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The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences covers many topics, such as literature, communications, world history, philosophy, psychology, and more. In many cases, courses are deliberately geared to the interests and pursuits of DigiPen students. Courses such as storytelling, speculative fiction, epic literature, and mythology are often springboards for student games. Department faculty bring an extensive humanities background in psychology, English, and literature as well as an appetite for thoroughly exploring and examining today’s rich media landscape.

Faculty Directory

Department Faculty

DigiPen Faculty Fara Nizamani, Ph.D.

Fara Nizamani, Ph.D.

Department Chair
Program Director (Intensive English Preparation), Associate Professor

Fara Nizamani began her studies at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, majoring in Secondary English Education. She soon began teaching in Dade County Public Schools, where the middle school students captured her heart and taught her as much as she taught them. After obtaining both masters (Barry University) and doctoral degrees (City University) in English literature, a job offer in the Seattle area enticed her family to move to the Pacific Northwest in 1997, where they have lived since.

Nizamani has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in English, humanities, and education. Her specific areas of interest are graphic novels as literature, epic literature, and mythology, particularly non-European. In her spare time, she reads everything she can get her hands on (including mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and manga), tends to her anemic garden, and practices a traditional style of Japanese martial arts called Shorinryu.

An avid but hopelessly inept gamer, Nizamani can often be found in front of her Nintendo 64 game console, cheering as Yoshi crosses the finish line in Mario Kart or watching a live stream Counter-Strike tournament.

As chair of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Nizamani oversees all of the courses in her department and coordinates course offerings with other departments and programs. She specifically teaches English courses, such as mythology, speculative fiction, epic literature, and the graphic novel. She strives to help students understand that great games often begin with great stories and the ideas that they give rise to, and seeing the students implement aspects of humanities courses into their games is one of her favorite parts of teaching at DigiPen.

Selected Credits/Publications

  • Nizamani, F., “Addressing the Needs of Muslim Students in American Schools,” Phi Delta Kappa Conference, Seattle, August 9, 2002.
  • Nizamani, F., “The Portrayal of Islam in Western Media,” Community Awareness Committee, Mountlake Terrace, WA February 7, 2002.
  • Nizamani, F., “Accommodating Muslim Students in Higher Education,” City University Leadership Conference, Bellevue, October 13, 2001.
  • Nizamani, F., “Addressing the Needs of Muslim Students,” National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, Seattle, June 3, 2001.
  • Nizamani, F., “Muslim Students in America- Voices from the Shadows,” ASCD International Conference, Orlando, April 2-4, 2005.
  • Nizamani, F., “Muslim Students in America- Voices from the Shadows,” WASAME 11th Annual Fall Conference, Seattle, Sept 30- Oct 1, 2005.
  • Nizamani, F., “A Place for Me,” Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness, Volume 1: No. 2, July 2002.
  • Nizamani, F., “In Good Faith,” WSASCD Newsletter. 2006.
  • Review of Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland. The Journal of American Studies of Texas. 2006.
  • Nizamani, F., “My Mother’s Beauty,” Crosscurrents, Washington Community College Humanities Association. 2009.

DigiPen Faculty Vanessa Hemovich, Ph.D.

Vanessa Hemovich, Ph.D.

Associate Dean of Faculty Development
Associate Professor

Dr. Vanessa Hemovich received her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Washington. She went on to earn a dual master’s degree in psychology and program evaluation, as well as a Ph.D. in social psychology from Claremont Graduate University. Her educational training emphasized social influence across broad-based media contexts that target social change. As a Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) fellow, Dr. Hemovich also has extensive training to identify best teaching practices and develop essential knowledge that broadens transdisciplinary understanding in higher education among diverse faculty and student populations. One of her major goals in teaching is to help students and faculty understand the pervasive nature of psychology as a discipline across the domains of game design, digital communication, media development, UX, and UI. At DigiPen, she teaches a broad range of introductory and upper-division courses in psychology that includes Introduction to Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Fundamentals of Psychological Research, Social Psychology, and others.

As the Assistant Dean of Faculty Development, Dr. Hemovich is also responsible for creating and implementing opportunities that support faculty research initiatives and related professional activities, along with enhancing institutional mission goals aimed to continuously improve faculty recruitment, satisfaction, promotion, and retention.

Currently, her research interests include fMRI and neuroimaging applied to various socio-cognitive concepts and phenomena, and she earned a Visiting Fellowship Award at Harvard Medical School to pursue future study in this area. She is presently exploring socio-cognitive factors applied to video games, along with perceived stigma in online gaming contexts and the complex nature of group leadership dynamics in MMOs. Dr. Hemovich recently presented a talk at the 2018 Game Developers Conference on the role of schemas and player cognition in predicting player behavior and is a frequent speaker at PAX West and other academic conferences. In addition to an active teaching, service, and research agenda, Dr. Hemovich regularly receives invitations to speak nationally and internationally for AAA game studios, government and academic institutions, and private-sector corporations.

Selected Publications

  • Hemovich, V., “The schema is mightier than the sword: Using player cognition to predict gaming behavior,” 2018 Game Developers Conference: San Francisco, CA. 2018.
  • Hemovich, V., “From princess to protagonist,” in M. Goodrum, T. Prescott, and P. Smith (Eds.), Gender and the Superhero Narrative, Jackson, MS: University Press. 2018.
  • Hemovich, V., “Game design education and Psychology 101” [Audio Podcast], Retrieved from: 2018.
  • Hemovich, V., “Charlie, Oscar, Delta: An exploration of militarism in the Call of Duty franchise,” In N. Garrelts (Ed.), Responding to Call of Duty, (pp. 5-17). Jefferson, NC: McFarland Press. 2017.
  • Hemovich, V., “Why Fallout 3 might be a great STEM game,” Games & Retrieved from: 2016.
  • Michaels, S. Nizamani, F., and Hemovich, V., “Powering up your job search,” 2015 PAX Dev Conference: Seattle, WA. 2015.
  • Hemovich, V., “Concomitant substance abuse disorders and history of depression among delinquent youth from nontraditional households: Findings from a national study,” (pp. 1-24). Claremont, CA: ProQuest Publishing. 2012.
  • Hemovich, V., Lac, A., and Crano, W., “Understanding early-onset drug and alcohol outcomes among youth: The role of family structure, social factors, and interpersonal perceptions of use,” Psychology, Health, & Medicine, 16(3), 249-267. 2011.
  • Crano, W., and Hemovich, V., “Intergroup relations and majority or minority influence,” in R. Kramer, G. Leonardelli, and R. Livingston (Eds.), Social Cognition, Social Identity, and Intergroup Relations: A Festschrift in Honor of Marilynn Brewer, (pp. 226-246). New York: Taylor & Francis. 2011.
  • Hemovich, V. and Crano, W., “Family Structure and Adolescent Drug Use: An Exploration of Single-Parent Families,” Substance Use & Misuse, 44(14), 2099-2113. 2009.
  • Crano, W., Siegel, J., Alvaro, E., Lac, A., and Hemovich, V., “The At-Risk Adolescent Marijuana Nonuser: Expanding the Standard Distinction,” Prevention Science, 9(2), 129-137. 2008.

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DigiPen Faculty Claire Alexander-Joly, Ph.D

Claire Alexander-Joly, Ph.D


Claire Alexander-Joly holds multiple higher education degrees from several major universities including a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in English from the Sorbonne in Paris, France, her home town and country. In 1986, she came to the United States on a university exchange program that allowed her to pursue her interest in American culture and led to a second master’s degree.

During her first two years in America, Alexander-Joly became interested in the country’s racial and ethnic relations. This shift of focus led to a Ph.D. in Comparative Cultures (similar to Ethnic Studies) from the University of California at Irvine where she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on the critical reception of Richard Wright’s works. Upon completing her studies, she joined the University of Notre Dame where she worked as an Assistant Professor in American Studies. In 1998, she received an N.A.A.C.P Image Award for her work with African American students.

Alexander-Joly started teaching at DigiPen in 2000 and became a full-time member of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences faculty in 2006. In 2008, she became department chair and remained in that position until 2016. Alexander-Joly teaches writing, storytelling, and scriptwriting among other things. She has also taught courses on race, ethnicity, and gender identity.

Because she understands the importance of making her curriculum relevant to her students, Alexander-Joly strives to relate it to games, film, and technology. She is particularly interested in story-based games, games that address issues of diversity, and serious games. Whenever possible, she finds ways to bring her world and her students’ world together. You might even catch her playing a game or two. In her quiet time, she enjoys reading, writing, singing, and going to the theatre.

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DigiPen Faculty Sonia Michaels, MA

Sonia Michaels, MA

Senior Lecturer

Sonia Michaels earned her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in English Literature from the University of Washington; she pursued further graduate studies in English at the University of Victoria. She taught her first English Composition class in 1989 as a T.A. at the University of Washington. Since then, she has taught in both Canada (at Thompson Rivers University, Okanagan University College, Sprott-Shaw College, and the University of Victoria), and the U.S. (at Bellevue College, the University of Washington, and, since 2008, DigiPen). She currently teaches English and Communication classes at DigiPen.

In addition to her teaching career, Michaels has spent a decade working as a professional admission consultant, coaching hundreds of students through the process of creating thousands of essays for their applications to top-ranked undergraduate, graduate, law, medical, and MBA programs. She has presented seminars on writing effective personal statements at high schools and non-profit educational organizations in Canada and the U.S. She has also worked as a freelance writer and editor for numerous print and online publications.

Michaels understands that Humanities classes are not the highest priority for most DigiPen students; with that in mind, she attempts to keep the classroom experience lively and relevant, often assigning essays on game-related topics and incorporating elements of sociology, psychology, history, and popular culture into discussions that stimulate critical thinking abilities as well as promoting strong writing and editing skills.

In her Communication classes, Michaels focuses on helping DigiPen students develop knowledge and skills that will prepare them to communicate effectively within their chosen field. Michaels also brings a strong personal interest in video games to her work at DigiPen, having enjoyed everything from classic arcade games to MMORPGS. She has a particular academic interest in science fiction and fantasy literature, and in the intersection of literature and popular culture, including games, graphic novels, film, and television.

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DigiPen Faculty Christopher Hawk, Ph.D.

Christopher Hawk, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Dr. Christopher Hawk received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Washington & Jefferson College. He went on to earn his master’s degree, with an emphasis in clinical psychology, from Cleveland State University, as well as his Ph.D., with an emphasis in applied social psychology, from Brigham Young University.

Dr. Hawk’s primary area of research involves the effects of violent media on aggression. He is particularly interested in investigating the effects of video games on aggressive and prosocial behavior.

DigiPen Faculty Faye Houshyari, Ed.D., MBA

Faye Houshyari, Ed.D., MBA

Adjunct Instructor

Dr. Faye Houshyari completed her Bachelor of Science in Economics at Tehran University, Iran. She later completed her MBA and Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Seattle University.

Dr. Houshyari joined DigiPen as an adjunct faculty member in 2018, teaching economics. She also teaches economics, business, and college success strategies at Cascadia College and Seattle University. In addition to her expertise in business, she brings diversity, an international perspective, and an interdisciplinary background to educational programs and academic development.

James S. Peet, Ph.D., CFE

Adjunct Instructor

Dr. James S. Peet holds a Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Washington, an MA in Geography from California State University, Hayward (now called California State University, East Bay), and a BA in Geography from the University of Miami. He has also graduated from two law enforcement academies.

In addition to teaching, Dr. Peet operates a fraud investigation business in Washington State, Peet & Associates, LLC, obtaining Certified Fraud Examiner status. He is also the author of a fictional series set in an alternative universe.

Along with teaching geography at DigiPen, Dr. Peet has developed geography classes for several institutions of higher learning, and also taught fraud-related criminal justice classes at a local university. He currently teaches Geography and Cartography for Worldbuilding.

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