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Columbia Spectator Staff

Graduate students interested in studying Latin America and the Caribbean can now look no further than Columbia.

The Institute for Latin American Studies, a part of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, has developed a one-year master's degree program in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. The program, through which students can acquire a Master of Arts degree in Regional Studies-Latin America and the Caribbean (MARSLAC), will begin accepting applicants next fall. Students will aim to attain expertise in the region through a social science-based study of contemporary issues in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The program was developed last year in talks between faculty including the Institute's Director Pablo Piccato and SIPA Dean John Coatsworth. Piccato, who will lead the new master's program, described it as similar to existing M.A. programs in Columbia's East Asian Languages and Cultures and Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures departments. But two facets of the MARSLAC system, Piccato said, will set it apart from other regional studies programs.

"One is obviously the focus on Latin America," he explained. "Students will develop an expert knowledge of the region," The other is what he called the program's "strong emphasis on social science training for its students."

Apart from a year-long core seminar and two designated regional studies courses, those enrolled in the MARSLAC program may choose electives from the wide range of courses offered in various schools at the University.

"The requirement is 30 credits," Piccato said. "We won't have a very strict list of courses beyond the initial seminar, but students will have to have an advanced command of a Latin American language, mainly Portuguese or Spanish."

Nara Milanich, associate professor of history at Barnard, will teach the year-long core seminar, called Scholarly Literature and Research on Latin American & Caribbean Studies I & II. As a part of her role in the program, she will advise students on the mandatory thesis.

"My first role is to teach the core seminar the first semester," Milanich said. "Second, I will shepherd them, to a certain extent, through the thesis. ...In general, my role in the program is that I am the most immediate faculty member that they will continue to see every week when they come first to the seminar, and then to the thesis seminar every week."

The MARSLAC course of study will be similar in cost to other free-standing M.A. programs offered at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. According to Milanich, the department's plan for financial aid remains somewhat in flux.

"I'm not sure if there will be fellowships from Columbia available for the program," she said. "There will be outside funding for the program that students can apply for. Whether Columbia will offer one or more fellowships, I don't know. Our hope was that students would find, also, outside funding."

Piccato cited significant undergraduate interest as a reason for optimism about MARSLAC program enrollment. Administrators also hope to lure students from abroad, specifically universities in Latin America.

"One place we thought to publish the program is in fellowship and Fulbright offices in Latin America," Milanich said. "We are hoping that students from those countries will choose our program."

While interest and enthusiasm among potential students and faculty seems high, Milanich cited the economic crisis as a possible spoiler.

"I've seen or talked to several students who are potentially interested in the program, so one possibility is that CC and Barnard will be feeders into this program," she said. "We are in a period of economic uncertainty and professional uncertainty, so it's very hard to know what the response will be."

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Latin American Studies
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