Two Cal Poly professors have created a new interdisciplinary Latin American studies program to support educational activities related to Latin America that is set to begin sponsoring events next quarter.
The program, developed by James Keese, a geography professor, and Craig Arceneaux, a political science professor, will include a new Latin American studies minor, a proposed study abroad opportunity in South America, internships in Latin American countries, a lecture series and student-studies clubs.
“We really need to learn about this place, not just because it’s interesting but also because it’s important,” Keese said.
Keese and Arceneaux said they feel that a knowledge of the Latin American region is growing in importance for careers in education, healthcare, social services, agriculture, law enforcement, business and tourism.
“(The program) will give students experience as well as curricular recognition,” Arceneaux said. “It will aid them in their career advancement.”
Latinos currently make up the largest ethnic group in the United State and 34 percent of California’s population is Latino, Keese and Arceneaux said. These and other facts support a need for the program in the professors’ minds.
“It’s a region of critical importance to the United States, and California in particular,” Keese said. “Yet, it seems that we know little about the issues, places and people that link and impact both sides of the border.”
Keese has donated $10,000 to jump-start the program and he is hoping other individuals will donate matching gifts.
“The goal is to raise $100,000 in the next year,” Keese said.
He also hopes to create an on-campus Latin American Studies Center and have a fully funded endowment after 10 years, making the center financially self-sustaining.
The money will be used for study abroad programs, research opportunities, travel, speakers and other program activities.
Teivo Teivanen, an electoral observer for the European Union from the University of San Carlos in Peru, will be the sponsored speaker during the first week of spring quarter. Keese and Arceneaux said they are hoping the event will create more support and involvement in the program.
“We want to build bridges throughout the university and outreach to the community,” Arceneaux said.
Both professors are well acquainted with the Latin American region. Keese spent three years in 13 different Latin American countries and has conducted research in Ecuador and the Andes, while Arceneaux has written two books about the area focusing on the Southern Cone and Brazil.
Both have taken students to Mexico and taught there with the Mexico study abroad program offered through Cal Poly.
“We are both really passionate about it,” Keese said. “We think it’s a great laboratory for learning about different cultures.”