A Conversation with Institute-affiliated PhD Student, Amin Farzaneh

Billy: What is your role at the Institute?

Amin: I am a graduate research assistant at the Institute, working on a variety of topics. My responsibilities are diverse and include, for example, conducting research interviews, doing literature reviews, participating in podcast interviews, and writing research papers and reports.

Billy: How would you describe your research and praxis?

Amin: My research and praxis reflect a diverse interdisciplinary approach. One focus explores the intersection of community development, social change, and urban planning, with a particular focus on addressing inequalities and supporting marginalized communities. I am also interested in theoretical explorations of social imaginaries and imagination and their importance to practical applications of art and placemaking in urban planning and environments.

Billy: How did you become affiliated with IPG?

Amin: I have worked as a graduate assistant at the Institute since I began my PhD in Planning, Governance and Globalization (PGG) in the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs in 2023. I am pursuing my PhD under the supervision of VTIPG Director and Professor of Public and International Affairs, Max Stephenson, Jr.

Billy: What are some projects you are currently working on?

Amin: I am presently supporting several projects. I have been involved in the ICEP (Impactful Community Engagement and Planning) project since the Summer of 2023. The Institute is collaborating with the Roanoke-Alleghany Health District to help its leaders and staff more effectively and equitably engage the residents and communities they serve. As part of my contribution to this project, I am now working with Community-Based Research Manager Lara Nagle, Deputy Director Mary Beth Dunkenberger, and Dr. Stephenson on a poster addressing the potential of creative engagement methods in securing citizen participation in policy implementation for presentation at the Engagement Scholarship Consortium National Conference in Portland, Oregon this fall. More specifically, the poster assesses the appropriateness and feasibility of use of a variety of creative community engagement methods based on several criteria, including resource availability, engagement goals, and the social context. We aim in this effort to help researchers and practitioners more strategically select engagement strategies for the communities they serve.

I am also involved with Lara and Dr. Stephenson in an Institute brownfield redevelopment project in Floyd, Virginia, in collaboration with the Community Design Assistance Center (CDAC), which involves assisting that town to develop options for reuse of its Donkenny property—the long-time site of a (now closed) textile cut and sew facility— located near its downtown.

I am also involved in developing an article with Dr. Stephenson, IPG Non-Resident Research Associate, Dr. Neda Moayerian and Brad Stephens, concerning the reuse of the historic Calfee School in Pulaski, Virginia. Calfee served the Black community of Pulaski until desegregation in 1966. The inquiry in which we are engaged aims to learn more about how the “Black radical imagination” is, and was, cultivated and manifested in the school and whether and how that orientation is shaping current efforts to imagine new uses for facility. Dr. Stephenson will present our paper at the conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research in Antwerp, Belgium later this summer.

Lara and I have recently completed a book chapter, “Photovoice: Learning from Lived Experiences with the Potential to Facilitate Social Change,” for a forthcoming book, Violent Infrastructures: Protracted Displacement and Housing (In)Justice in the South Caucasus and Beyond, for Virginia Tech Publishing edited by IPG Non-Resident Research Associate, Dr. Ariel, Otruba, Dr. Stephenson and Dr. Yannis Stivachtis of our Department of Political Science and translated into Georgian by Dr. Nino Dzotsenidze of California State Polytechnic University-Humboldt.  Our chapter provides an overview of the photovoice process and describe how it has been used in participatory research projects, particularly those focused on housing, person-place relationships, and under-resourced communities. Our contribution contextualizes the use of photovoice, which was employed as a central research strategy for the book.

Finally, in collaboration with PGG student and my fellow IPG graduate research assistant, Brad Stephens, I have been involved in developing an arc of episodes focusing on Imagination featuring leading scholars on the topic for the Institute’s Social Science for the Public Good podcast series.

Billy: What does a typical day look like for you?

Amin: Every day is different. A day can include project meetings, conducting research on an array of topics, planning or undertaking fieldwork for data collection, preparing for, or conducting, a podcast interview, or drafting sections of papers and/or project reports.

Billy: What is one detail of your assistantship that might be surprising for others to know?

Amin: One thing that might be surprising to some is the variety of projects with which I have had an opportunity to become involved. I am currently involved in more than six different projects, for example.

Billy: What inspires you to do the work you do?

Amin: A core personal value for me in my academic and professional journey is a deep commitment to continuous learning. I view every project at the Institute as an opportunity for intellectual growth. IPG allows me to contribute to diverse topics and engage in activities across different areas and each is allowing to develop not only capabilities as a scholar, but also a wealth of experiences as an individual too.

Billy: What’s your advice to someone who might wish to pursue your area of research or praxis?

Amin: The first thing I would suggest is to remain open to opportunities that come along. I think we should embrace a diverse range of experiences, learn from other’s expertise, and continually seek to enrich our understanding thereby. 

Billy: What are some things you like to do in your free time?

Amin: I love to work out at the gym. In fact, doing so has become a daily routine for me. I also love to cook and to prepare my native Persian cuisine, especially.