Sociology Prof’s Fulbright Award Will Expand Students’ Global Understanding



Erika Derkas

Las Vegas, N.M. – A New Mexico Highlands University professor’s Fulbright-Hays Scholar Award collaborates with the University of Arizona to develop curriculum that aims to expand high school and college students’ global understanding of Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Highlands sociology professor Erika Derkas is the project director for the Fulbright that will immerse 15 college and high school educators from rural New Mexico and Arizona in the two countries from May 31 – July 1, 2018, for an intensive learning experience that includes curriculum development.

“The goal of this Fulbright is to expand students’ understanding of a very significant and complex part of the world that is understudied, especially in the United States,” said Derkas, who co-wrote the Fulbright. “The way to do that is to have educators learn more about a region that bridges cultures from ancient to modern times and includes the Far East, Middle East, Europe and Asia.”

The Fulbright, which is a partnership with the University of Arizona’s Center of Middle Eastern Studies, is titled, “Central Asia: Crossroads of Civilization.”

“The theme of cross-regional connections will especially interest New Mexico and Arizona educators who themselves live in a borderland straddling two linguistic-cultural zones. This Fulbright will promote global learning and understanding in schools and colleges throughout the Southwest as well as at the national level,” Derkas said.

Derkas said college and high school educators participating in the Fulbright will be engaged in hands-on learning at museums, mosques, scholarly lectures, and other culturally specific activities.

“This knowledge and insight will become essential components of the curriculum modules and lesson plans the educators will develop and bring back to their classrooms. The study of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan brings out important themes that can be integrated into many disciplines such as history, literature, geography, political science, women’s studies, sociology, anthropology and art history,” Derkas said.

Edgar Vargas Blanco, a Highlands University Spanish language professor, will also participate in the Fulbright project.

“We selected Edgar from a large pool of highly qualified applicants because he’s a linguist and teaches Spanish, bringing a unique perspective to the curriculum development. He also brings a great deal of enthusiasm and knowledge to the project and has already learned some Russian,” Derkas said.

Vargas Blanco said: “This Fulbright is an exciting opportunity to learn more about the cultures and spoken languages of this part of the world. It’s been a long process to prepare ourselves, such as learning more Russian in advance and working with other educators before we leave.”

Vargos Blanco, who directs the Language Learning Center at Highlands, said he is looking forward to sharing what he learns during the Fulbright experience.

“I’ll be teaching lessons about the two countries, in Spanish, to my Highlands students as well as presenting at local Las Vegas schools and other community institutions,” Vargas Blanco said.

Vargas Blanco said he is interested in doing some research about how the Spanish language is taught in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Derkas said Highlands University students will benefit from the Fulbright in other ways.

“Rural communities and universities tend to be underserved in international programming. I’ll be incorporating lessons learned from abroad with my Highlands students in classes like Women and Globalization, Race and Ethnic Relations, and Gender, Culture and Society,” Derkas said.

Derkas joins the ranks of distinguished Fulbright scholars worldwide who have been selected to participate in this prestigious international academic exchange program. The U.S. government established the Fulbright Program in 1946.