Vossoughi Promoted to Associate Professor

Vossoughi Promoted to Associate Professor

Shirin VossoughiVossoughi recently launched Blue Dandelion, a home for public writing and zines for teachers.

Northwestern University’s Shirin Vossoughi, a learning scientist best known for her work studying culture, equity, social relations, and learning in a range of educational environments, has been promoted to associate professor of learning sciences at the School of Education and Social Policy.

Vossoughi, who received the School’s Outstanding Professor Award in 2021 and 2016, approaches the design and study of learning as a poetic craft. Keenly aware of the critical first moments of a class, an afterschool program, or a conversation with a child, she collaborates with educators, families and students of color to create dignity-oriented learning environments that foster deep connection and creativity.

As a teaching assistant, she once witnessed University of California at Berkeley professor Tesha Sengupta-Irving begin an undergraduate class by writing ‘I revere the half-baked idea’ on the whiteboard.

"It was a genius move I have since borrowed in my own teaching,” Vossoughi said during the Jan Hawkins lecture in 2021. “It is a promise that marks the potential of a different collective relationship with knowledge-making, one fulfilled in waves, by the quality of the response when a student offers a first fledgling thought, and then, perhaps, another."

Several current Northwestern programs and partnerships are based on her research findings, including the SESP Leadership Institute and a collaboration with the McGaw YMCA program, MetaMedia. She recently launched Blue Dandelion, a home for public writing and zines for teachers that Vossoughi calls “an experiment in the learning humanities.”

Blue Dandelion brings together collaborative research and the arts to create public educational resources and “serves as a sketchpad” for emerging ideas and collaborations with fellow educators, researchers, and artists, Vossoughi said.

“Dandelions held a special place in my own upbringing,” Vossoughi wrote on the website. “My father taught me to see their seeds as signs of radical hope and unpredictable possibility.”

Vossoughi’s late father, a strong influence in her life, was a teacher and political activist in Iran before bringing his family to the United States.

“A political and literary newsletter he developed with fellow displaced Iranians had the dandelion as its symbol (قاصدک). Dandelions are sometimes thought of as weeds. Yet they grow everywhere and offer nourishment and medicine. This is one of the ways I have come to see learning.”

Vossoughi was trained as an educational ethnographer, or a researcher who studies social settings to gain a better understanding of teaching and learning through everyday activity and moment-to-moment talk and interaction. She also is a socio-cultural theorist, an approach that understands human learning as deeply embedded in social and cultural relationships, histories and possible futures.

In 2019, she received the Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies from the American Educational Research Association.

“I had a healthy skepticism towards the presumed objectivity, predictability and control I associated with Western science, and the ways they routinely flatten the vast dimensionalities of learning and learners into something more neatly measurable,” she said. “I have since found a home in our field, largely through scholars who taught me that the political and ethical concerns drawing me to the study of learning have a place here.”

Vossoughi has received a flood of accolades over the past several years and was most recently named to the National Academies' Committee on Equity in PreK-12 STEM Education.

In 2021, she and her student co-authors received the Paper of the Year Award from the Journal of the Learning Sciences and she received the Early Career Award from the International Society of the Learning Sciences. She also earned Outstanding Reviewer Awards from the Journal of the Learning Sciences and the American Educational Research Journal.

Last year Vossoughi won the Ver Steeg Award for her outstanding work supporting and mentoring graduate students. Nominators praised Vossoughi’s ability to make students feel safe and understood in her classroom, her thoughtful guidance, and her ability to gently check in when students need it most.

“She embodies empathy in her interactions and always shows me a deep intellectual and personal respect,” one nominator wrote. “Her research is a model for me and other graduate students interested in a humanistic approach to research of and with community.”

Vossoughi has spearheaded several collaborative and intergenerational efforts both inside and outside the classroom. She co-designed a hybrid course that brings together students from Northwestern with those from Evanston Township High School to investigate issues of educational justice and inter-generational learning.

In her classroom, Vossoughi challenges students to wrestle with a range of perspectives and approaches to educational change. Students call her both a “personal and professional role model” and many described how she makes them feel safe to share in her class in ways they can’t in other spaces.

Her graduate course on culture, learning and poverty is renowned in the School for being one of the “most challenging and transformative courses available.” She also recently initiated a graduate course focused on the craft of creative scholarly writing.

“I often say that I would've dropped out if it wasn't for her because she never made me feel inadequate in a place that is individualistic and competitive,” another student wrote. “As a first-generation Black woman, many things about grad school are invisible to me. Shirin knows this and provides intimate support that is rarely found. She has gone out of her way to make sure that I know that I am enough—an invaluable feeling we all deserve as grad students."

Vossoughi has taught in schools, after-school and summer programs, and served as the director of a summer camp for youth in the Iranian diaspora. As the daughter of Iranian immigrants, she is personally invested in the design and study of educational settings for youth from migrant, immigrant, and diasporic backgrounds. 

Prior to joining the learning sciences faculty at Northwestern University in 2014, Vossoughi was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and the Exploratorium, where she led an ethnographic study of after-school programs that blend scientific inquiry, literacy, and the arts. Her work towards building just learning environments is also grounded in her family, her partner Walter Kitundu and their five-year old daughter, Azadeh.


By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 12/7/21