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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Grant allows NMSU students to study indigenous cultures in Mexico, Canada

How do you know where you are going unless you know who you are and where you have been?

Directors of the North American Mobility university consortium recently met in Guadalajara, Mexico. They are (first row, from left) Trent Atkins, education and consortium evaluator for the University of Montana; Don Pepion, faculty representative for NMSU Anthropology; Patricia Salazar, International Relations and Academic Cooperation for the Universtiy of Colima; (middle row, from left) Leodan Portes, rector for the University of Tecnologica del Valle del Mezquital; Don McCaskill, faculty representative for Trent University; Dan McDonald, faculty representative for First Nations Studies at Vancouver Island University; (back row, from left) Dave Beck, faculty representative for Native American studies at the University of Montana; David Hansen, NMSU Vice Provost Office for Outreach and Engagement and consortium coordinator; and Allyson Anderson, faculty member of First Nations Studies at Vancouver Island University. (Courtesy photo)

New Mexico State University students will get a chance to explore this question through a new global exchange experience between the U.S., Mexico and Canada that emphasizes indigenous community outreach and understanding.

NMSU was recently awarded funding through the North American Mobility in Higher Education Program, administered by the Fund for Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) through NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Association, to increase understanding and appreciation among our North American countries.

Over a period of four years, students from the United States, Mexico and Canada will travel between six universities studying the native culture and sharing their own history and culture with the students, faculty and communities they visit. The hope is that the students will return to their home with a greater appreciation and understanding of indigenous communities and share what they have learned with their own communities in an effort to continue to build bridges between our neighboring countries.

"It's that kind of knowledge that makes us all family," said Christina Chavez Kelley, assistant vice provost for Outreach and Engagement.

NMSU is the consortium's lead university in the U.S. of the consortium, in partnership with the University of Montana. The Mexican consortium members are the University of Colima and the Technological University of Mezquital Valley. The Canadian partners are Trent University and Vancouver Island University.

At NMSU, the program is administered by the Office of Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement, working closely with the Department of Anthropology and the Study Abroad Office.

A unique aspect of the NMSU program is that it emphasizes opportunities for Native American students.

Starting in the spring, Donald D. Pepion, a college associate professor of sociology, anthropology and Native American studies, will teach two special topics courses to undergraduate and graduate students that focuses on the native cultures of the United States, Mexico and Canada that involves independent studies and guest lecturers. These courses build on studies already being taught at the university.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for our students," Pepion said. "I'm very excited about this program."

In the 1800s, Pepion said, Native Americans were taken from their cultures and put into mission schools. They were not given the opportunity to study their culture and their native language.

"The really important aspect of this program is that all students, especially native students, will get a global perspective on other native cultures in the United States, Mexico and Canada," he said. "This is really about all of us broadening our perspective of the world."

David Hansen, an officer in Outreach and Engagement, said Canada and Mexico are the United States' most important trading partners, above Japan and China, and that it is important for students to take advantage of this global program to continue to maintain a good relationship between the countries for future business and economic opportunities.

"This is an extremely prestigious program," Hansen said. "For New Mexico to receive this award is a tremendous honor."

Through this experience, the participating institutions will work on modifying and improving curricula that involves the study of native cultures.

"In addition, one of the dimensions of our program is the expectation that the students will not just have a strong classroom experience but a strong experience interacting with the villages they stay in during their study abroad," Hansen said.

This summer, students also will have the chance to join other consortia students in an intensive two-week field school in Mexico. The lectures and hands-on experience will prepare those who are selected for the regular exchange program.

Through the grant, each university must send eight students to the other participating institutions in the consortium, Hansen said. There is the possibility of expanding the four-year grant by an extra year. The total grant is $200,000 and covers, in part, the tuition and travel expenses of the students between all the universities.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to explore not only their own cultures, but the cultures of communities that may be very different than their own," said Waded Cruzado, executive vice president and provost at NMSU. "This vibrant experience will leave our students feeling more connected to the world around them and give them a greater appreciation of our shared diversity."

"The FIPSE grant coincides with NMSU's mission and direction as a land-grant university. We often ask ourselves how do we study these issues and train our students in the international arena so that NMSU has more of an impact? To me, that's what the FIPSE grant does. It gives us a greater opportunity to achieve our land grant mission," said Chavez Kelley.

Any student who is interested in learning about Native American cultures or who wishes to work in Native American communities is encouraged to apply for the program.

For more information, contact Paul Huntsberger from the Study Abroad Office, or Pepion at (575) 646-3610, Chavez Kelley at (575) 646-1729 or Hansen at (575) 646-6362.