Mohammad Zamani saw things from a whole new perspective when he brought his passion for creating art into an educational environment.
"I have had people tell me for a long time that I should look into teaching," he said. "Much of my art is performance-based and has a public speaking aspect to it. My artistic works end up being pedagogical or having some educational bent to them in some way."
Zamani enrolled in the online Master of Science in Education with a Concentration in Adult Education program at Southern Oregon University and then transitioned to the General emphasis. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in emerging media and digital arts from SOU in 2019.
"I enjoy being in the academic environment," he said. "Knowing that I would go into education in some capacity, I knew that I would enroll in a master's program. I was either going to get a master's degree in fine arts, where I could specifically teach art, or in education, where I could integrate art into some kind of educational atmosphere."
Since initially enrolling at SOU, Zamani has worked for the university in different capacities. He is currently an independent contractor for the Schneider Museum of Art. As an undergrad, he worked as an education coordinator for the museum while also serving as a program/media coordinator and student mentor for the Native American Studies program.
"I started looking at all of the experiences I was having," he said. "They were all linked to education and program coordination in some way. That sealed it for me. I thought I should continue to be in a campus or school environment and work as an educator.
"This past term, we had an exhibition that had a couple of Pacific Northwest indigenous artists. With my connection through the Native American programs, I talked to the faculty and organized a panel discussion where we got together and talked about the work as a public education effort."
So far, ED 522: Curriculum Design and Educational Change is Zamani's favorite course.
"We studied learning modules and curriculum theory," he said. "I have always been keen on theory and concepts. Being able to take what I learned about the creative process and the design process and apply those to creating a classroom or a course was fun and interesting."
Zamani grew up in South Carolina and met his wife, Amanda Rose, in Alabama. They have four children — Asher (16), Lilith (15), Helen (10) and Amon (8).
"Before I went back to college, I was independently practicing as an artist, which means I was working at a lot of restaurants as a waiter," he said. "I was trying to develop my artistic self and caring for a growing family by working whatever menial jobs I could land."
The family moved to Taos, New Mexico, to volunteer for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), which led them to Oregon in 2013.
"We were working on farms and learning the agriculture trade," he said. "We got to Oregon by landing on a small ranch here through WWOOF. We were caretaking the ranch while the owners were gone for six months. While we were there, I saw lots of ads and opportunities at the community college."
Zamani briefly returned to the service industry before he enrolled at Rogue Community College. A course he took in digital photography developed his passion for the subject. He graduated with an associate degree in graphic design in 2017.
"I didn't take college seriously or understand the value of it until I was older," he said. "It's enormously important to me that my kids understand how to access education and access college, how financial aid works, what majors they can look forward to, or if they want to get their qualification to practice a trade. It has helped demystify the academic experience for them."
The online format was the only way that Zamani could earn a master's degree.
"I love it," he said. "The instructors have done a lot of work to provide us with a structure that's accessible and easy to follow. We're able to hold discussions with our peers in the class, which affords us a good amount of autonomy in doing our own research and bringing it to the table.
"It's fantastic that we get these guidelines every week. From there, we're given that freedom to use them to guide our own research and studies on our own time. I usually take Mondays to take care of my errands and family life. Every single hour of my life is pretty much filled with something."
Zamani is applying the knowledge he is learning almost as fast as he attains it. He plans to graduate from SOU's MSEd program in 2021.
"This past term, we worked on designing a curriculum and doing some instructional design," he said. "I did one that integrates all of the experiences I have had on campus, looking at ways of teaching and learning, how to use art as a teaching tool and taking theories I am learning in the MSEd program. I like the realm of curriculum development and educational consultation."
Since Zamani started the program, he has laid some of the foundation for a career as an educator. His wife is also thinking about enrolling in a master's degree program.
"The program is helping me ground and develop some of the ideas I already have in legitimate theories, processes and ideals accepted in the pedagogical community," he said. "It's also giving me that legitimacy I was missing beforehand.
"Now, when I approach people about possibly doing a class, they say, 'Yeah, that's what you're studying. We are going to listen to you. We know that you know what you're talking about.'"
Zamani looks forward to continuing to weave art and education together throughout the coursework in the program. Although he remains an artist at heart, education is now a fixture in his life.
"The program is flexible, but it gives you great autonomy where you are put behind the wheel," he said. "It's important to appreciate that flexibility and that autonomy, but also go into it with some sense of social responsibility.
"I have learned from the program that education is a huge responsibility. It is socially responsive to what's going on in the world. You should have some idea of your own values and beliefs about education, what learning means and why it's important, and then go into the program to develop those values and ideals yourself."
Learn more about SOU's online Master of Science in Education programs.
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