ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – University of New Mexico students now have the opportunity to get their online master’s degree in Chicana and Chicano Studies. It is the first program of its kind in the country.

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Department Chair Dr. Irene Vasquez said UNM is ahead of most universities in providing ethnic studies degrees to both undergraduate and graduate students. “The academic purpose of Chicana and Chicano Studies is integral to the economic security and wellbeing of Mexican and Hispanic communities in the state of New Mexico,” Vasquez said.

Students study the historical, economic, and social realities of the Hispanic culture as it relates to the southwest United States. Students can expect to complete the degree anywhere from one year to two years time.

Anisa Baca is in her first year in the MA program. She said what drew her to the program was the opportunity to learn about her own heritage. “I think the program offers a lot of opportunity to support communities like mine,” Baca said. “I think it’s a really important option because I think it helps us understand ourselves, it helps us understand our communities, the needs of our communities, and I think when we do that, we can build something that benefits all of us.”

Not only will the program educate students on Hispanic history and culture, but Vasquez also said it helps them hone their skills in problem-solving, analytical reasoning, and communication through writing. Compared to last year, the department has seen 36% more applications to the program, which Vasquez said could also be due to the new online option.

The course is available for non-traditional and out-of-state students as well, something Vasquez is grateful for. “The online MA degree is available to anyone across the globe, but in particular we hope to reach our rural communities, our adults who are full-time workers or who are caring for young children in the home. We see that our online degree, even at the bachelor’s level, is serving those types of populations,” Vasquez said.

Howard Griego is a second-year MA student who transferred from CNM to pursue a master’s degree in Chicana and Chicano studies. “I fell in love with the program because I heard my story for the very first time. I heard my history of my state, of the people that I’m used to, and it was something that was new to me,” Griego said. “As a nontraditional student, having the online option makes it more accessible to people that are marginalized or people who live in rural communities.”

Through the in-person MA degree program, the department found that 80% of the students are from New Mexico. “That is a point of pride for us because as the research university of the state, we need to look locally. We need to look in the front and back and side yards of the university and bring our New Mexico students into graduate education,” Vasquez said.

In an effort to encourage state locals to learn about New Mexico’s history, the Chicana and Chicano Studies program has a series of pipeline programs through Albuquerque Public Schools to ensure high school students are prepared for college. The department works with them as they become UNM students.

Corky Frausto, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Chicana and Chicano Studies program, came into the program as a high school teacher who taught Mexican American studies. Through collaborations between the high school and the department, Frausto was inspired to delve deeper into the history and join the program at UNM.

Frausto continues teaching as part of his Ph.D. program. “I’ve seen the biggest impact with my students at the high school. They’re able to take dual credit classes, so they can take a class through the high school and earn credit here at UNM through the department,” Frausto said.

Vasquez said that anyone of any educational background can apply for the online master’s program. Visit UNM’s website for more information.