[Meet the Instructors is a series intended to introduce you to one of the greatest resources the University of Washington Tacoma Professional Development Center has to offer: its diverse team of veteran, industry-tested professionals. The Center’s professional development programs are designed to be rewarding, challenging and cutting-edge. Our instructors play no small part in that, ensuring students are exposed to the most current industry trends while remaining well-versed in the tried-and-true best practices of their professions. We’re excited to share our instructors with you, and their stories are a great place to start.]
Instructors at the UW Tacoma Professional Development Center come from different backgrounds, professions and industries – and in the case of Dariush Khaleghi, from across the world. DK, who teaches in the PDC’s Leadership Essentials, Human Resources Management and Certified Public Manager® programs, came to the U.S. as a religious refugee from Iran in 1985. His journey since then has profoundly influenced the teacher he is today.
DK belongs to the Bahá’i Faith, a religion that has been persecuted since its inception in Iran in the 19th century.
“The totalitarian government in Iran prohibits Baháis to acquire higher education,” said DK. “That taught me the real value of education. I made a commitment to myself to become a leader and educator when I get to the United States, believing that education would be the ultimate equalizer in society.”
When he was 22, DK pursued that goal. For him, attending college was not as easy as completing an application.
“My parents paid human smugglers. I met them in a small town on the border,” said DK. “In the days we would hide, and during the nights we would travel toward Pakistan on donkeys and by foot.”
After crossing the border into Pakistan, DK eventually made his way to Spain. Finally, at age 23, he immigrated to the U.S. as a religious refugee.
Looking back, DK is glad he made the journey.
“My vision was to be an educated person so I could help and inspire other people,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated by leadership and social movements. Historically, some of the people who have changed the world as leaders were also great educators. Leaders like Jesus, Dr. King, Gandhi and Mother Theresa are great examples. That was a direction I was interested to learn about – maybe I could find a secret, or a recipe, that I could teach and share with others to change the world for better.”
Arriving in the Pacific Northwest, the newly immigrated DK’s first stop was the University of Washington. Walking the campus, he said to himself:
“This is the school I’m going to be in. I can envision myself as a part of this great institution.”
DK – who did not speak English at the time – spent nine months studying the language and was accepted to the university. He majored in business administration and psychology and graduated in 1992.
Post-college, DK continued his pursuit of his version of the American dream. He met his wife at UW, and moved to Oregon when she went there to become an optometrist. In Oregon, he earned a master’s degree in organizational psychology while working for Intel Corporation from Portland State University. Soon after, he moved to DuPont, Wash., as a part of the training and development team. He continued his education and earned an M.B.A. from Pacific Lutheran University while moving up in management and leadership roles at Intel Corporation.
“Regardless of the roles I played at Intel, training and education was always something I included in my own life and the lives of my employees,” said DK. “My commitment to educating, training and developing next generation leaders and change makers evolved to become my personal mission in life.”
“I brought that mission to organizations I served at including Intel, the Washington State Human Rights Commission, Department of Social and Health Services and Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said. “Eventually, my mission became my calling and career as a leadership development, faculty and coach and consultant.”
“DK taught his first university-level course in 2007 and began teaching at UW Tacoma in 2014. Here, whether he is teaching in the Certified Public Manager®, Human Resources Management or Leadership Essentials programs, DK says the calling does not change.
“Everyone is a caterpillar with a butterfly wrapped inside. Education makes it possible for the caterpillar to transform to a butterfly,” he said. “[The PDC] is an ideal environment that allows students and instructors to come together, engage, learn and collaborate in a learning community forum and co-create the outcome.”
DK said he enjoys teaching at the PDC because of the types of students he works with. Similar to most PDC programs, students in DK’s HR classes are typically working professionals who are seeking to move up in the field, refresh their skills, or even switch careers. Across the board, he says, they bring valuable perspectives, a wealth of experience and a deep desire to grow and develop.
“I’m dealing with motivated adults,” he said. “I actually learn from them; we learn from each other. Some people show up and have, for example, an HR specialty. I have background, but they may be more current. I have the literature, they have the experience. When you put it all together, everyone gains insight.”
One such student is Erika Thale, who, despite meeting DK in his early days teaching at Evergreen State College, was impacted enough by his teaching to keep in touch with him to this day.
Thale works as the HR Director at the Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton, Wash. Her time as a student with DK affected both her professional and personal lives.
“After I graduated, we introduced a lot of positive changes to the way we operated as [an HR] department –positive changes in performance management, and we became very strategic in our development and training,” she said.
While she met several instructors at Evergreen, Thale said DK was the most influential in her learning.
“He always pushed the idea that we have an influence on the work of an organization, because our human capital is our number one investment. It changed my mentality with HR,” said Thale.
On a personal level, the lessons she learned from DK motivated Thale to open her own business.
“He taught me that if we’re going to be in any sort of leadership capacity, we have to have a strong purpose,” said Thale. “Being a purposeful leader stood out to me so much that I wanted to take the philosophy and infuse it into my own business, Salish Grounds Coffee.”
For DK, having such an impact on students is the fulfillment of the purpose that inspired his escape from persecution in Iran in the first place.
“[My faith] inspired me to be who I am, to find my gifts and serve others,” he said. “I don’t see any greater honor.”
Interested in attending one of the programs mentioned in this article? Head over to our program pages below: