"I tell my students that you may not like rocks and minerals now, but give me two weeks," says Azam Tabrizi, geology instructor for the Chesapeake Campus. "And most of the time, my students come back and tell me they are enjoying the subject more than they ever imagined possible."
A native of Iran, Tabrizi began her career in the oil industry. "I never thought I'd become a teacher, as I was making good money,” she says. “But I found my love teaching geology.”
After earning her bachelor's in geology in Iran, Tabrizi moved to England to study at the University College of London, where she earned a master's in micropaleontology. "I did this in a year, even though English was not my first language," she adds. "It was sheer determination, and I share this with my students, reminding them if I could do it, so can they."
Tabrizi joined Tidewater Community College in 1993 as an adjunct professor at the Virginia Beach Campus. She moved to the Chesapeake Campus in 2000 and today is a full-time instructor and program lead for geology. As the founder of the program, Tabrizi has grown the curriculum from one lecture and one lab to more than 25 offerings.
"This is my baby, and I don't want to give it to a foster parent," Tabrizi says with a laugh.
Every rock, mineral and soil sample collected was by Tabrizi during her tenure. "When I began, we didn't even have one rock. Now we have a full laboratory," she says.
The secret to her teaching success is her ability to connect with students. "I tell my students that I am far from family, so they become my family. I work hard to make that connection, something that is possible because of our small classes," Tabrizi says. "My students know that my door is always open, and I am ready to hear their stories and help when needed."
Tabrizi engages students with everyday examples, such as comparing sedimentary rocks to a layered cake or talking about cooking soup as a way to describe the formation of Turbidity current and therefore graded beds in the ocean.
"I am looking for that aha moment, and I use many visuals and teaching tools to reach students with different learning styles," Tabrizi says. “My enthusiasm for the subject is contagious. I get so excited looking at some outcrops or structures. It makes it all worthwhile when my students see what I see."
The ultimate gift for a teacher, Tabrizi says, is to see lives touched. A poignant example came for Tabrizi when one of her students gave birth. "She called to tell me all was well, and that she had given her daughter the middle name Azam. I was shocked and so delighted."
Geology is the family business; Tabrizi's husband, Jafar, also works in the field. The two have a daughter and they live in Virginia Beach.