Nayssan Safavian

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Why do we do what we do? What is it that keeps us motivated?  These are questions that doctoral candidate Nayssan Safavian is currently exploring in her work in the UCI Department of Education. Specializing in Learning, Cognition and Development (LCD), Nayssan is studying various aspects of teen motivational behavior. Of particular interest to her is the study of the motivation to achieve.

“Understanding how culture shapes achievement attitudes among adolescents is very interesting to me,” notes Nayssan. “There is so much that hasn't been done and so much more to learn.”

Nayssan, which means, “April Showers” in her native Farsi, hopes to develop methods that can help inspire underachieving youth in underrepresented communities to move beyond the status quo.   What intrigues her most about her study of achievement is that, while motivational beliefs are incredibly complex, they can also be changed.

A recipient of a 2012 Chancellor’s Club Fellowship and a 2012 Public Impact Fellowship, Nayssan credits UCI and her professors with providing invaluable opportunities in a collaborative environment that encourages independent thinking.   It is this rich culture of research and academic excellence that enables Nayssan to focus on her area of interest with such passion.

As a first generation Persian-American, Nayssan attributes her thirst for knowledge to her family – especially her mother – as an inspirational figure in her pursuit of finding answers to complex issues. Having spent the early part of her childhood in Iran, and middle and high school years here in the United States, Nayssan found herself continually evaluating the two different cultures - their educational systems and the values attributed to education. For Nayssan, working under the supervision of AnneMarie Conley, Assistant Professor in the UCI Department Education, it is this awareness that has motivated her to pursue a research career in Education.

In addition to her research work with Professor Conley, Nayssan serves as the project manager for CAMP (California Motivation Research Project). She has taught an undergraduate Adolescent Development in Education course and credits the doctoral program in Education at UC Irvine with having a solid interdisciplinary approach to training, research, and faculty.

“This is one of the key features that initially attracted me to UCI’s program,” she said. “Being a part of the inaugural doctoral student class - helping to shape the future of the graduate program was equally appealing.”

For Nayssan, another component that attracted her to UCI was the scope of diversity among the student population - the community presents the ‘perfect blend of eastern and western cultures,’ as well as the wealth of cultural diversity in the neighboring communities.

She is optimistic that advancement of research on achievement motives will contribute to improving the motivation to learn math and ultimately lead to academic improvements among underachieving youth. “One of the goals of my research is that we will be able to integrate learning tools designed to promote the pursuit of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) related professions among underrepresented communities.”

Asked how she relaxes with such a demanding schedule, Nayssan is quick to point out that, “When I am not working on my dissertation or trying new foods, I love to dance. Whenever I can afford it, I love to sneak away to my favorite dance studio and take refuge in a ballet or jazz class.”

And where does she see herself in five years? “I hope that my research will bring greater awareness to the cultural differences that exist in motivating students to learn and engage with the math and sciences, especially among adolescents of underrepresented communities.”