Mellon Foundation has awarded The University of New Mexico a $2 million grant to support students in the Humanities at Central New Mexico Community College and UNM branch campuses in transferring to the UNM main campus in Albuquerque. The program is led by UNM Professor Irene Vasquez. This is a major achievement for Humanities programs at UNM, which often lack large grant opportunities such as this Mellon grant, she said.

Professor Irene Vasquez
Professor Irene Vasquez

Vasquez, chair of Chicana and Chicano Studies and the director of the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute, is the lead PI for the Extending Humanities Pathways: A CNM and UNM Partnership for Innovation and Success initiative and will coordinate the grant and oversee the budget. Mark Peceny, UNM professor of Political Science, is the co-PI. In 2019, when he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Peceny selected Vasquez as the lead PI to coordinate the writing and submission of the grant. This latest grant builds on the original grant.

“The Mellon Foundation, the largest and most prestigious supporter of the Humanities in higher education, offered us the opportunity to request significant resources to serve transfer students in the Humanities, thus helping us to achieve our broader mission in disciplines where external support is hard to find. The fact that this grant would serve transfer students, who often fall through the cracks of our student success initiatives, was an added benefit,” Peceny said.

UNM will receive $2 million over the course of three years to increase Humanities Bachelor of Arts degree earners at UNM, a Hispanic-Serving Research Institution. CNM, a partner in this endeavor, will receive $1 million to increase the number of Humanities degree earners.

The grant will support students and faculty engaged in Humanities exploration, professional development, curriculum, and research. Graduate students will teach Humanities courses at branch campuses where Humanities offerings are currently limited. UNM faculty and graduate students will mentor community college students throughout the state.

“UNM is a public flagship university where excellence in research and graduate education are central to our mission,” Peceny said. “UNM has a unique undergraduate student population unlike that of any other flagship university. Native American communities are the original peoples of the state and make up a significant percentage of the population. We also have more Hispanic students than Anglo students. Hispanic and Native American students together form a majority of our undergraduate student population. Roughly 40 percent of our students are eligible for Pell grants.

"We have large numbers of first-generation students and non-traditional students, with UNM being named one of the top ten veteran-serving institutions in a recent survey. This unique character gives us a special responsibility and a special opportunity to serve diverse and underserved populations. The Humanities offer us a rich and diverse ecosystem for teaching and learning.”

“The Humanities are often viewed as peripheral to knowledge and discovery related to business, industry, and development. Yet, the Humanities actually offer a deep people-centered approach to understanding shifts in society related to economic changes, migration, identity, social dislocation, social movements, and technology."

– Professor Irene Vasquez

“Students at community colleges who are interested in the Humanities need a path to see how they can use their passion as they move into a career. We always want students to fulfill their potential, and in the case of Humanities fields, that typically involves a bachelor’s or graduate degree. The grant provides that framework that will show students how they can move forward in the field of their choice,” said Laura Musselwhite, dean of Instruction and professor of History at the UNM-Valencia campus.

The humanities have fewer large grant opportunities in the public and private sector, Vasquez noted, because many of the large federal and state grants or other foundations prioritize Business and STEM-related fields, often directly connected to industry priorities and educational developments.

Musselwhite agreed, adding, “Humanities is not always seen as the first choice when looking to enter the workforce, which is unfortunate because excellent options exist for students in the Humanities.”

“The Humanities are often viewed as peripheral to knowledge and discovery related to business, industry, and development. Yet, the Humanities actually offer a deep people-centered approach to understanding shifts in society related to economic changes, migration, identity, social dislocation, social movements, and technology. The Mellon Foundation has a long history of highlighting how integral the Humanities are to bringing diverse people together to work toward positive changes for all. When considering Humanities fields in this manner, we can see how essential they are to a healthy and well-rounded society,” Vasquez remarked.

Students have the option to transfer to any Humanities department at UNM and the original Mellon grant did stimulate an incredibly important commitment to Native American Studies and Chicana and Chicano Studies, Vasquez said. CNM introduced AA degrees in Native American Studies, Chicana and Chicano Studies, and American Studies. These degrees are critical to UNM’s 2040 Plan.

“These academic developments reflect Mellon’s commitment to social justice linked to recent research demonstrating the effective impact of Ethnic Studies approaches on retention and graduation rates for students of color and first-generation students,” she said.

Vasquez said students who earn Humanities degrees can go into a variety of careers. For example, during the first grant students met Humanities degree recipients who have gone into local and state government, education, business, non-profit work, and the visual arts.

“There is no limit to the possibilities of professional and career opportunities for students who obtain a Humanities degree,” Vasquez said. “My campus partners and I are celebrating the success of having received the Mellon grant because it will expand the constellation of Humanities learning opportunities that honor our students, the places they come from, their diverse cultural traditions, and the resiliency of people in the face of challenging circumstances or societal shifts.”

“I am absolutely thrilled for branch campus students to be a part of this grant because it highlights the Humanities as a valuable career and scholarly option, which is much needed, especially for students like ours who may be first generation and unfamiliar with all the nuances of academia,” Musselwhite added.

Image: UNM, CNM, Native American Community Academy, and dual enrollment students from both campuses came together to witness the impact of spoken word, poetry and performance in Native American communities. The event occurred on the CNM campus and attracted about 150 students and Humanities faculty.