Contact: Wendel Sloan at 505.562.2253
PORTALES—Fifteen Eastern New Mexico University students will get an early start on the summer session as they fly off to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to take part in the 12th annual Spanish Immersion Program.
This year Dr. Vitelio Contreras, associate professor of Spanish, will help Dr. Mary Ayala, newly-elected dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with the four-week program which Ayala began at Eastern a dozen years ago in order to help students not only study, but experience Mexican culture first-hand. The program, which usually begins in July, has been moved up to May 25 this year so it will be completed in time for Contreras to teach a Spanish Immersion Institute at Eastern beginning on June 23.
With Ayala set to take over as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in July, she will no longer be able to coordinate the Spanish Immersion Program which gives students an opportunity to earn up to six lower or upper division credits through the Mexican Literature and Mexican Culture and Civilization classes and excursions offered. Therefore, Contreras will go to Merida for the first time to see how the program runs and will either take over the program or will help with the transition when Eastern hires a new Spanish professor to fill the empty slot soon to be vacated by Ayala. Contreras said he is hopeful that the new professor will have a specialization in Latino American studies and experience in taking students out of the country. Contreras, who is from Guatemala, has an area of specialization in peninsular studies, which focuses on Spain.
"We don't want to lose this program. The idea is to keep it going," Contreras said. "I see a lot of possibilities in this program because it is close to many (historic) sites."
According to Ayala, a major goal of the program when it was initiated was to take students deep into Mexico, away from the borders, to give them a real feel for Mexican life. At the Merida location, students are at the southern tip of Mexico and are within hours of many historical sites such as the ancient Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza and Uxmal and are within a few hours of tropical Caribbean tourist spots such as Cancun and Cozumel. In addition, Merida is a low-crime city with many cultural events during the summer time.
Ayala said she has been trying to get more people from other disciplines involved in the Spanish Immersion Program. "On campus, we are wanting to do more interdisciplinary work and a lot of disciplines would work well with this program," Ayala said, naming anthropology, the sciences, arts, music and communication, as a few examples.
Ayala said that the department of Languages and Literature saw an increase in Spanish majors and minors a few years ago. Although she said that the numbers have steadied off, she said they are seeing more students getting double majors in Spanish and in other fields, and they are seeing more Spanish minors coming from nontraditional fields.
"Most of our Spanish minors use to be in teaching fields, but now we are seeing a lot of students wanting Spanish minors in fields such as criminal justice, business, health and physical education and communication," Ayala said.
Students will return from Mexico on June 22. While in Mexico, they will stay with host families, enjoy regional cuisine, explore authentic marketplaces, tour historic sites, enjoy cultural activities and learn Spanish in a total immersion environment.