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American Indian Studies program adds undergrad degree

A+glass+case+displays+posters+in+the+American+Indian+Studies+office.+The+College+of+Social+and+Behavioral+Sciences+at+the+University+of+Arizona+is+now+offering+an+undergraduate+bachelor%26%238217%3Bs+degree+in+American+Indian+Studies.
Victoria Pereira

A glass case displays posters in the American Indian Studies office. The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona is now offering an undergraduate bachelor’s degree in American Indian Studies.

A new addition to the bachelor’s degree programs was implemented at the UA this fall. The American Indian Studies program has created an undergraduate major, completing the track from minor to doctorate at the UA.

The UA has had an undergraduate minor as well as a master’s and doctorate degree within the program for years, but only just created an undergraduate major for students to enroll in this year. According to Franci A. Washburn, director of graduate studies and associate professor of American Indian Studies, the creation of the bachelor’s degree started about two years ago when the program was informed that it needed to move into a department. From there, the process took off.

“We formed a committee, and we worked through all of the courses that we already offer in the minor and decided what else [we needed] to add and how we need to change these [classes] to make it more appropriate for a B.A.,” Washburn said.

These changes resulted in adding one more course to what was already taught through the program, as well as working with other departments, such as political science and anthropology, to cross-list courses with them. Throughout the process of creating course requirements, Washburn said she kept another goal in mind.

“We wanted to make sure the degree we are creating is a rigorous degree, something that has a meat to it, but something that would also be useful — something where students could take this degree and do useful things with it once they graduate,” Washburn said.

The program was approved in the spring and is now open for enrollment. Currently, there are five undergraduate students that have declared a major in American Indian Studies, according to Washburn, who added that the program is expecting between 12 and 20 undergraduate majors next year.

“It worked out really well. We are really pleased with the progress, and we are anticipating being right on schedule with how many students we anticipated with the interest and how many we enrolled,” Washburn said. “It does seem we are fulfilling an interest that we hadn’t quite expected. It’s wonderful.”

The interest in an American Indian Studies program hasn’t started just this year. Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan, an American Indian Studies graduate student from the Tohono O’odham Nation, minored in the program when she was getting her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism at the UA between 2008 and 2010. She said she would have double-majored in American Indian Studies and journalism had the university offered the undergraduate program when she was completing her undergraduate degree.

“I was really bummed out when I found out that I couldn’t have that [double-major],” Ramon-Sauberan said. “The closest thing to it was minoring in [American Indian Studies]. I think that’s how a lot of us were. My friends that had taken AIS as a minor, I think they had wished that too, but that was the closest we could get to it.”

Ramon-Sauberan said this lack of an undergraduate major in American Indian Studies is one of the reasons she returned to the UA to pursue her master’s degree in the subject. Now with the new Bachelor of Arts program, Washburn hopes that more students will pursue an advanced degree within the department.

“We see this as potentially a feeder program that they get a B.A. here and then maybe they want to come and get a master’s degree, or maybe a Ph.D.,” Washburn said. “We are seeing it as a very win-win-win-win situation, all the way around. We are excited about it.”

With the development of a bachelor’s degree program, a possible program for an accelerated master’s degree in the future has also been discussed, according to Mark L.M. Blair, the senior program coordinator for American Indian Studies.

While graduate programs are looking to increase enrollment, the minor program hasn’t grown with the addition of the bachelor’s program.

“That’s somewhat encouraging, because a lot of the minors have been looking at the major, which we kind of anticipated might happen,” Blair said. “We love our minors, but we like to have as many majors as possible.”

According to Washburn, within the major there are four different focus areas: societies and culture, law and policy, literature and natural resource management. These different concentrations allow for different applications of the degree, both in and out of native lands.

“There are a lot of different areas where this degree could be very useful for students and it seems, because of our increasing enrollment in this degree, students are understanding that,” Wasburn said. “We are happy about that.”


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