Wednesday, October 18, 2006

VU becomes National Resource Center in Latin American studies

Awarded $1.5 million federal grant

Vanderbilt University issued this press release announcing that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $1.5 million federal grant to the university's Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies (CLAIS) and that along with the grant, the CLAIS has been designated a stand-alone National Resource Center. The purpose of the grant and the designation is to assist faculty and students working in Latin America as well as to expand an outreach program for local public schools and the Nashville community.

The National Resource Center is the highest recognition the Department of Education can award such a program. Vanderbilt was one of the first universities in the United States to start a program of research and teaching in Latin American studies.

“This award truly recognizes the center’s academic strength,“ said Edward F. Fischer, director of the Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies and associate professor of anthropology. “Despite being a relatively small program, we have competed successfully with some of the best Latin American programs at leading universities across the nation. This honor will help tremendously in our continued recruiting of renowned faculty and outstanding graduate students.”

The grant includes financial support for graduate students in the form of tuition and stipends as well as funding for expansion of Latin American library holdings. “As a designated National Resource Center, the Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies addresses three of the university’s key missions,” said Richard McCarty, dean of the College of Arts and Science. “These goals are improving graduate education, becoming a more global university and working in partnership with the Nashville community,” he said.

The center’s graduate program promotes greater understanding of Latin America’s history, culture, political economy and social organization.

While the center began in 1947 as an Institute for Brazilian Studies, it has since expanded its areas of expertise to include Maya anthropology and archaeology; the study of democracy building and economic development; Latin American literature and languages; and African populations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Title VI support of the center’s ambitious research, teaching and outreach agenda dovetails nicely with similar goals in Vanderbilt’s overall internationalization strategy,” said Joel Harrington, assistant provost for international affairs and associate professor of history. “The center has long been a leader in this area and continues in that role.”

Fischer said that a major component of the grant will involve public outreach to specific groups, such as public school teachers, the business community, the media, medical and legal professionals. “Working with Peabody College faculty, we will host monthly K-12 teacher workshops and send professors into public school classrooms,” he said. “We will host a summer teacher training institute on campus and send teachers to a summer workshop in Mexico.”

Fischer also said that the center will work with Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, the Medical School and Law School to develop cultural competency seminars for professionals and strengthen ties with the School of Engineering. In addition, the center will build links to Fisk University and other area colleges and universities to assist them in building their Latin American offerings. It will continue to sponsor conferences, films and speaker series that bring distinguished scholars, government and business leaders and social activists to campus.

The Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies works closely with Vanderbilt’s Center for the Americas, which brings together scholars from a variety of disciplines to study the cultural, economic and political interactions among the various countries of the Western Hemisphere as well as between the region and other parts of the world.

The grant, which is Title VI funding, will be awarded over the next four years. More information is available at

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