Students in the only binational master's degree curriculum available in the United States and Mexico, jointly offered by San Diego State University and the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California in Tijuana, will be completing the first such program next month.
The 2-year-old program in interdisciplinary studies, trans-border public administration and governance, focuses on the challenges at the border and provides companies and public agencies access to interact with both sides.
"The program has created and expanded a network of people that are on both sides of the border who are being taught the issues facing the border region," said Glen Sparrow, professor emeritus at the School of Public Administration and Urban Studies at SDSU.
Sparrow is one of the program's 20 professors and had a significant part in putting it together.
Unlike many master's degree programs where the majority of the hours are spent in the classroom, this program gives a hands-on approach by continually having guest speakers from each country and scheduling some classes along the border.
The students will be earning a Master of Arts degree from the program, which features a curriculum of 30 units, 10 three-unit courses. Each course was created specifically for the program and designed for bilingual working professionals in the public, private and nonprofit sectors in the United States and Mexico.
"The companies and organizations that the students work for are getting an employee who is now educated about the border and is bringing in contacts and new research to benefit their company," Sparrow said.
The 18 graduating students (11 are from Mexico) come from a variety of professional backgrounds, including a U.S. forest ranger, Mexican lawyer from a private practice, a staff member of the governor of Baja California, a city councilman from Mexicali and a former staff member for a California state senator.
The faculty who structured the program anticipates that it will benefit the students' careers as well as their professional sectors.
The degree has already helped Yvette Huerta , one of the graduating students , with her career. Toward the end of the program, she obtained a job as a public affairs assistant for San Diego State.
"The program has done a lot for me. It has made me aware of the governments and formalities between the two (countries)," said Huerta. "And it has made me understand the different challenges that are confronting the border in a national, federal and local level."
Another student in the program agrees that it can be beneficial in many ways.
"This program can be an advantage for a student on a professional and on a personal level when working with both sides of the border," said student Bertha Hernandez, the administrative coordinator and associate editor at the Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias at San Diego State.
"In my line of work, I deal with many aspects of the border and officials on both sides, and this program has helped me when I have to deal with different issues at work. I know who to call and where to find the information," said Hernandez. "It's an excellent way to establish new networks."
Not only is the faculty hoping to create a network between the two countries to assist with the governmental, criminal and environmental issues, but also to create a steppingstone for local agencies to be more aware of these issues.
Sparrow said during course work, students are researching to solve border problems such as water, immigration and crime.
In 2000, President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox created a $50 million grant called the Partnership for Prosperity Program to target economic development in areas of Mexico.
During a five-year period, the grant is expected to generate 35 partnerships between Mexican and U.S. higher education institutions.
San Diego State responded to the grant and, because of an ongoing relationship with UABC, the two universities chose to partner together to create the master's program.
The students will be receiving their diplomas next month, but the graduation ceremony will not be held until May because the course work will be completed after the December graduation deadline.