Musician with traditional Iranian instrument.

Norooz Event Inaugurates New Iranian Studies Program


Musician with traditional Iranian instrument.

Pezhham Akhavass of the Norooz Trio musical group

PARSA Community Foundation Grant Recognizes the Importance of Teaching Persian Language, Culture, History

Persis Karim, SJSU Iranian Studies, 408-924-4476
Pat Lopes Harris, SJSU Media Relations, 408-924-1748

SAN JOSE, CA – San Jose State University will celebrate the Persian New Year (Norooz) with a musical concert and poetry reading that will also mark the arrival of SJSU’s newly established Iranian Studies Program. Norooz marks the arrival of the spring equinox and is the most important holiday in Iran and among Iranian Americans and other Persian-speaking people. The event will be held at 7 p.m. March 10 in the Engineering Auditorium, and will feature the Norooz Trio, which is comprised of three acclaimed Bay Area Iranian-American musicians: Mahvash Guerami (santour); Hossein Massoudi (vocals) and Pezhham Akhavass (tombak and daf). The audience will also be treated to readings by four South Bay Iranian-American poets: Farnaz Fatemi, Esther Kamkar, Mojdeh Marashi and Shirindokht Nourmanesh.

“In the last several years, our campus and the public have shown a growing interest in the Middle East, generally, and in Iran, specifically,” said Karl Toepfer, dean of the SJSU College of Humanities and the Arts. “Interest in the study of Persian, one of the major heritage languages of the Silicon Valley, has also increased. Through this very generous gift of the PARSA Community Foundation, we can pursue a program that meets this expanding interest and begin to build a rich and vibrant academic identity for Iranian Studies that incorporates our already long-standing minor in Middle Eastern Studies. We look forward to partnering with the Iranian American community, with the PARSA Community Foundation, and other organizations and individuals to make this one of the leading programs in the country to address this rich culture and its role in our community. This is a wonderful opportunity for San Jose State University, for the Iranian American community, and indeed for the American public.”

For the first time ever, SJSU will offer its students Persian language classes as part of their curriculum, beginning in the fall 2011 semester with the eventual goal of establishing a minor in Iranian Studies. The Iranian Studies Program was made possible through a generous $200,000 grant from the PARSA Community Foundation, whose board selected San Jose State University as one of its major recipients for the 2010 Mehregan grant cycle. This important donation recognizes the importance of teaching Persian language as well as introducing Iran’s rich heritage to university students. This grant will also enable the development of a lecture series, scholarships for students, and programs that help bring the rich heritage of Iran, its culture and history to students at a major public university in Northern California. Because Silicon Valley is home to the second largest population of Iranian immigrants and their second-generation children in California, the Iranian Studies program also seeks to participate in the newly emerging field of Iranian Diaspora Studies.


In a broader sense, this gift will allow the university to become a clearing house for Iranian and Iranian diaspora studies in Silicon Valley and Northern California. Under the direction of Persis Karim, coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies and associate professor in the Department of English & Comparative Literature, and Shahin Gerami, professor and coordinator of the Women’s Studies Program, Iranian Studies at SJSU will facilitate the academic study of a country and culture that many see as both strategically and culturally important in the changing landscape of the Middle East. This grant furthermore recognizes the important role that San Jose State University has played and continues to play in recognizing and supporting the people and cultures of its surrounding immigrant and ethnic communities.

“The establishment of Iranian Studies will not only enable SJSU students to participate in the preservation of Persian language and culture, but will also introduce the culture and heritage of Iran and Iranian Americans to those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Iran in the past and present,” Karim said. “Iranian Americans passing through SJSU have made their mark in a number of fields and professions in Silicon Valley including in technology, computer and software development, as well as in real estate development, but they’re also leaving their mark on the humanities and on U.S. society. With this grant, we hope to recognize the contributions of Iranian Americans and build a stronger relationship between the university and the larger Silicon Valley.”#