Nicole Guidotti-Hern

The newly established Department of Mexican American and Latina/o studies received a $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to establish an undergraduate fellowship.

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program seeks to assist prospective graduate students pursue academic research in fields other than law, medicine or other professional graduate programs.

“The grant will train new cohorts of first-generation students to become the academic and intellectual leaders of the nation,” said Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, chair of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. “That we were entrusted to be the custodians of this stellar program is both an honor and a privilege.” 

Rising sophomores from underrepresented minorities with a GPA of 3.0 or better may apply to become a fellow by submitting three letters of reference, two essays and an application. 

Richard Flores, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts, said the fellowship attempts to diversify the “pipeline” of applicants to faculty level positions.

“When we look at hiring faculty, a lot of times there just aren’t faculty in particular disciplines that come from diverse backgrounds,” Flores said.

Flores said universities do not often have diverse candidates when hiring new faculty members.

“It’s not that participants may not want to hire faculty who are diverse; it’s the fact that there are not many people out there,” Flores said. “Programs like this help increase the number of graduate students who come from diverse backgrounds and those students eventually go on to faculty positions.”

Darcy Rendón, fourth-year Latin American history Ph.D. student at UT, began as a Mellon Fellow as an undergraduate at Smith College. As a fellow, Rendón was able to conduct archival research in Mexico. 

“This program allowed me to say, ‘Hey, I could do that if I wanted to,’” Rendón said. 

Rendón said the fellowship taught her how to be a scholar, apply for grants and adapt to the academic culture.

“Once a Mellon — always a Mellon,” Rendón said. “Without Mellon Mays, I wouldn’t be here in graduate school today. They teach you all the inner workings of academia when you’re an undergrad so that, when you go to graduate school, you hit the ground running,”

C.J. Alvarez, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies assistant professor, leads an “Introduction to Mexican American Culture Studies” class.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

The University will announce the establishment of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies on Wednesday, creating an interdisciplinary program to educate students on Hispanic culture.

Under the College of Liberal Arts, MALS will educate students about working with the increasing Hispanic population, according to incoming MALS chair Nicole Guidotti-Hernández.

“Our goal is to prepare young people to be Latino-serving professionals in light of the changing demographics in the state of Texas and the nation,” Guidotti-Hernández said.

According to Guidotti-Hernández, students from different educational backgrounds can study in the program.

“If you want a professional edge in the market, you might want to do business and Mexican-American and Latino studies because those are the people you are going to be serving, working with and managing,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “We think there is a tremendous academic advantage in having cultural knowledge to be a better professional.”

The program will offer coursework in Hispanic studies as a whole.

“Even though Mexican-Americans are the majority population in the state of Texas, there are also large Central American and Latino indigenous in the state,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “And, in some way, the program allows us to better account for those populations.”

The department will offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees this fall and — if approved by state higher education officials — doctorate degrees for the 2016-2017 school year.

“This department will be an invaluable asset to the state and nation, as they face future challenges and opportunities that come with demographic change,” said Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts in a statement.

Guidotti-Hernández said the University has offered Mexican-American studies courses for 44 years. The new department will include the current Center for Mexican American Studies, or CMAS, and a planned Borderlands Research Institute.

CMAS director Domino Perez said the center will host social and academic programs, while the department will offer degrees and coursework. She said the departmentalization benefits both groups, since they will be able to have their own programs and faculty.

“Now that they’ve moved over into the department, that means that we can have our own faculty,” Perez said. “The center never really had its own faculty in its history, and, so, we would have to work cooperatively with them to get our courses taught. It’s a tremendous opportunity for both our students and the faculty.”

The program has 25 students and six professors, but faculty and staff in the department hope to double enrollment.

“The major things that departmentalization does for students is it provides them with faculty that are 100 percent dedicated to teaching in the field,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “Before, we relied on our gracious faculty, [and] now we have six faculty members, whose sole purpose is to teach in Mexican-American and Latino studies — it means more classes, [and] it means more variety.”

According to Guidotti-Hernández, the major will have three tracks — language and cognition, cultural studies, and policy — which can be combined to suit the student’s particular interests and needs. Guidotti-Hernández also said the department is also looking to develop a minor program by the end of the year.