Tawar Khalandi: Inspiring students to explore their worlds
Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in political science and economics, 2014 | College of Arts and Sciences
Title: Teaching resident with Kansas City Teaching Residency, teaching fellow at Ewing Marion Kauffman School
Hometown: Mahabad, Iran
Why did you choose UMKC?
I have three older sisters who all went here. We moved from Iran in 1997, so Kansas City has always been home. Very early on my parents decided this is where we were going to invest our time and resources.
Not only did I have a strong bond with my family, I knew I wanted to grow personally and professionally here; I wanted to grow my network here.
How did your family come to the U.S.?
I was only two and my sister only seven when we left Iran. The Kurdish people have faced persecution in both Iran (by the former Ayatollah) and Iraq (by Saddam Hussein). Being of Kurdish descent, my family certainly felt that discrimination – from being denied job and education opportunities to being victims of chemical warfare (in the 1970s, our mother’s hometown was hit with chemical weapons).
In the late 1980s, our father spent some time incarcerated. By 1995, he had fled Iran and was on his way to Turkey. Shortly after, we followed. For two years, we waited in an odd limbo as we applied for asylum into the United States. In September of 1997, we moved to Kansas City, MO as political refugees.
The details of why – what happened, what things culminated, why then, why there – have never been fully answered by our parents. But we know that they did everything they could to allow us a better opportunity to create our own futures.
How did you choose your field of study?
I’ve always been fascinated by politics and, even though many adults in my life advised against it, I knew I wanted to pursue it academically. During my sophomore year, I took my first course in economics and became obsessed with its theoretical basis and history. Interest and passion really drove my degrees – a bachelor’s in political science and economics.
“I wasn’t expected to be the same person I was in high school. I could become someone who I wanted to be, not someone who I’d been.”
What was your favorite thing about UMKC?
UMKC had everything I was looking for. I wanted to study economics, and UMKC was the only school that had a very different outlook. The professors are experts in very specific things and have varied backgrounds. I learned about socioeconomics and racial and gender differences in economics. I think having those soft sciences integrated into a field that I used to think of as very rigid was great.
Who was the most influential faculty or staff member at UMKC, and why?
This is such a difficult question! I have so much admiration and respect for so many of my professors! But, if I had to choose just one faculty member, it would have to be Dr. Mona Lyne with the Department of Political Science. Dr. Lyne consistently challenged and supported me, simultaneously. Her courses were engaging and our class discussions were enriching. She also provided incredible guidance in searching and applying for internships, as well as navigating through adulthood after graduating.
Do you have any advice for students entering UMKC?
Get out of your shell. Not a lot of people from my high school came here, so I had to make new friends. It allowed me a space to grow. I wasn’t expected to be the same person I was in high school. I could become someone who I wanted to be, not someone who I’d been.
Tell us about your current position.
This is Kansas City Teaching Residency’s founding year, so it’s been a really interesting experience to be part of an organization as it grows and learns from itself.
I also teach at the Kauffman School, and my favorite part of the day is the 30 minutes before and after lunch when we talk with the kids about current and historical events. They don’t take history until high school, so this is their time to discuss these issues. Kauffman is a very structured environment, so having the opportunity to hear the kids share their reflections and observations on what’s going on and what’s happened prior to today is satisfying. It’s all about their character development.
How did UMKC help you reach your current position?
I learned so much at UMKC. Beyond traditional academic knowledge and how to expand my network, my countless visits to my professors’ offices definitely paid off. I earned a year-round internship at Cerner Corp. and earned a summer internship in Washington, D.C., working for a U.S. Senator. These two opportunities truly allowed me to better understand my interests. Combined with my education at UMKC, these two opportunities put me on a much narrower and individualized path in finding the best career option for me: an inner-city educator!
What are the challenges of your field?
Because of their theoretical focus, it can be difficult to “apply” these degrees to the job market if and only if you don’t combine it with other aspects of your growth. Our job market is an increasingly changing and adapting world with new and innovative titles and positions created every day. Many hiring agents want most to see a pattern of success and experience – this includes strong GPA, school club involvement and leadership, civic engagement, internships, etc.
What are the benefits?
Its worst attribute is also its best! Political science and economics can be “applied” to many different fields, allowing students to explore different career options: private business, public non-profit, political offices/campaigns, education, law, etc.
What is one word that best describes you and why?
Curious – I love learning about different cultures, religions, customs, etc. I love hearing others’ stories and experiences. I really enjoy learning in general – both in the traditional, academic sense and in just about every other way.
What is your greatest fear?
Not having a positive impact on those around me. I don’t want my community to be unchanged or worse off because of me.
Do you have a motto you live by?
I have a new motto that I’ve embraced. Progress, not perfection. Having a growth mindset and trying to find those small wins and celebrating them puts you in a much more positive headspace and that’s been a game changer for me.
What’s your favorite place in Kansas City?
I really enjoy the River Market! There are always folks walking around, shopping, eating, chatting. And now that the street car travels to and from it, it truly makes Kansas City feel like a real city, in all its liveliness.