Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

Fara Nizamani, Ph.D.

Department Chair, Humanities and Social Sciences
Assistant Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences

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. Nizamani then obtained both masters and doctoral degrees in English literature. A job offer in the Seattle area enticed her and 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. 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 Koshin-ha Chito-ryu Karate.

An avid but hopelessly inept gamer, Nizamani can often be found in front of a game console, cheering as Princess Peach crosses the finish line in Mario Kart or hurling verbal challenges at her opponents in Halo 3.

Vanessa Hemovich, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences

Vanessa Hemovich received her Bachelorís of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Washington. She went on to earn both a dual Masterís 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 and community-based interventions that target social change. Vanessa also has a strong interest in fMRI and neuroimaging research applied to various social psychology concepts and phenomena, including game design, and recently earned a Visiting Fellowship Award at Harvard Medical School to pursue future study in this area.

Her prior research publications have focused on investigating the role of personality and contextual dynamics as a factor for externalizing problem behaviors among youth. As an active researcher, she is currently pursuing research on personality theory in video game design, and also holds a strong interest in exploring the role of perceived stigma in online gaming contexts, as well as the complex nature of group leadership dynamics in MMOs. 

In addition to her research interests, Vanessa maintains a strong passion for teaching at both the graduate and undergraduate level and has taught a range of Psychology courses for the University of Washington, New England College, Crafton Hills College, and Shoreline Community College. As a Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) Fellow, Vanessa has extensive training in identifying best teaching practices and developing essential knowledge to broaden transdisciplinary understanding of Psychology among diverse student populations. One of her major goals in teaching at DigiPen is to help students recognize and understand the pervasive nature of Psychology as a discipline, and how strongly it applies across the domains of media development, sound design, and user experiences.

Claire Joly, Ph.D.

Claire Joly, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at DigiPen

Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences

Claire Joly holds multiple higher degrees from several universities. In the mid- 1980s, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the Sorbonne in Paris, France, where she is from. At the Sorbonne, she also earned her first master's degree in English with a specialty in American literature.

In 1986, she came to the United States on a university exchange program between her French alma mater and Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. There, she pursued her interest in American culture and literature, which led to a second master's degree in theater with a concentration on African American drama.

During her first two years in the United States, Joly became increasingly interested in the racial and ethnic dynamics of American society. This shift in her academic pursuits led to a Ph.D. in Comparative Cultures from the University of California at Irvine. Far from losing her interest in literature, however, she integrated her love of the Humanities with her new interest in the Social Sciences. She wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on the critical reception of Richard Wright, a renowned African American fiction writer.

Before arriving at DigiPen, Joly taught full-time as an assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame in the Department of American Studies. In 1998, she was the recipient of an N.A.A.C.P Image Award for her work with minority students at the University of Notre Dame. She started teaching at DigiPen part-time in 2000, and became a full-time member of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2006. She serves as the Chair of her department.

Joly teaches a broad array of classes in the Humanities, including "Storytelling: An Introduction to Narrative," "Story through Dialogue," "Multicultural Literature," and "Mythology," to name a few. She is also the editor of DigiPen's first literary journal, DigiPen and Paper, which showcases some of the best creative writing done in classes taught by Joly and other instructors in her department.

While Joly knows that DigiPen students do not come to the Institute to specialize in her field, she strongly believes that the Humanities and the Social Sciences are an essential part of her students' education, and she drives that message home in all of her classes.

In an effort to integrate her specialty in DigiPen's technical environment, Joly presented a professional paper at the 2007 National Association for Multicultural Education Conference. Her paper was entitled "Darfur is Dying: Video Games that Make a Difference," and is part of her interest in games for social change. Her current research focuses on the study of race, class, and gender in 21st Century America. She recently completed a research paper on the autobiography of Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father, which will be presented at Hawaii's 9th Annual International Conference on Arts and Humanities. 

Sonia Michaels

Sonia Michaels, Senior Lecturer, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at DigiPen

Senior Lecturer, Humanities and Social Sciences

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.