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Expert in the Biology of Aging Applauded for Achievements in Teaching

Parvin Shahrestani Recognized With 2024 Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award
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As a Cal State Fullerton undergraduate student, Melanie Garcia struggled with her academic and career path in biology.

Garcia decided to take one last biological science course before giving up. 

By chance, Garcia ended up in an introductory genetics course taught by Parvin Shahrestani, associate professor of biological science, who helped her stay on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biological science in 2020.

“To say she changed my life is an understatement. Dr. Shahrestani provided a safe space for learning, questions and, most importantly, for open discussions,” said Garcia, now a graduate student in biology. “I rediscovered my passion for biology and decided to stay in the program and join her research lab.”

Kshama Ekanath Rai ’19 (M.S. biology) also praised her former research adviser for fostering a collaborative and inclusive learning environment. 

“Dr. Shahrestani has left an indelible mark on my academic and professional development,” Rai said. “Her teaching style, mentorship and commitment to excellence have equipped me with the skills and confidence to navigate the challenges of scientific inquiry.”

In recognition of her outstanding achievements as an educator, Shahrestani is the recipient of the 2024 Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award. 

Biology faculty member Parvin Shahrestani, right, and CSUF President Sylvia Alva
Associate Professor of Biological Science Parvin Shahrestani, right, is congratulated by CSUF President Sylvia Alva at the April 25 Academic Senate meeting.

“Receiving this heartfelt support from students and colleagues is deeply appreciated and underscores the importance of community. It is humbling,” said Shahrestani, adding she was moved that her 4-year-old daughter told her she was proud of her.

“Fulfilling my role as a mother to the best of my ability is a driving force behind my commitment to excellence in teaching and mentoring my students.”

Melanie Sacco, professor of biological science, who nominated her colleague, shared that Shahrestani “is an outstanding teacher and mentor with a sustained record of transformational student engagement while maintaining academic rigor.”

“As I prepared this nomination, I was staggered that someone could accomplish such a diversity of teaching accomplishments of this magnitude. Parvin’s energy and multifaceted approaches to education have elevated the biology experience for students.”

Inclusive and Inspiring Teaching in Biology

Since joining the university in 2015, Shahrestani, who holds a doctorate in biology from UC Irvine, consistently receives “outstanding” evaluations from her students. Written comments praise her for her knowledge and drive as an educator and researcher.

She has taught lower-division to graduate-level courses, created the “Evolutionary Genomics and Aging” course and advises University Honors Program students on research projects. 

Sacco added that Shahrestani is masterful in creating a gripping lesson that captivates and inspires students to think and actively participate in their education. 

“I expect my students to be knowledge seekers and hold themselves accountable for their learning,” Shahrestani said. “My role is to serve as a resource for them, helping them develop the skills and tools to learn in my class and beyond.”

Beyond the classroom, Shahrestani supports junior colleagues and guides student researchers on the evolution and genomics of aging, immune defense and other health-relevant traits.

Shahrestani, an evolutionary biologist, has advised 155 students in independent research — from high school to graduate students — and co-authored presentations and peer-reviewed publications with student researchers. Her Evolution and Genomics Research lab uses a model organism called Drosophila melanogaster, known as the fruit fly, with which humans share many genes in common.

She also served as the faculty liaison to the Supplemental Instruction program in biological science to ensure all students have the tools to succeed.

“Dr. Shahrestani commands respect through her compassion, empathy and moral compass. Students see her genuine and endearing spirit and flock to her,” said biology graduate student Alex Moran ’22 (B.S. biological science), a former Supplemental Instruction leader.

To offer transformational experiences, Shahrestani and her students collaborated with art majors to create a children’s book, “Tiny Freddy Fruit Fly,” based on her research. Another innovative undertaking has been establishing an international collaboration with the Tokyo Metropolitan University School of Biological Sciences’ Biology English Program.

Her service activities include building inclusive spaces and a sense of belonging for students and faculty. She leads the department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, chairs the Academic Senate subcommittee for Diversity and Inclusion and is a member of the University’s Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.

As an Iranian American, Shahrestani also collaborates on campuswide initiatives to support individuals and movements striving for freedom, equality and justice within the Iranian community. 

“This award validates our university’s commitment to fostering a learning environment that promotes belonging and healing,” she said. “It inspires me to continue to learn my role in our collective work toward multicultural, restorative and just education on our campus.”

The Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award honors a faculty member who demonstrates academic rigor in teaching consistent with the mission of the university and California State University.

Debra Cano Ramos