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Course theme focuses student attention on global issues

Nov 20th, 2009 | Category: Feature Stories

The Blue Hole, located on the university campus, is the recognized source of the San Antonio River.

By Dr. Pat Lonchar, professor of English

Water. Commonplace, yet sacred. Many of us were welcomed into our faith communities through baptismal water, and we view water as a purifier and sustainer. Yet, what value do we place on water?

The Blue Hole, located on the university campus, is the recognized source of the San Antonio River.

Recent drought experience and vivid reminders of concerns about the earth’s environment confirm for most of us that stewardship of natural resources cannot remain simply an avocation for tree-huggers.

Since the 1980s, concern about the looming global water crisis has spread across geographic and cultural borders. In 1992, the United Nations established March 22 as World Water Day to promote awareness of the pivotal role played by water in how humans view themselves and their world. More than a decade later, in 2004, the U.N. declared 2005-2015 as the “water decade” to emphasize the growing scarcity of clean, safe water across the globe. Reminding visiting diplomats in 2006 that water is more than just a basic need, Pope Benedict XVI called water “an essential, irreplaceable element to ensuring the continuance of life.”

The issue of water and its use dominated the early history of the San Antonio area and continues to do so. Water remains a political, economic and legal concern in South Texas. Situated at the headwaters of the San Antonio River, the UIW community has a long history of water awareness. Our institution’s campuses in Mexico and China, and the Sisters’ Mission work in Peru, Tanzania and Zambia connect our university to international water concerns.

Motivated by the UIW Mission and these global water concerns, a group of humanities faculty members met late last year to write a grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). It proposed the theme of Water and Culture to be integrated in selected humanities courses of the core curriculum. In May, we received notification that UIW was one of only six Hispanic-serving institutions to be awarded a NEH Faculty Development Grant of nearly $100,000.

“In little over a month, the project blossomed from a good idea to a fully developed narrative, complete with a three-year schedule and a budget,” said grant director Dr. Matthias Schubnell, professor of English. The result was wide-reaching, including curriculum and faculty development, and most importantly, student learning.

UIW faculty members have three years to complete the full integration of the Water and Culture theme into our humanities core courses. The theme not only connects our courses, it also broadens our perspectives beyond the local and familiar.

Members of the faculty grant team have been busy implementing this initiative. And already, we have seen student response.

David Garza, a student in assistant professor Dr. Lopita Nath’s summer history course, chose to focus on water and India for his research because “India is a microcosm of the water conflict and water mismanagement plaguing many nations of the world,” he said. Garza’s paper informs readers about India’s water history clearly and vividly; but in a striking conclusion, Garza shifts his focus to look at Africa. His closing statement eloquently sums up why faculty members are dedicated to this theme: “In Africa, they say, ‘we don’t go to the water ponds merely to capture water, but because friends and dreams are there to meet us.’”

Truly, as Dr. Bob Connelly, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, says, “Water links us together.”

Introducing Dr. Gil Hinojosa, professor of history, as the inaugural speaker for our Speakers Series, Schubnell noted that “the availability of and access to safe water are truly among the most pressing challenges of the 21st century, and we are pleased that our faculty and students can now delve into this field and explore ways of how to meet these challenges.” We invite each of you to join us in this endeavor.

Dr. Pat Lonchar was the primary author of the NEH grant. The Water and Culture lectures are free and open to the public. If you would like to attend one of lectures, call the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at (210) 829-6022 for information about time and location.

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