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Ahsani, Mandana


Meet Our People: Dr. Mandana Ahsani


Dr. Mandana Ahsani is the Chair of the Psychology/Sociology Department and the advisor for the Phi Theta Kappa international honor society. She joined Union in 2008 and is the co-chair (along with Professor Carol Biederstadt) for Union County College’s Middle States 2017 Self-Study team. She is the winner of the 2011 Paragon Award for New Advisors from the Phi Theta Kappa International Headquarters. In 2015, Dr. Ahsani won the Neblett Award for Teaching Excellence. Dr. Ahsani has a B.S. from the University of Iran, an M.Ed. from the University of Illinois, an M.A. from Rutgers University, and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University.
Q: So tell us about why you chose to work here.
A: My previous teaching experience was exclusively in universities, including Fairleigh Dickinson, NYU, the College of St. Elizabeth, and NJIT. I had also worked for DeVry, a start-up ‘dot-com’ company and consulted for IBM. However, I came to realize was that what I really found most rewarding was teaching and I saw an opportunity to do just that by going to Union County College. Here, we have wonderful students who come to learn and there is no better place for someone who wants to teach, first and foremost, than a community college. After teaching for one semester at Ocean County College, I saw that community colleges were a good fit for me. When a position became available at Union, which was much closer to my home than Ocean was, I applied and have been here for over six years.

Q: Along with the teaching, you are also a psychologist, though. What can you say about the kind of psychologist you are?
A: My specialty is cognitive experimental psychology.  I study how people think and learn and how they react to the world around them. As you can see, this ties in nicely to my role as a teacher and the strategies teachers employ.

Q: You study how students learn?
A: In a manner of speaking. For my master’s degree, I concentrated on computer-assisted instructional design. Subsequent to that, I developed a system for presenting information online to students in a chemistry course. I have always been interested in observing how people learn and how they react to a computer when they try to learn.

Q: Does that tie in to your work for the dot-com company?
A: At Funderstanding (the dot-com company) , my focus was on a number of online products that sought to educate children.

Q: What about your doctorate—at Rutgers, right?
A: My dissertation concentrated on psycholinguistics.

Q: Oh, Noam Chomsky, right?
A: You know Chomsky?

Q: Not socially.
A: The focus of my studies was on how we understand and know language. In particular, I studied how the Persian population decodes Farsi the same way that English is decoded. Both languages, and all world languages, operate from the same deep structure which is a formal system.

Q: OK, so what about this Middle States thing you and Professor Biederstadt are doing. I’ll bet you’re pretty excited, right?
A: Well, yes. The College’s last accreditation visit was in 2007, which was just before I came. Even more than the (Periodic Review Report) in 2012, the Self-Study process engages the entire College, involving all of us in looking at what we do to promote teaching and learning. Over the past six months, I have enjoyed working with employees throughout the College on the Steering Committee. I’ve also benefited from the guidance I’ve received from President McMenamin and Dr. Lown, both of whom are experts on accreditation—and of course, Dr. McMenamin is also a Middle States commissioner. And with Carol Biederstadt, I couldn’t imagine having a more accomplished co-chair than she.

Q: We have to ask about PTK too, where you have served for the past two years as a co-advisor with Sherry Heidary and Karen Schmidt.
A: I would say that my role as a co-advisor for PTK is one of the most personally rewarding experiences I have had in my life. Our PTK students are the cream of the crop, not only because they’re high achievers as students but they are also quality people who care about—who feel they have a responsibility toward—both the College and the community. They care a great deal about their fellow students and besides the project they pursue each year, they are always working hard to promote a “culture of completion” at the school.

Q: So you think, after six years, you’ve found a home at Union County College?
A: Yes, absolutely. Even while I was in graduate school, I valued my interaction with students. I feel a rush of adrenalin every time I walk into a classroom. Teaching is a two-way street. The teacher is also a learner and the student is a teacher. I love working here. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind myself that I’m actually getting paid to do something I love.

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