The Team

Norma Claire Moruzzi

Norma Claire Moruzzi received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the Johns Hopkins University. She is Associate Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies, with an Affiliation in History, and Director of the International Studies Program and Chair of the Middle East and Muslim Societies Cluster at UIC.


She is also a member and past chair of the editorial committee of the journal Middle East Report.Prof. Moruzzi’s research and teaching address the politics of social identity, with particular emphasis on the intersection of gender, religion, and nationalisms.

Dana Michelle Cook

Co-founder, Freeheart Creative
Dana Michelle Cook is an Emmy and Gracie award-winning producer and documentary filmmaker, dedicated to shining light on issues that bring about social change.


She has worked as a field/story producer and writer for the past 12 years. In addition to creating original content for shows on ABC, NBC, and TLC, she is committed to creating content that features inspiring women through film. Her previous film, The Empowerment Project: Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things has screened globally, encouraging tens of thousands of young women to find their voice and become leaders of their lives. She is the co-founder of Freeheart Creative, an organization dedicated to documenting and sharing brave stories of female trailblazers to inspire the next generation of leaders to make an impact on the world.

Katie Wilkes

Co-founder, Freeheart Creative
Katie Wilkes has spent the past eight years deploying to disaster sites as a national relief agency spokesperson and content specialist.


As both a humanitarian and media professional, she has brought stories and headlines to life with appearances on The Weather Channel and MSNBC, aimed at helping people give and get help during the most difficult times in their lives. She has responded to tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and global epidemics. Her time spent both on disaster grounds and at international media agencies have shaped her belief that all it takes is one story to change – or save – a life. She is the co-founder of Freeheart Creative, an organization dedicated to documenting and sharing brave stories of female trailblazers to inspire the next generation of leaders to make an impact on the world.

Mehrnoush Aliaghaei


Mehrnoush Aliaghaei is an Iranian-American filmmaker who lives and works between Tehran and New York.  She received her MFA in film from Columbia University, and her BA from University of California, Berkeley in Film Studies and Comparative Literature.


She has produced 13 short films and associate produced a feature.  Mehrnoush is also the writer of three feature scripts and a TV pilot.  Her directorial debut Scheherazade was awarded Faculty and Jury Selects at Columbia University Film Festival, nominated for Adrienne Shelley Best Female Director, won the Best American Film at Champs-Elysées Film Festival, and Best Director at Unreal Film Festival.  It has been official selection to 17 international film festivals.  Mehrnoush is the co-founder of Ferris Reel Productions, a promotional video production company in Brooklyn.


Dr. Meléndez is an associate clinical professor and director of the Bilingual/ESL Certificate Program at Erikson Institute in Chicago. A former kindergarten teacher and bilingual early childhood teacher, Professor Melendez taught for more than twenty years both in the United States and in her native Dominican Republic.


Her areas of expertise include the education of young children growing up with more than one language; the impact of culture on teaching and learning; and the use of action research as a professional development strategy in educational settings.


B.A. in Psychology, Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Urena, Dominican Republic

M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education-Erikson Institute/Loyola University Chicago

Ph.D. in Child Development- Erikson Institute/Loyola University Chicago.

Recent Publications:

Melendez, L. (2015). Using Children's Books as a Social Studies Curriculum Strategy.

Young Children, 70, 48- 55

Villegas, J., Vargas, M. & Melendez, L. (in press). Evolution of Attitudes and Practices

in Educating Young English Language Learners: An Illinois Perspective- Mid-

Western Educational Research Journal.

Ray, A. & Melendez, L (2011). Creating Multicultural and Linguistically Responsive

Early Childhood Classrooms. In J. P. Roopnarine & J. Johnson (Eds). Approaches

to Early Childhood Education (2011)

Dr. Spreen is an Associate Professor of International Education in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. Her scholarship brings together interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to examining education policy and practice. Her research centers on political and socio-cultural studies of educational change, particularly the influences of globalization and corporate privatization on teaching and learning.


Her current research projects address three areas: (1) teachers lives and work, i.e. understanding how international policies and organizations impact teachers and classroom practice (e.g. teacher migration, curriculum reform, accountability and testing movements); (2) defining educational quality and school achievement beyond standardized tests through a rights-based framework, and; (3) using participatory/action research to study the impact of poverty and inequality on education. She is currently working on two book projects: teachers’ lives and work in rural African schools (South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda) and teachers’ global mobilization and resistance to the privatization of education.

Dr. Spreen’s research has been published in a variety of leading peer-reviewed academic journals (Comparative Education Review, Comparative Education and the International Journal of Education Development, Southern African Review of Education and Perspectives in Education), in peer-reviewed book chapters, and in several monographs or as published proceedings from various consultative groups. She has taught courses with an international and policy studies foci. These courses include Comparative Education, Sociology of Education, Education Policy Analysis, Globalization and Education, Schools and Society, Poverty, Inequality and Human Rights in Education, Education Policy in Developing Countries and Educating for Global Citizenship and Human Rights. Professor Spreen received her Ph.D. in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She also holds an M.Phil. in Educational Policy Studies from Teachers College, an M.Ed. in Instructional Leadership from the University of Illinois, and a B.Ed. in International Education Development from the American University. Professor Spreen is also currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in South Africa, and an affiliated researcher at the Center for Education Rights and Transformation. She has previously been on the faculty at the Universities of Virginia and Maryland and was a Visiting Scholar at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Educational Policy Unit (South Africa) and Stanford University’s Center for International Education. She has won numerous teaching and service awards and has raised over $1 million in grant funding for international research and academic community engagement initiatives. She also serves on various Advisory Boards, Working Groups and as a Critical Friend to several education policy and development organizations (including, Education International, the Brookings Institution, the Right to Education Project, and the World Bank). Over the last two decades she has served as a researcher for several of the US’s leading educational research centers: School Redesign Network (SRN), National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST), Center for Research and Evaluation on Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), and North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL). Internationally, she has worked with many educational development and planning organizations and assisted numerous schools, districts, universities and educational ministries with various reform innovations.

Dr. Zeynep I. Ercan is an Associate Professor and the Program Coordinator for Early Childhood Education program. Her research agenda focuses on culturally and linguistically diverse children, teachers, families and communities within the field of early childhood education (ages 0-8). Some of her recent research projects include the educational experiences of children and families from unique immigrant communities such as Turkish and Burmese.


Dr. Ercan examines how innovative pedagogies and practices such as incorporating technology and science/literacy inquiry projects can respond to the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. She also focuses on professional development of teachers and supporting them in responding to contemporary trends in education including recent educational reform. Her research has appeared in academic journals such as Race, Ethnicity and Education, Childhood Education, International Journal of Science Education, Early Childhood Education Journal, and Diaspora, Indigenous and Minority Education Journal. Dr. Ercan has been actively serving educational and academic communities on the local, national and international levels. She provides professional development and mentoring for early childhood and elementary educators to impact student learning and growth with long-term partnerships. Some of her past services include the advisory board membership of Center for the Excellence in Teaching and Learning, co-liaison for university early childhood lab school initiatives, and research partnership with Fort Wayne Community Schools. Dr. Ercan is the recipient of 2011 CEPP Dean’s Faculty Accomplishment Award, and 2010 Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs: Council of Diversity Award, and 2014 The Indiana Early Care and Education Award by Indiana Association for Education of Young Children for her contributions to the professional development of early childhood practitioners.


Nassim Abdi, Ph.D. is an educator and scholar-activist. After completing a degree in journalism at the University of Tehran, she moved to the United States in 2003. A day after her arrival, she started her graduate school journey in Educational Leadership Master's program at Bowling Green State University (BGSU) and then continued with International Education Policy doctoral program at the University of Maryland (UMD), College Park. Upon graduating with a focus on social justice and alternative education, Nassim taught a variety of humanities subjects such as international studies and women’s studies at UMD, Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, and Worcester State University. While teaching, she helped carry out a survey of 150 faculty, students, and department chairs. The survey confirmed what she had suspected all along – that universities across the United States lacked visual educational materials featuring the views of grassroots activists on important global issues. To address this need, Nassim co-founded Docademia LLC, a social enterprise which takes the messages of activists-documentarians from around the world and uses them as seeds for educational discussions in classrooms.


Babak Shahmansouri obtained his Master's degree in educational leadership from McGill University. Previously he studied MBA at Sharif University. The specific focus on organizational growth in his two master’s programs has provided him with a broad based theoretical background in management especially in the field of education. Babak has more than 10 years of progressive experience as a consultant and entrepreneur. He has previously co-founded Asemaan Group (systems thinking educational center at Sharif University), Borna Institution for youth mental health, Heeva Foundation for Educational Development, and Helmfried Business Solutions.


Ann Marcella Schmitt grew up in Lima, Ohio and completed her undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University in Spanish Education. She is currently a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Cross‐cultural and International Education (MACIE) Program at BGSU. She teaches Educational Technology to pre‐service teachers, and also worked as technology assistant for nineteen international English teachers as part of a Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) program grant. Her research interests include bilingual education, language policy and politics, immigrant education, and teaching English to speakers of other languages. Her dream job would be to work at a bilingual school, teach English to non‐native speakers, or pursuing a Ph.D. and teaching at a university.


Autumn Reddell is originally from Jasper, Arkansas and received her Bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Sociology from the University of Central Arkansas. She has devoted her time working with English Language Learners through various organizations and capacities. In the future, she hopes to work with the development and implementation of education policy in developing countries and her research interests include the relationship between education and development, particularly in the Sub-Saharan Africa region.


Becca Norman is most recently from Kansas, where she completed her undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Pre-Law at Kansas State University. After serving as a Primary and Secondary English teacher in Ukraine with the Peace Corps, she returned to the States to work with Children International and created their Advocacy department. Currently, she is a Peace Corps Coverdell Fellow at Bowling Green State University where she is working towards an M.A. in Cross-Cultural and International Education, with a focus on Education Policy. She teaches Technology in the Classroom and assists with the IREX/ Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) grant program by teaching technology to teachers. Her academic interests include technology in the classroom, standardized testing, curriculum development, and education history and policy.


Erfan Abdi is an artist, designer, and performer based in The Hague since 2009. He graduated from the Master's program at the Artscience Interfaculty, Royal Conservatoire The Hague in 2011. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in graphic design from the University of Tehran (2006). Erfan’s creative practice includes electronic music, video art, computer programming, and physical computing. He takes advantage of the possibilities offered by technology with a DIY attitude, and constructs his instruments from found or re-purposed material, seeking new ways of relating to the world of production and consumption. Erfan joined Docademia as the director of art and technology with a mission to develop a platform for a meaningful exchange between social thinkers at the educational institutes and real-life observers who make social documentaries.


Hamid Alavizadeh is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator. His exclusive creative ideas and designs have been recognized in local and international Industrial Design exhibitions. He won prestigious Red Dot Design Awards for a concept product in 2010. His significant knowledge and experience in 2D and 3D based software led him to many successful business and social enterprise endeavors. Hamid joined Docademia as the Art Director for educational materials in 2015. He leads the team to offer minimalist packaging design and produce neat multimedia packages that are easy to use by students and faculty members.


John Yaworsky is a principal with Nimble Digital Media. He is a digital specialist, as well as a creative, technically savvy director/producer of film and video. With 20 years of traditional and new media production experience, John brings to bear proven visual messaging expertise. An award-winning director and producer, John has earned an Emmy, three Tellys, The Kodak Award and Cine Golden Eagle. His work has placed in several international film festivals including Best Feature and Audience Award at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and Tribeca Features Festival. John is the former president of the board for Living Earth Television, and he served on The New Ideas Initiative, The Illinois Council for the Prevention of Violence and The Teenvoice Educational Foundation. John has taught Digital Cinema at DePaul University, and has served as a judge on several film festivals and screenplay competitions.


Keji Kujjo is from Khartoum, Sudan. She completed her undergraduate career at the University of Wisconsin­Milwaukee, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Community Engagement & Education and International Politics. Keji is very passionate about promoting women’s education and international development. Internationally, she is interested in working with humanitarian organizations and NGOs focusing on women's issues. Keji is finishing up her master's in Cross-Cultural and International Education at Bowling Green State University. Nationally, Keji is interested in working with underrepresented students in institutions of higher education. She’s interested in recruitment and admissions, student involvement, academic advising, service- learning and leadership development, study abroad and international student services, multicultural student services, minority student retention efforts, and other services.


Leila Mouri, MPhil. Pursues her MBA at Rutgers University while teaches sociology at Hudson County Community College in New Jersey. She moved to New York in 2008 to study at Columbia University, focusing on issues of gender and sexuality. Previously, she earned her MA in History from Royal Holloway, the University of London where she was also awarded a Chevening Scholarship. Leila joined Docademia as a co-founder, bringing a unique background in international and transnational grassroots activism as well as a rich academic knowledge in the social sciences and humanities. During her studies at Columbia, Leila taught a variety of courses including Cultural Theories, Colonialism, and Persian Language. She also taught online courses on Women and Media. She believes firmly in Docademia's mission to introduce an alternative image of underrepresented cultures and communities to academia and started the MBA program at Rutgers University to bring innovations and lead the marketing and finance departments at Docademia.


Pempho Chinkondenji comes from Malawi, the warm heart of Africa, which is located in South-East Africa. In 2013, she graduated from the African Bible College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication with a specialization in Radio and Television Broadcasting. While in Malawi, Pempho co-founded a non-profit organization called Loving Arms that serves young people in her community through counseling and educational development projects. She also Graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Master of Arts degree in Cross-Cultural & International Education with a cognate in Global Development & Advocacy. Pempho’s research interests are in educational development for Sub-Saharan Africa, empowerment and education for the African girl-child, and the United Nations. Currently, Pempho serves as a Youth Delegate to the United Nations for the Pan-Pacific and South-East Asian Women's Association (PPSEAWA-USA).


Urooj Shakeel is a current graduate student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago completing a masters in the in the Arts Administration & Policy program. She earned a B.S. in Marketing and a B.A. in Art History from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI and has worked in Healthcare Management since 2007. Urooj is interested in developing art programs in hospitals and is currently working on her thesis which explores the idea of art as a binding identity in building community.