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University of Arizona Makes American Indian Studies More Accessible

The University of Arizona is making American Indian Studies more accessible by offering a bachelor's degree in the program.

The University of Arizona has made its American Indian Studies program a department, a change that allows for the development of a bachelor’s degree in the discipline.

The program also has moved from the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and is now under the leadership of Regents’ Professor of Linguistics Ofelia Zepeda. All of the changes became effective July 1.

“Since 1982, AIS has produced outstanding research and publications, conferred over 300 degrees through the AIS Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, and engaged the campus and external communities,” said Jennifer Barton, associate vice president for research. “Now, in this next step in AIS’ growth, it will have the opportunity to more fully engage undergraduate students and strengthen its existing activities.”

John Paul Jones III, the dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, says the move makes sense from a curriculum and research perspective.

“Having AIS in an academic college should generate exciting new possibilities for collaboration within and outside of SBS [Social and Behavioral Sciences],” Jones said. “It should mean more access to American Indian Studies courses for students at all levels of the curriculum, and since many of the departments in SBS have missions complementary to those of AIS, more research as well.” SBS units that the new department can look forward to directly interacting with include the School of Anthropology, the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, the School of Geography and Development, the School of Government and Public Policy, the Department of History, the Department of Linguistics, the Department of Mexican American Studies and the Southwest Center.

The mission of American Indian Studies will not change with the move. It will continue to strive to develop a strong understanding of the languages, history, lands and cultures of American Indians and Alaska Natives. The unit is also focused on leadership and self-determination on tribal lands.

“We value our relationship with many of the tribal nations throughout the country, particularly in Arizona, given our land-grant status as a university,” said Karen Francis-Begay, assistant vice president for tribal relations. “There is value and benefit for AIS to have a home within a college where it will have outstanding leadership and support. Becoming a department gives AIS a stronger foundation to advance its interdisciplinary core strengths, which contributes to meaningful tribal community engagement and support.”

Now that it has moved to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, AIS will begin the process of developing an undergraduate major. In the fall of 1997, the UA became the first educational institution in the United States to offer a doctorate in American Indian Studies.

“As Arizona’s elite research and teaching university, we have an opportunity to build on our world-class graduate program in American Indian Studies by offering an outstanding Bachelor of Arts in American Indian Studies,” said Zepeda, who was most recently acting head of the Department of Linguistics and is also director of the UA’s American Indian Language Development Institute. “Taking advantage of the UA’s commitment to 100 percent engagement, we expect our undergraduate program will have a strong sense of service to the Indian communities throughout Arizona and the Southwest.”

The UA’s 100 percent engagement initiative seeks to give all students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience—through internships, research, service and other activities—before they graduate.

Ron Trosper, professor of American Indian Studies and former program head, said that the move to a college also allows AIS to benefit from additional resources, such as help with fundraising, advising for undergraduate students, and faculty and graduate student research support.

“We look forward to an exciting future for AIS as it sets out to become a traditional, degree-granting, academic program,” Trosper said.