Underground university: Bay Area teachers beam secret online classes to Iran

By Katy Murphy, East Bay Times
September 8th, 2016

As learning becomes risky for some students, teachers are turning to online classes to help

online classes

Banned from college in Iran because of her Baha’i faith, Niknaz Aftahi risked everything to learn, studying architecture at a storied underground university that moved from living room to living room, at times meeting at her family’s home in Tehran.

Now in the Bay Area, with a master’s degree and architecture job, Aftahi is repaying her debt of gratitude, offering the same hope to the next generation of Baha’i students. She is part of a growing network of mostly Baha’i faculty locally and around the world who teach and mentor the students from afar, for free.

“Just the fact that I feel like I’m contributing a little bit brings me a lot of satisfaction and happiness,” she said. “Some of my students are such good designers and when I teach them, I really want to do my best because I feel like I’m the only resource they have.”

Aftahi teaches design at night for the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education from her Richmond home, beaming her online classes to her dedicated students, more than 6,500 miles and 11 time zones away.

Her husband Fares Hedayati, a data scientist, works with computer science students. Cal State East Bay economics lecturer Farhad Sabetan taught sociology this spring. Ron Shigeta, a biotech venture capitalist from Berkeley who converted to the faith about 25 years ago, offers a humanities course: the philosophy and history of science.

“What gave me energy was the eagerness of these students to know,” said Sabetan, who lives in Pleasanton. “I had to sometimes stop the questions because we were falling behind on the course.”

Next page: The risk of online classes

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