UTRGV plans interdisciplinary degree through NEH grant

A federal agency provided about $33,000 through grant funding for two professors at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to plan an interdisciplinary bachelor degree program that combines the humanities and science.

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded $28.6 million in grants to over 200 projects nationwide, according to a UTRGV news release. UTRGV was among these for its project titled “Developing an Interdisciplinary Public Heritage Bachelor Curriculum for the Rio Grande Valley.” Sarah Rowe and Juan Gonzalez, project director and co-project director will collaborate to combine their expertise in anthropology and earth science, respectively toward planning for the program.

“Public heritage” incorporates three main fields stemming from public history, cultural heritage and museum studies toward “communicating the human value of places to the public,” Rowe said.

The prospective program would be unique as there aren’t many bachelor degree programs regarding the topics of “public heritage” available in the southwest region, she said. The plan is in its early stages.

“We anticipate that this will be a draw not just for our students who primarily come from the local area, but even potentially beyond that,” Rowe said. “So I think we can really develop ourselves into a leadership position in this field.”

The university’s location and proximity to a region home to historical sites can be a haven for wildlife and geological projects, she said.

“We have all these resources that really need to be in communication with one another,” Rowe said.

Sarah Rowe

Collaboration will help bring understanding and knowledge to the local populace and throughout the country, she said.

Thousands of “Winter Texans” come into the Rio Grande Valley and they can come see the cultural and historical significance of the area, Gonzalez said. The program can potentially help bring attention and appreciate it while they are here.

Planning the curriculum, going through reviews from other scholars and being processed for accreditation are the next measures toward making the program into a reality. The program will undergo many challenges but can provide “something tangible” in the end, Gonzalez said.

Currently, funding will go toward the travel expenses to invite five faculty from institutions across the country to review the project, Rowe said.

The UTRGV Community Historical Archeology with Schools Program, CHAPS, promotes local history through events and engaging the public. Gonzalez said this is “kind of the poster child” for its manifestation of combining disciplines from history to geology for community engagement.

“No one really works in isolation anymore, we’re always branching out,” he said.

“We’re taking the kernel of the CHAPS program” and will provide a space of connecting with the public and training teachers to continue this relationship of growth, Rowe said.