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.

Grace Choi, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences

Grace Y. Choi earned her bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a master's degree in Media and Cinema Studies from DePaul University, and a Ph.D. in Mass Media from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Professionally, she worked as a social media coordinator for Dreams for Kids and as a data analyst for Kansas City Women in Technology.

Dr. Choi’s research and teaching interests include digital literacy, digital production, social media, media psychology, prosocial effects, and creativity. She is passionate about digital technologies as they helped her to express her creativity and learn about new culture when she came to America at a young age. Hence, her work primarily focuses on making real-world impacts on digital literacy education and culture. She believes that anyone can be creative and is especially interested in empowering marginalized groups through accessible digital technologies, which can help to produce more creative ideas and diverse representations in the technology field. Her previous work examined the educational value of engaging in social media production, such as selfies, vlogs, and music promotion, which gave a rise to female digital musicians, YouTube beauty gurus, and sharenting. She is currently working on observing therapeutic effects from Tweeting, and plans to work on research that can generate more creative gamification ideas in classrooms.

At DigiPen, Dr. Choi teaches communication, sociology, and psychology courses that help to establish concrete foundational grounding and skills. She loves learning about new, interesting games from her students and is constantly inspired by their passion. She hopes students will develop their critical thinking skills to analyze messages and effects so that they will positively affect society when they are engaged in media production.

Selected Publications:

  • Choi, G. Y. & Lewallen, J. M. (2017). “‘Say Instagram, kids!’: Examining sharenting and children’s digital representations on Instagram,” 1-21. The Howard Journal of Communications.
  • Choi, G. Y. & Behm-Morawitz, E. (2017). “Giving a new makeover to STEAM: Establishing YouTube beauty gurus as digital literacy educators through messages and effects on viewers,” Computers in Human Behavior, 73, 80-91.
  • Choi, G. Y. & Behm-Morawitz, E. (2016). “Teach me about yourself(ie): Exploring selfie-takers’ technology usage and digital literacy skills,” Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5(4). doi:10.1037/ppm0000130
  • Choi, G. Y. (2016). “‘Who run the music? Girls!’: Examining the construction of female digital musicians’ online presence,” Popular Music & Society, 40(4). doi:10.1080/03007766.2016.1174419

Vanessa Hemovich, Ph.D.

Assistant Dean of Faculty Development
Associate Professor, Psychology

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 PSY 101, PSY 201, PSY 209, PSY 210, 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. (2018). The schema is mightier than the sword: Using player cognition to predict gaming behavior. 2018 Game Developers Conference: San Francisco, CA.
  • Hemovich, V. (2018). From princess to protagonist. In M. Goodrum, T. Prescott, & P. Smith (Eds.), "Gender and the Superhero Narrative". Jackson, MS: University Press.
  • Hemovich, V. (2018). Game design education and Psychology 101 [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from:
  • Hemovich, V. (2017). 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.
  • Hemovich, V. (2016). Why Fallout 3 might be a great STEM game. Games & Retrieved from:
  • Michaels, S. Nizamani, F., & Hemovich. V. (2015). Powering up your job search. 2015 PAX Dev Conference: Seattle, WA.
  • Hemovich, V. (2012). 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.
  • Hemovich, V. Lac, A., & Crano, W. (2011). 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.
  • Crano, W., & Hemovich, V. (2011). Intergroup relations and majority or minority influence.    In R. Kramer, G. Leonardelli, & R. Livingston (Eds.), “Social cognition, social identity, and intergroup relations: A Festschrift in honor of Marilynn Brewer” (pp. 226-246). New York: Taylor & Francis.
  • Hemovich, V., & Crano, W. (2009). Family structure and adolescent drug use: An exploration of single-parent families. Substance Use & Misuse, 44(14), 2099-2113.
  • Crano, W., Siegel, J., Alvaro, E., Lac, A., & Hemovich, V. (2008). The at-risk adolescent marijuana nonuser: Expanding the standard distinction. Prevention Science, 9(2), 129-137.

Claire Joly, Ph.D.

Claire Joly, DigiPen Humanities and Social Sciences Professor

Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences

Claire 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, 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.

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. 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, 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.

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.