Interview by Kirsten Wasson, Ph. D. – MUSE School College Counselor & Internship Coordinator 

When I first met Tania Nasrollahi as a junior at MUSE, she was quiet – even a bit withdrawn. Five years later, she is a vivacious young woman with well-earned confidence, an excellent writer, and a double major in Sociology and Anthropology at UCLA. 

During her senior year of high school, I worked with Tania as she tackled her college essays, revising again and again. “You were tough, Kirsten,” she admitted to me recently as we reflected on that time. But she never relented; nor did she complain when I continued to make additional suggestions to make the work more compelling. That resilience is a quality ingrained into each and every MUSE student, or, as we call it, self-efficacy – one of our core pillars. At MUSE, self-efficacy is defined as the belief in one’s self to be successful by accessing his/her open, resourceful, and persistent skill sets. 

I don’t mind being tough on the students; I’m committed to helping each and every student reach their goals, whether it be an Ivy League, a gap year, or an internship. And I know that they have the inner confidence to take any feedback and use it constructively within their pursuits of success, whichever avenue they decide to take. Tania was one of the first groups of seniors to graduate from MUSE, and I had high hopes for her – so I pushed her to put forth her absolute best work, particularly on those essays. 

I remember Tania’s delight when she was accepted to Pitzer, her first choice. I also remember her disappointment when her family realized they couldn’t afford the school. She was understandably devastated. But Tania didn’t dwell in disappointment; instead she enrolled in Wooster College, a school that offered her a nearly full-tuition scholarship. But, the culture of rural Ohio didn’t agree with Tania. She encountered abundant racism and intolerance in the town, and she was a victim of racial slurs, herself. She felt she ultimately had to leave. 

At MUSE, our students take a Social Justice course which helps to shape their worldview into one that is accepting of all backgrounds, and understanding of the realities faced by minorities and underserved communities. With the rural town in Ohio, Tania tapped into her ability to reject a situation in which she was silenced and denigrated. 

When Tania returned to LA, she decided to enroll at Moorpark Community College. She was not particularly happy about it. “It felt like a last resort,” she expressed to me. But Tania went on to enjoy her classes, earn high marks, and become a leader of the school’s Mock Trial team, which advanced to the state championships. Shortly after, she was  accepted to UCLA.  

Since then, Tania has continued to stay in touch through each stage of her journey. Again,  it felt as if I was watching self-efficacy on steroids. When things didn’t go her way, she persisted—charging ahead patiently toward her goal of going to a four-year university. No whining. No dawdling. No blaming.

With a big grin, she reflected with me on the impact of her MUSE education:  “It was so personal; all the teachers made an effort to understand my needs as a learner, and I received a lot of individualized attention.” At MUSE, all teachers are trained in the Process Communication Model (PCM), which enables them to engage with a student’s education based upon their unique personality type and subsequent communication style.

Tania’s focus on Anthropology and Sociology at UCLA stemmed from two MUSE-sponsored trips—one to Thailand, and another to Guatemala. In Thailand, the students worked with local orphans; in Guatemala, with economically disadvantaged children undergoing surgery. She now recalls the bonding that took place among students, with the children they engaged with, and the invaluable lessons on the different cultures and their respective realities. 

Tania is, herself, a teacher; she tutors low-income students and helps them prepare them for college through an organization called Student Success Agency. “Passion-based learning is something I’ve taken with me…I use it now to get the kids excited to pursue their goals. It increases self-awareness for a student to identify with what they love.” Along with passion-based learning, she feels that MUSE “teaches a subset of skills often neglected in schools: patience, goal-setting, teamwork. You’re given the tools to succeed, rather than a linear roadmap.” 

Tania certainly had a non-linear road to UCLA. Now she plans on pursuing a graduate degree, and has already been accepted into a program at UCLA that will lead her to earn a Ph.D.  She has completed a year-long study on Iranian-American culture, and is eager to do more research; she’s now hoping to complete departmental honors projects in both anthropology and Sociology. 

Tania brings passion, curiosity, and dedication to all her pursuits. Outside of her studies, she regularly attends jazz and classical music concerts, participates in Spoken Word competitions, and spent the past summer in Belize doing fieldwork on Mayan culture. 

When asked if she had any advice for MUSE students, Tania said, “Be sincere. Care. Put forth your best effort because it will be exponential with the support of your teachers. You will miss MUSE, so take it all in!”