Fierce Females of Penn State: Azadeh Fassihi

Photo by Vanessa Zican Feng

Azadeh Fassihi described herself as a “rebellious, fearless and very active teen girl” who didn’t like being told what to do. She also didn’t like the restrictions and prohibitions that existed in the educational system in Iran. “Creativity would be killed in this kind of system,” says Fassihi.

This frustration lead to what Fassihi calls one of her most important life decisions — being homeschooled for high school. After being homeschooled and achieving a high score on the Iranian University Entrance Exam, Concours, Fassihi began her education at Tehran University, one of the Middle East’s most prestigious universities.

Fassihi was married by the time she was 18 years old and had her son by the time she was a sophomore in college.

After making the decision to divorce her husband and fight for custody of their son, Azadeh Fassihi made an important decision to move to the United States away from her oppressive home, where she knew no one and didn’t know English.

Fassihi felt that this move would help her to achieve her dreams in life, and it wasn’t easy. “There are a lot of obstacles in Iran against women to achieve their rights. Legal discrimination stands in women’s way. It gives superior legal status to the male head of the family to strengthen the patriarchal system,” she says.

Despite the legal and social issues that Fassihi faced, she never lost her “love for studying and learning.”

Coming to the United States with a Master’s degree from Tehran University, Fassihi pursued a second Master’s degree from the University of Northern Illinois, and then came to Penn State, where she is currently living her dream as both a professor and fourth-year PhD student.

But, Fassihi has even bigger dreams for the future. “I would like to contribute, no matter how small, to inform women, particularly Iranian women, of their rights and to raise their awareness about their rights. I believe in change. I want to contribute to this change in the future, I hope,” she says.

She also hopes to share this message with people beyond just Iranian women by sharing her story in the classroom. “I share with them some of the challenges that I faced until today, and I tell them that you can get whatever you want,” she says. “Don’t be afraid of being discouraged by others. Don’t be afraid of limitation and restrictions in your life.”

As for her female students, she tries to encourage them to “be brave and bold in their own choices.”

When asked if she had a woman that she specifically looks up to, Fassihi put it simply that any woman that achieves success is a very good inspiration. She says that hearing people tell her she is an inspiration makes her heart “warm and happy.”

While she misses her family in Iran, which includes her supportive father, Fassihi says she is more comfortable here because there are many people who share a similar story to hers.

“I chose immigration to improve the quality of my life,” she says. “I think all immigrants are fearless people. They take risks and work hard to build a better home and future, sometimes for their children.”

“Set your wishes according to your capabilities” is a statement Fassihi can’t stand. She feels everyone should feel compelled to dare to dream beyond their circumstances.

“Most people put limits on their dreams. The important thing is that we should not let our situation hold us back,” Fassihi says. “We should dare to dream and do our best to make our dreams come true.”

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