Published April 3, 2017
by Christian Miller
Razie Fathi's love of books and literature has led her to explore the close relationship between computer science and the humanities.
"At four years old, my mom encouraged me to read books. 'Come here and read your story aloud,' she said, as she was washing dishes," Razie recalled. "I was making lots of stories from childhood and thought someday I would become an author. I told my mom I wanted to be a scientist. I liked science, physics, astronomy. I wanted to work at NASA. My friends say no, first you are a girl, second you are in Iran."
After majoring in math and physics in high school, Razie changed course and won admittance to the preeminent humanities university in the Middle East, Allameh Tabataba'i University to pursue her BS in library science. At the time, the academy was beginning to re-imagine the national culture in the wake of the revolution. Following a general closure of the nation's libraries by the Islamic Republic government from 1980 to 1990, Allameh's libraries were reopening and its Department of Library and Information Science was reestablishing nascent degree programs. At the Academy of Persian Literature and Culture, Razie read poetry and translated texts that had, until recently, been banned.
Razie's first professional jobs taught her how she would like to shape her career. She loved her job teaching poetry to kids. But her first full-time job as a professional librarian seemed limiting. "I decided the future of libraries is in information technology. I was too much in information retrieval because I was in cataloguing."
Eventually, she made plans to study abroad. "I came to US in 2009 for MS in Information Science at SUNY Albany," she said. "Melvil Dewey, the father of librarianship, started at Albany, so I thought it would be interesting to start there." A colleague at an Albany liberal arts college guided her toward UB's PhD programs, and specifically encouraged her to consider the department's Computer Science Education research area. She began to imagine careers in education research or teaching. "On the other hand, I loved libraries," she said. At UB, Razie worked in Programming Languages and Databases, then collaborated with South Park High School chemistry teacher Dan Hildreth to bring computational thinking into high school chemistry classrooms. Now she is embarking on an all new venture: teaching algebra through robotics programming.
She balances her demanding workload by making time for life-affirming, meditative activities: hiking in nature, reading great works, spending entire days exploring museums. She tends to express herself in musical analogies: "I feel like an instrument that decides to be tuned with the conductor and other instruments." "Being in computer science is like being in a choir; it is not a solo, every voice contributes its part." And she draws inspiration from the bluebird in Hans Christian Andersen's 'Thumbelina', who sang, "You can do impossible things if you follow your heart."
Razie's own life became an adventure story in January 2017. She was on break, traveling in Babolsar, Isfahan, and Tehran, where her family was gathering to disperse the assets of her late father's estate. She had a last-minute rush to gain entry back to the US before Trump's first travel ban went into effect in the very next hour that day. Happily, she made it through in time.
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