Graduate Student spotlight: Gol Arastoopour

by Clifford White

Golnaz, a sixth-year graduate student who goes by “Gol” for short, has a background both in engineering and in teaching. She combined those interests when she joined David Shaffer’s Epistemic Games Group, which creates virtual internships and studies how they enhance educational and career outcomes.

“I’m interested in increasing the exposure and interest of young people in STEM, especially engineering,” Gol says. “Right now, traditional schooling isn’t very effective for teaching kids real-world skills and complex thinking, so if we actually want to reflect what’s happening in society, then we need to simulate what’s happening in the outside world.”

In her first years with the lab, Gol worked on the Nephrotex and RescuTek projects—epistemic games for first year undergraduate students interested in engineering. Recently, Gol turned her attention to the Epistemic Network Analysis project, a cutting-edge tool that can measure complex thinking and create network models of those measurements.

A native of Chicago, Gol studied mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; she later received a master’s degree in mathematics education from Columbia University. Following graduation, she taught math at Orr Academy High School in Chicago for two years before beginning her master’s and Ph.D. Her master’s thesis explored the use of virtual internships to motivate women to persist in their study of engineering.

I wanted to have a broader impact in education. Specifically with Epistemic Games and David, the research we’re doing is really innovative, and I enjoy how high the bar is set for us. We’re a very efficient and effective group, and we’re always trying to improve our practices and methods.

—Golnaz Arastoopour

In 2012, Gol served on a National Science Foundation review panel, a responsibility rarely entrusted to a graduate student. From 2013-2014, she served as co-president of the Educational Psychology Student Association (EPSA) along with Paige Mission, and was in charge of organizing professional and social events for Educational Psychology students, faculty, and staff. Events Gol organized for EPSA included brown bag seminars, practice job talks, happy hours at the Vintage and Memorial Union Terrace, and monthly “Coffee with a Proffee” sessions where students can sign up to chat and have coffee with an Educational Psychology professor.

Having recently passed her preliminary exams, Gol is now working on a dissertation that focuses on the assessment of engineering design thinking in virtual learning environments. She isn’t sure whether her future will take her into academia or elsewhere, but she is motivated to continue to do work that both pushes boundaries in blending games, simulations, and education and makes a real difference in the lives of science and engineering students of all ages.

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