Department of History, Political Science, Languages and Culture


Dr. Steven Williams, Department Chair

Douglas Hall, Room 249
505.454.3435 FAX: 505.454.3389

Mission of the Disciplines of History and Political Science

History and political science forms an academic unit serving the undergraduate and graduate student body with a wide range of courses and possibilities for study. Historical and political understanding and awareness are perceived as one of the chief attributes of a functional and involved citizen of the United States. It is the mission of this program to provide services that will contribute to this goal, train graduates to work in appropriate fields utilizing historical and political skills and knowledge.

Mission of the Discipline of Languages and Culture

Because of its location, the discipline of languages and cultures is committed to the preservation, interpretation, and promotion of the unique multicultural heritage of the region. Thus, it recognizes the importance of the Spanish and Native American presence in the local and global community. The discipline further strives to integrate other foreign languages along with their respective culture and literatures


  • René Baca (Language Learning Center)
  • Peter Linder (History)
  • Carol Litherland (American Sign Language)
  • George Lyons (Political science)
  • Abbas Manafy (Political science)
  • Eric Romero (NAHS)
  • Kristie Ross (History)
  • Veronica Saunero-Ward (Latin-American literature)
  • Carmen Vidal-Lieberman (Spanish peninsular literature)
  • Steven J. Williams (History)


Historians investigate the past to understand the present, “how we came to be where we care and what we are.” The word “history” derives from the Greek word for “inquiry.” Historians, broadly speaking, are interested in the social, political, economic, and religious daily affairs of all people. Their methods range from interviewing eyewitnesses of recent events to researching old diaries and letters or public or private documents and records, to compiling computer-generated data on people and their activities. Members of the history faculty at Highlands especially encourage their students to make connections between their own lives and times and the past.

Students of history may seek careers in teaching or other professions, and many will continue for an advanced degree or enter law school. Professional applications of history include careers in public affairs, business, and the private sector where research, communication, and other liberal arts skills are valued. Some history students obtain positions in museums or archives or in historical research and preservation for private and public institutions.


Political Science

Aristotle characterized politics as the “queen of the sciences.” Political science is, in one sense, an ancient discipline and, in another sense, one of the most recently developed social sciences. The origins of the study of politics reach back to the beginning so human society, for people have always made observations about the nature of their government. It is also true that political science, as it is taught today, is a very new discipline as current scholars have attempted to move from observations about politics to scientific observations about politics. Political science, in the broadest sense, is the study of governments, governing procedures, and political processes. The political science faculty encourages students to make connections between the theoretical (or textbook) study of government/politics and how government affects their lives in contemporary times.

Students in political science may seek careers in government, teaching, or private industry. The political science major is excellent preparation for law school or other academic pursuits such as graduate study. It provides pre-professional training for governmental or public sector positions involving policy-making or administration. Representative employers include government agencies at the national, state or local levels, nonprofit organizations, corporations and research institutions.



The discipline of languages and literature provides the beginning language student with two different learning approaches. Students who wish to take Spanish or seek to fulfill the core language requirement may choose the track that best matches their needs:

Heritage Language Learners (HL)

Spanish for heritage language learners addresses the bilingual speakers of Spanish who have achieved a certain degree of speaking and listening abilities outside of the classroom, but who have had little or no formal training in the language at the college level. The HL track is a designed for students who grew up around Spanish-speaking communities and understand basic Spanish conversation. The objectives in Spanish as a heritage language are to build upon the language base that the student already possesses and to teach literacy in Spanish. The HL courses emphasize reading, writing, and developing advanced vocabulary as well as reviewing specific problematic grammar and orthographic rules that are typically evident in Spanish heritage students. Selected authentic readings from Hispanic/Latino and Spanish or Latin American writers will serve as the framework for cultural and social issues that will lead to discussions.

Second Language Learners (SL)

This track addresses the needs of students who learn other languages in addition to their native language(s). The term “second language” is used to describe any language whose acquisition starts after early childhood, including what may be the third or subsequent language learned. Course materials and methodology reflect effective teaching strategies in the field of second language acquisition and incorporate technology-enhanced instruction.

Spanish Placement Exam

The purpose of the Spanish Placement Exam is to identify the student’s proficiency in the language.

Please note: On the first day of the semester, the instructor will bring his or her students to the Language Learning Center to take the Spanish Placement Exam. This exam is utilized to determine the level at which students will begin the language proficiency requirement. This exam is also designed to detect heritage speakers of the Spanish language. Generally, these are learners who were raised in homes where Spanish was spoken and who are orally proficient in Spanish but have had little or no formal training in the language. This exam allows faculty members to place students in the appropriate Spanish classes for heritage language learners, which are intended to capitalize on their linguistic assets by increasing their awareness and appreciation of the different Hispanic cultures.

The Spanish Placement Exam results are sent to the transcript specialist to be noted in each student’s respective file.

  • Once students begin their track, whether it is for second language learners or heritage language learners, they must follow said track sequentially. No exceptions will be permitted.
  • If the placement exam recommends that the student take an upper-division class, the student will be encouraged to speak with the professor teaching said class before officially enrolling in the course to discuss any concerns. The student might feel that the placement exam does not fully reflect his or her level in the Spanish language. By speaking with the professor, the student will be able to decide whether or not he or she is ready to enroll in an upper-division class.
  • If a student shows proficiency at an intermediate-low level (HL111/SL/Spanish 101 and HL112/ SL/Spanish 102), the language proficiency requirement is waived.
  • A successful placement exam, however, does not earn credit hours toward graduation. It only waives the classes necessary to fulfill the language proficiency requirement.
  • Placement evaluation scores are valid for one year only. If students allow a year or more in between completion of the 101/111 and 102/112 levels, they will have to take the placement exam again.
  • The placement exam is administered at the Language Learning Center (LCC), 104 Douglas Hall.
  • The LLC offers a language placement exam for speakers of other languages. More information is available from the LLC staff.

Resources and Facilities

Language students at Highlands are exposed to the Spanish language every day in the community and on campus. 

The university’s location in Northern New Mexico, where 70 percent of the population is Hispanic, offers a richly varied setting for studies in local, regional, and international culture and languages. 

The Thomas C. Donnelly Library has more than 5,000 titles in Spanish culture and literature with an especially rich collection in the golden age of Spanish literature. 

The Language Learning Center offers tutoring services in Spanish and American Sign Language to students who want to supplement their language learning outside of the classroom. Throughout the semester, tutors organize workshop-type sessions that focus on certain grammatical concepts and other aspects of the language that professors believe the students need to develop.  The LLC tutors also host "charlas" (conversation sessions) for those who want to exercise and improve their oral communication skills in Spanish. Signed conversation sessions are also held for students who want to practice and improve their ASL fluency. Students are encouraged to schedule an appointment with the tutors, but may seek tutoring on a walk-in basis.

Aside from tutoring services, the Language Learning Center houses many resources that our staff can recommend to students who are interested in enhancing their language knowledge. The center is equipped with 24 computer workstations that have Internet access and contain the most popular Microsoft Office software applications, an instructor computer workstation with a Smartboard, and a large media collection of audio-visual programs and recordings to enhance Spanish language instruction and acquisition.  


This department is under the College of Arts and Sciences