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Alumni Spotlight: Doha Nassar M.A. '24

Doha's photo with her testimonial overlayed on top.

Doha Nassar earned her M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice in 2024 and currently works as a 2nd grade homeroom teacher and team lead. In the blog post below, Doha discusses how her passions came to life through her experience with the CISJ program.

Why did you choose your program at Loyola? One of my core values in teaching is cultivating a classroom community where students are empowered and feel belonging. I wanted to find a program that aligns with my passion for diversity, equity, and social emotional learning. Loyola’s Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program was the only program that I felt focused on diversity and equity at the core of the program, rather than as an elective.

Did you work while pursuing your degree? If so, how was your experience with work/life balance? I was working as an elementary school teacher while pursuing my degree. I found that the best way to balance work, family, and grad school was to abide by a set schedule. Most of my classes fell on Wednesday evenings, and therefore I knew that Wednesday would be a grad school day for me. I also then designated a day on the weekend to complete the bulk of my grad school readings. Throughout the week, I designated about an hour on Tuesday evenings to complete assignments or readings that were due before class. Therefore, I had 3 days during the week that I knew I would devote time for my grad classes. Chunking my time made the course workload much more manageable. 

I also found it important to schedule in time for workouts, and events with family or friends. Putting those experiences on my calendar ensured that I would actually give myself a break so that I had energy throughout the week to keep up with the more demanding schedule. It was also a mental break from the course readings/assignments, and planning that I had to do for work. 

What were some of your favorite aspects about pursuing a graduate degree at Loyola? I loved the responsiveness of the Loyola community. Whenever I reached out to a professor, administrator, or staff member with a question or concern, I consistently received a prompt and helpful response by the next day. This level of attentiveness not only facilitated smooth communication but also made me feel valued and supported throughout my academic journey. 

Also, even though my program was fully online, I created meaningful connections with my peers. Through collaborative projects, Zoom breakout sessions, and discussion forums, I engaged in deeply enriching conversations with peers who shared my passion for promoting social justice within educational settings. These interactions allowed us to exchange diverse perspectives and ideas for immediate changes within our school buildings.

What do you think sets Loyola apart from other universities that offer a similar program? One of the biggest perks of the CISJ program is that it is online and you take one course at a time. This definitely helped to make the degree manageable as you didn’t have to juggle multiple courses at once. Typically, students enroll in 2 courses a semester, each 8 weeks long. The condensed time does result in a more rigorous 8 week experience but it helps to ensure that students who are working can have the opportunity to complete the degree within a 2 year period. Unlike other programs that offer full time in-person attendance, the CISJ program allowed me flexibility to continue working as a classroom teacher while being a student, without the added burden of rushing after work to get to campus, or needing to spend multiple nights in long commutes to and from campus.

How has your degree and experience at Loyola set you up for success in your career? My degree at Loyola made me much more critical of the curriculum that I utilize in my district. My courses at Loyola offered me a new perspective on how to ensure the curriculum and my teaching practices are equitable and offer culturally relevant pedagogy. Because of this, I work with my team to utilize alternative, more inclusive texts in reading. I also incorporate activities into my teaching that promote critical thinking and encourage a sense of global citizenship among my students. This helps them become more aware of their impact on the community and the people around them. For example: I’ve engaged in discussions with my second grade students around school equity and the differences we see between schools now and the prejudices faced in the past - when we had White only schools and Hispanic only schools. We read the text “Separate is Never Equal” by Duncan Tonatiuh and engaged in discussion around the inequalities present. They also explored segregation and women’s voting rights. Then, the students created a video to teach others about the importance of equal rights for all.

How did your capstone experience shape you or prepare you for your career? My capstone project fulfilled a research aspiration I had back in high school. I was interested in learning more about the role that identity, more specifically Muslim identity, plays in the choices that we make at school. My project explores how Muslim youth perceive their sense of belonging within schools. Student voice is not always present when making educational changes, and the Muslim student voice is almost nonexistent. I wanted to provide students a platform to share their school experiences and elevate their voices. Through my project, I pulled four major findings. (1) Muslim students report numerous incidents of bullying in which the perpetrators faced no repercussions, resulting in mistrust of administrators and staff, (2) there is a lack of understanding among staff and students about Islamic culture, (3) information in the curriculum about Muslims is inaccurate or bias against Muslims, and (4) students expressed feeling inadequately represented within their schools. I was then able to come up with some recommendations about what schools can implement to enhance the Muslim students' experience. Some of the recommendations included: creating a designated prayer space, hiring more Muslim staff members, auditing the curriculum to ensure accurate representation of Muslims, providing professional development for staff members, equitably enforcing bullying policies, and providing Muslim students a space in which they can have conversations about their religious identity. 

Through my project I was better able to advocate for Muslim students within my own district. I had the opportunity to speak with the social studies instructional specialist in my district and shared my findings with her. We discussed implications and how we can better support the students. The project also helped me realize that I need to find ways to empower my Muslim students and families to self-advocate and share their public school experiences more vocally so that the districts take notice and commit to making policy changes that can better support the students. 

Hear more from Doha on our Instagram! Follow us @Loyola_Education or visit the CISJ website to learn more!