Articles

Wilmette Institute Meets with Academic Advisory Board, Department Chairs, and Faculty

Feb 1, 2021

In January, three separate meetings were held to consult with the Institute’s Department Chairs, its Academic Advisory Board, and the entire faculty about the Institute’s development. The Institute Director briefed them about the newly established relationship with Graduate Theological Union, which will result in a great increase in our experience delivering courses for graduate credit, will strengthen our outreach to other institutions of higher education, and will afford many new opportunities to offer lectures on the Faith related to important issues in public discourse. Progress has also been made on applications for accreditation through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and for operating authority from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE).

The Associate Director described the two graduate certificate programs we are designing. “Bahá’í History, Texts, and Tenets” will offer six courses that provide an overview of the basic aspects of the Bahá’í Faith, and “Social Transformation” will provide five courses exploring Anti-Black Racism, Women and Peace, Climate Change and Sustainability, and other important issues on which Bahá’í principles  offer important insights. Learning outcomes for both certificates have been finalized and now they are being applied to each course in order to produce syllabi aligned with the goals of the programs.

Instructional Designer, Candace Hill (bottom left) at Department Heads Meeting, along with (clockwise from top left): Wendi Momen, Head of the new Department of Personal Transformation and Resilience, Jessica Kerr, Head of the Youth Section, Moojan Momen and Mikhail Sergeev, joint Heads of Religion, Theology and Philosophy, and Vasu Mohan, Head of Social Transformation.

The Registrar provided an overview of statistics: the Wilmette Institute’s number of online courses grew from 61 in 2019 to 70 in 2020; the number of registrations increased from 1,220 to 1,811; from 19 webinars, the number grew to 58; the ranks of our part time faculty increased from 80 to 93. In addition, 2020 saw us go live with a new website and open a third Zoom account to accommodate the greatly increased demand for Zoom sessions in our courses. We began to appoint and train teaching assistants in some courses, drafted a Student Handbook and a Faculty Handbook, initiated anonymous registration for learners in marriage courses, and opened an Instagram account.

All this progress—seemingly several years’ worth in just twelve months!—prompted many questions, but the focus of discussions was on increasing the diversity of the Institute’s faculty and learners. The course Anti-Black Racism in the US and Building a Unified Society has been a breakthrough for the Institute in several ways: in its ability to address the most vital and challenging issue, its recruitment of more faculty from among people of color, its relevance to development of the Bahá’í community including building capacity to contribute to social discourse, and its ability to explore the issue of race in an academic setting. It has prompted discussion of the question of how racial inclusion and justice can be integrated into all the Wilmette Institute’s courses in one way or another.

Robert Stockman, WI Director (top left) with some of the faculty and staff at the all faculty meeting. Top row: Dr. Stockman, Anne Perry (Head, Arts Section), Chitra Golestani (WI Assoc. Director). Center Row: Susanne M. Alexander, Head, Dept. of Relationships, Marriage, and Family, Jeanais Brodie (Lead Faculty) and her colleague Carol Mansour, Anti-Black Racism in the US. Bottom Row: JoAnn Borovicka (Faculty in several courses on Biblical topics), Jean Parker (Lead Faculty, Economics and Education courses), Joan Hernandez (Lead Faculty, Transformative Leadership), Steve Friberg (Lead Faculty, Science, Religion, and the Baha’i Faith).

The Academic Advisory Board offered many suggestions about people to contact and the faculty meeting centered on a frank and illuminating discussion of many of the roadblocks to achieving diversification of the faculty. The consultations prompted several follow-up meetings of the Institute’s executive and administrative teams and several lines of action are underway. Currently the Academic Advisory Board meets every other month, but it became clear that the faculty need to be consulted more regularly and department chairs need to be accompanied to take on more responsibility.

Over the next few months, the Wilmette Institute staff will be busy launching our first course through the Graduate Theological Union, building our relationships with the GTU staff, and completing our work for DEAC and IBHE. But the next big step will be planning the credit courses we will offer through GTU in September and a series of fall events in Berkeley if the pandemic moderates sufficiently to allow them. The work thus will continue to move the Wilmette Institute from strength to strength.

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Robert Stockman, ThD

Wilmette Institute Director

I have had a passion for researching and teaching about the Bahá’í Faith for more than half of my life. My fascination with American Bahá’í history and with the first American Bahá’í, Thornton Chase, caused me, in 1980, to switch my academic field from planetary science to history of religion in the United States. As I was finishing my doctorate in that field at Harvard University in 1990, I drew up plans to create a Bahá’í Studies institute that would offer courses, encourage research, and publish. Instead, I was hired by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States to start a research office at our national Bahá’í headquarters in Wilmette, Illinois. Some of the responsibilities of the research office led to the creation of the Wilmette Institute, which ​focuses on most of the tasks of the institute I originally conceived. Meanwhile, I have also remained involved in academia, teaching religious studies part time at DePaul University in Chicago and currently at Indiana University South Bend, just a mile from home. I have also published four books on aspects of Bahá’í history (including a biography of Thornton Chase) and one introductory textbook on the Faith. Listen to Robert’s interview on ‘A Bahá’í Perspective’ podcastSee Faculty Bio

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Chitra Golestani, PhD

WI Associate Director, Faculty, Institute for Humane Education

Dr. Chitra Golestani is a faculty member at Valparaiso University and the Institute for Humane Education in a hybrid Master of Education program. She is a co-founder of the Paulo Freire Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she is a research associate and lecturer. Dr. Golestani serves on the editorial board for Global Commons Review, a new magazine published by the Paulo Freire Institute and produced by the UNESCO-UCLA Chair on Global Learning and Global Citizenship Education. She holds a PhD in Social Science and Comparative Education from UCLA and a Master’s in Education from University of California, Santa Barbara. Her areas of interest, lectures and research include Human Rights, Social Justice and Global Citizenship Education, Conflict Resolution and Restorative Justice, Youth Activism in Extended Education, Conscious Living and Social Action. In September 2019, she began a new administrative position as Associate Director of the Wilmette Institute. Her work is inspired by her lived experience with persecution in the country of her birth, Iran, where members of the Bahá’í Faith are not allowed to practice, are prohibited from accessing higher education, and denied other civil rights. While still a young child, her family escaped this marginalization and fled to the US in search of religious freedom, equality between women and men and human rights. Currently, Dr. Golestani is engaged in numerous grass-roots programs aimed at raising human capacity, locally and globally, to work towards a more just, united, and sustainable planet. Listen to Chitra's interview on "A Bahá’í Perspective."See Faculty Bio

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Nicola Daniels, MSc

WI Registrar & Student Services Specialist

I was born in Kingston, Jamaica. My interest in music, theatre, and the literary arts led me to abandon my academic degrees and a career in the Forensic Sciences, to take up a position with the British Council Caribbean as Arts & Education Officer. I worked for several years as the British Council Manager in my homeland, performing at various times with the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company, the National Chorale, and the Carifolk Singers. A small book of my poetry—Weights and Measures—was published by the Calabash Foundation in 2005, and my poems have garnered awards and been honored by publication in several anthologies. I served (and learned) alongside Jamaica’s first national poet laureate, Professor Mervyn Morris, as a judge for the Cultural Development Commission’s annual poetry competition. In 2008 I migrated to the US to live with my husband, Julian, whom I met on Bahá’í pilgrimage in Israel. My first teaching experience was as a poetry tutor at the Phillip Sherlock Center for the Creative Arts. Later, I participated in one of the first Wilmette Institute Science & Religion courses, and have since served as faculty on that course, and several others. In March 2012, I gave a presentation on World Peace at a Peace Conference hosted by Lander University. This experience inspired me to create a board game called Heart to Heart, featuring short quotations on unifying spiritual themes from 10 of the world’s religions and cultures. The game led to a website, a video channel, firmer friendships, a lot of learning, and a good deal of fun! I have served as a member of the Wilmette Institute Board, and also worked part-time for the Institute as Marketing Coordinator and Course Creation Assistant. I get a thrill from using my creative and (mostly self-taught) computer skills to create instructional materials. In March (2019) I took up a position as the Institute’s first Registrar. I enjoy crochet, drumming, walks to the lake, and (since 2019) handbell ringing with the Emerald Bells.See Faculty Bio

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Candace Moore Hill, BSc

WI Course Developer and Admin. Asst.

Candace Moore Hill was born in California, raised in rural Oregon and moved to Illinois to serve at the Bahá’í National Center where she met her future husband Rick, a New Yorker. They decided that the “Third Coast” would be a fine place to raise a family, settling in Evanston but greatly enjoying exploring the City of Chicago. Candace is the author of Bahá’í Temple, an Images of America book from Arcadia Publishing, featuring 199 photographs of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette. The process of research for this book transformed her into a student of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, hence the development of the Wilmette Institute course on the subject. She is currently the Course Developer and Administrative Assistant for the Wilmette Institute, meaning she has a behind the scenes view of how ideas, consultation, subjects, courses, faculty and learners all come together to make an Institute of Bahá’í Learning function. It is interesting and exciting work, every day. You may have seen Candace on social media, she is a moderator for several pages on Facebook, enjoys the growing Bahá’í presence on Twitter, and contributes to Bahá’í scholarship with the Tumblr account Bahá’í History in Postcards. This is a good excuse to indulge her current hobby of postcard collecting. That is, when she is not tracking down the graves of the early believers in Chicagoland in order to make online memorials at the website Find a Grave. It is, it is fun finding graves!See Faculty Bio

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