Nazgol Bagheri: Mapping student success with compassion
In 1980’s war-torn Tehran, 1st grade teacher Mrs. Panahi faced every difficult day with a sense of hope and a smile of encouragement for her students, going so far as to open her home to her class when their school eventually closed. This considerate approach to teaching had a lasting impact on one student in particular: Nazgol Bagheri. By establishing caring connections with her students and utilizing experiential learning, Bagheri has an unwavering dedication to her students’ success and is a true inspiration within the fields of geography, urban planning and design, and education at large.
Bagheri discovered her passion for geography by traveling through the city of Tehran. Witnessing the social and environmental injustice inherent in the city’s spatial segregation, she realized geography had the power to not just show us where but tell us why spaces are structured in certain ways and what that means for society. Bagheri joined the UTSA department of political science and geography in 2013. Her courses range from GIS (Geographic Information Systems) classes and undergraduate core courses to upper-level courses on gender, urban and sustainability geography at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
Central to Bagheri’s teaching philosophy is her unabated commitment to creating caring connections with all her students. Acknowledging that her students have a wide range of needs, goals and backgrounds, Bagheri employs inclusiveness and experiential learning to provide the most effective learning environment.
“She has an unfailing and systematic aim to guide students through the learning process – one that empowers them with learning opportunities via a warm, compassionate, and open approach to teaching,” says Jon R. Taylor, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography.
Though several of her courses are considerable in size, Bagheri is able to recall her student’s names, majors, and experiences, and incorporates this diversity to inform class discussions. The discussion-based structure of her courses provides for a co-learning approach to her teaching, where Bagheri dismantles the traditional, know-it-all archetype of the professor and absorbs the diverse perspectives of her students. Bagheri then relates the concepts in her classes to student’s daily lives, teaching students how to practically apply what they’ve learned.
“She has a knack for making ethereal, advanced theory accessible to students by grounding it in concrete examples from her or her students’ everyday lives,” says Bradley A. Thayer, professor of political science and geography.
Bagheri strives to provide students with the tools and confidence needed to find success in the field of geography through experiential learning. Nearly all of her classes contain a service-learning component, where students apply their skills to help local nonprofits and witness firsthand how what they’ve learned can positively impact their city and state.
In her Urban Sustainability course, students work directly with the City of San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability and experience the reality of balancing community activists’ demands with the budget and time constraints of government bureaucracy.
Bagheri also organizes clinics in her more advanced courses, where students can hear from industry professionals and plant the seeds for future internships or career opportunities. In her Advanced GIS course, Bagheri’s emphasis on experiential learning ensures career readiness through an independent final research project. Bagheri empowers her students to facilitate their own research while supporting them every step of the way, and ensuring both literacy and confidence in GIS application, a highly sought-after skill in the field.
“It is with her support and guidance that I have been able to navigate two undergraduate degrees and a graduate program at UTSA,” says Minerva Karen Defee ’15, M.A. ’17, who is now a climate program manager at the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability. “I dare to say, Professor Bagheri’s classes and her extraordinary dedication to her students are the reasons I have been this successful in my life.”
Underscoring her dedication to creating caring connections, Bagheri leads a variety of community building events, from movie nights and career-oriented sessions to the annual GIS Day Celebration and Career Night. These events not only broaden student’s future career opportunities but also strengthen the UTSA geography community. Bagheri takes the time to be present at events that are important to students, like graduation, and has been an advisor for several student organizations, including the Geography Society and GIS in Practice. Bagheri is also a mentor to students, providing tailored guidance for undergraduate independent studies, internships, scholarships, job applications, and honor’s theses.
“For me, it is a privilege to be a teacher and mentor, to be entrusted with the responsibility of nurturing others, to create and share knowledge, to encourage a sense of curiosity and compassion, to motivate life-long learning, and to possibly make a change in another human being’s life,” says Bagheri.
Like her first-grade teacher before her, Bagheri is a pillar of hope and inspiration for her students. Prior to the pandemic, Bagheri invited seniors and former students to her home to expand on discussions. Her open-door policy allows students to continue to explore the world of geography in a safe and inclusive environment, while the experiential learning component in her teaching ensures students leave her classes with the confidence and guidance to achieve their goals.
For these reasons and more, Bagheri was selected to receive the 2020 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award from The University of Texas System, one of the nation’s most competitive awards recognizing outstanding undergraduate faculty performance and innovation. She is the Graduate Program Coordinator, GIS Lab Director and an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Geography.
Bagheri received a Bachelor of Architecture in 2004, a Bachelor of Computer Science in 2006, and a Master of Urban Design in 2007 from the National University in Iran (Shahid Beheshti). She received her Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2013.
— Kelly Holguin