Jose Castro is thankful he is able to further his education in Spanish while continuing to pursue his career as a linguistics educator in the Rio Grande Valley. This is possible due to a cooperative program between The University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Houston (UH), which offers students the opportunity to pursue their doctorate in Spanish through advanced interactive courses on the UTPA campus.
"It's a great benefit for me to be able to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Houston without moving away from here," Castro said.
Through the use of technologies such as interactive TV (ITV) and Blackboard - a personalized online classroom environment - doctoral courses taught at UH are broadcast to the UTPA campus.
"We designed the collaboration so students can participate in doctoral-level education and get the doctoral experience without having to leave here, by using the resources that already exist on campus," said Dr. Glenn Martinez, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at UTPA.
Martinez said the cooperative Spanish Ph.D. program was developed due to the large amount of student interest. There are currently 13 students enrolled in the doctoral program from UTPA and more are starting this fall.
"There was a back log of a lot of people who were wanting to improve their ability to teach Spanish and weren't able to because they had barriers such as moving away, leaving their families behind and going into debt," Martinez said. "The student interest is connected to local market demands. The level of competency that a Ph.D. offers, I think, improves the kinds of jobs people have in schools, such as bilingual coordinators, and it's an opening for the growing need for University and college professors."
Martinez said students with doctorates in philosophy generally find employment in university-level teaching or language-based administration.
Interim Chair for the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston Dr. Manuel J. Gutiérrez said the partnership with UTPA was formed because of the institution's reputation and quality faculty members.
"UTPA has developed as an institution that is recognized as a referent in the academic world," Gutiérrez said. "Therefore, UTPA was the natural academic place to build a collaborative program."
One advantage of the program is that students have a UTPA faculty mentor and access to the library resources at both universities.
Students apply to the cooperative program through the University of Houston, and once accepted, are required to complete one summer residency at the University of Houston. While there, they can work on a variety of research interests, including Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literacy Heritage Project - a national program to locate, identify, preserve and make accessible the literary contributions of U.S. Hispanics.
Martinez said the collaboration is mutually beneficial as UTPA graduate faculty are also teaching courses to the doctoral students. This fall, he will teach a course on campus to the doctoral students and it will be sent via ITV to Houston.
"We aligned our graduate faculty criteria with that of the University of Houston," Martinez said. "One of the key factors is the trust that exists between their faculty and our faculty, which is evidenced by them allowing us to teach their doctoral students."
Gutiérrez said UTPA students who have pursued graduate study in Spanish at UH have done well because of the foundation and preparation they received.
"A number of them have already graduated from our Ph.D. in Spanish program and they hold positions of great responsibility in several important universities in Texas," Gutiérrez said. "UTPA students come with a solid foundation and most of them are part of the best students we have had in our Ph.D. program."
The deadlines to apply for the cooperative Ph.D. program are Sept. 15 for the spring 2010 semester and Jan. 15 for the fall 2010 semester.
"We are trying to create the cooperative Ph.D. in Spanish as a model that can be replicated," Martinez said. "I think this is not only a model for UTPA to build more doctorate offerings for the College of Arts and Humanities, but a model for the nation to look at."
For questions about the cooperative program, contact Dr. Guadalupe Cortina, graduate program coordinator, at 956/381-3446 or Martinez at 956/381-3441.