a Community. The project will document the lives, histories, and stories of this community. Since 2012, the Persian Studies Program has been offering language courses that are a mix of interested students of Iranian descent, those with Iranian spouses, and those who expect to use Persian language in their careers. Assistant Professor of Geography Kathrine Richardson will use research money from this grant to initiate a study of Iranian Americans in Silicon Valley’s high-tech industry.

Although Persian Studies has conducted a preliminary survey to gain insight into the Iranian-American community in Silicon Valley, numerous cultural and educational events, and musical concerts to celebrate Iranian holidays, the Persian Studies Program aims to build further relationships with the community and to learn more about how we can serve, support, and develop SJSU’s innovative program.

A Norouz Celebration

To further signify its commitment to the community, a Norouz celebration with master santour Player Mahvash Guerami and vocalist Hossein Massoudi will take place at 3 p.m. March 10in the SJSU Engineering Auditorium 189, with a tea and sweets reception at 2:30 p.m. This free and public event, which includes a poetry reading by Iranian American poet and translator Mojdeh Marashi, and Afghan American poet Najia Karim, will inaugurate a new year for the growing program, and offer its gratitude to the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute and its Chair and founder and President Elahe Omidyar Mir-Djalali.

For more information on this and other events in March and April, view the Persian Studies Program website or call 408-924-4476.