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Native American Studies Department continues growth with new degree program

UNM's Native American Studies Department may soon offer a new degree program focusing on leadership, self-determination and sustainable community building.

Completion of the program would result in a master’s degree for students, Professor Lloyd Lee said.

“The jumpstart of that is our undergraduate program, but really with the master’s program we get to focus on that particular theme,” Lee said. “I think the courses that we’ve proposed, the curriculum outline that we’ve proposed, is very strong.”

Department Associate Director Tiffany Lee said there is certain demand for a NAS master’s program at UNM.

“For a long time, our alumni have been asking for a master’s degree, so we’re finally able to try and push that forward as well,” she said.

The undergraduate Native American Studies program has two areas of focus in leadership and building Native nations and indigenous learning communities, which means the master’s program will be of interest to UNM students currently in the undergraduate program, Lloyd Lee said.

“Not only are students asking about it, but others around the country have been asking when is UNM going to have a graduate program in Native studies. There’s definitely interest out there and a lot of people have been asking for quite some time,” he said.

The department has been working on the proposal for around two years, and is finally nearing the end of the process, Lloyd Lee said, as it has already been approved by the Graduate Committee in the Faculty Senate. The department is currently waiting for approval from the Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee.

After that, the proposal will need to be approved by the provost and the full Faculty Senate, Lloyd Lee said, before going before the State Department of Higher Education and finally the Board of Regents.

But plans for a graduate program have been in the works for a lot longer than two years.

“Initially when the department was going through getting approval for a major back in 2004, the idea was that this is the first step and the next step would be a graduate program,” Lloyd Lee said. “I think for the first few years it was about developing the undergraduate program to be very strong and stable and I think that we’ve reached that point.”

He said that, after the master’s program is up and running, he expects the department will create a doctorate program as well.

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But a growing program means that the department will eventually need more faculty too, he said.

“I know the University is in financial stress right now, so I think that we’ve come up with some ideas in our proposal to help in the process, to not just rely on the University to come up with all the faculty. We know that right at this point that’s really unrealistic,” Lloyd Lee said.

However, he said the current department has matured and is prepared to handle a graduate program.

“The faculty that we have they’re all excellent instructors. They’re all engaged with their community,” he said.

Tiffany Lee said that the current program stands out for having faculty who are tenured in the Native American Studies Department and who hail from the Southwest.

“We can draw on that lived experience and that knowledge that we have, that our homes are here,” she said.

Lloyd Lee said there are few graduate-level Native American studies programs — which will make one at UNM a valuable resource — and the students in his classes are excited about the creation of a graduate program.

“They’re definitely very positive about it, and they’re wanting to keep aware of where it is and whatever help that they can provide. We will eventually need that,” he said.

Lloyd Lee said he believes the proposal supports the overall mission of the department.

“It is conducive to our vision and mission at Native studies and I think interacting with tribal communities around the state and around the region has really helped us create that kind of focus,” he said. “It’s going to be very beneficial to many people in Native communities, and non-Native people too.”

Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily.

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