NSF awards grant to anthropology program for Guatemalan research

By Maria R. Gonzalez
University News Service
April 3, 2007

The National Science Foundation awarded the Research Experience for Undergraduate Site on Culture and Globalization in Highland Guatemala program a three-year grant that will provide funding for students from four institutions to conduct research in Guatemala, including students from Texas State University-San Marcos.

The four Texas State students traveling to Guatemala this summer are Lizet Díaz of Houston, Norma Sánchez of San Antonio, Alysha Hernández of San Antonio and Martha Rodriguez Bitar of Torreon, Mexico. The program’s mission is to generate capable undergraduate researchers and to prepare students for graduate school and social science research careers, especially first-generation and underrepresented minorities. Students will conduct research while living with a Mayan family in one of three Guatemalan western highland communities for 10 weeks.

Ana Juárez, Texas State REU faculty affiliate and anthropology professor, said this was an opportunity for the students to conduct on-site research and to contribute to Guatemalan society.

“This year the research topic is education and bilingual education is an area we will look at. Guatemala has one of the lowest levels of education, especially for women,” she said. “I hope we can contribute something in terms of policy recommendations and in terms of understanding the processes to improve education and improve the living conditions.”

In Guatemala the students will meet with cultural anthropologist and co-founder of the program Walter Adams once a week as part of the course requirements. During the 10 weeks students will earn nine credit hours of upper level anthropology courses. In addition to conducting field research the students will also receive preparation for publication.

“We have a conference in the middle of the program when we invite scholars from Guatemala and the faculty affiliates,” said Juárez. “The students have to present their research and we all give them feedback, the strengths, weaknesses and suggestions to improve their papers and prepare them for publications.”

In conjunction to the academic purpose of the program, students will also have the priceless chance to live in a different cultural, social and physical environment.  Juárez said that one of the key requirements for program applicants is that they be able to adjust to difficult living conditions.

“The students will live with a host family, so you live in the same conditions they live in and Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America.  Most of the Maya families are very poor and you’re eating what they eat, which is lots of tortillas and beans,” she said. “We want to make sure that students realize that it’s not just going somewhere and living in a hotel, but that you’re going to be very independent and living in different type of condition. We want to make sure that they are passionate enough about the project and doing the research.”

Application for the program is open to students of all disciplines pending additional requirements. Students must take three anthropology-related courses including a field research method course, a Latin American studies course and an introduction to cultural anthropology or a related social science course.  In addition, students must submit two letters of recommendation, one transcript and an application form and a personal statement.  Finally, one of the most crucial requirements for application is that the students speak fluent Spanish.

For more information, contact Ana Juárez at (512) 245-7838 or at aj07@txstate.edu.