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Regents' Professor's work crosses many borders

Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez
February 15, 2012

Editor's Note: This professor profile is part of a series that looks at the achievements of seven outstanding faculty members who were named ASU Regents' Professors in 2011.

Regents’ Professor Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez is a professor and the founding director of the School of Transborder Studies – the first such school in the nation, but by no means a first for this distinguished scholar.

Vélez-Ibáñez’s contributions span more than 30 years and cross many different borders, from his scholastic roots in political science, English and anthropology, to his research and leadership positions with San Diego State University, University of Arizona, University of California-Los Angeles, and University of California-Riverside. It was at UC-Riverside where he founded the Ernesto Galarza Applied Research Center and the Gluck Fellows Program of the Arts, modeled after the Juilliard School of the Arts community arts programs in New York.

The same vision and drive that led Vélez-Ibáñez to create and revamp public policy centers and programs at three major universities brought him to ASU in 2005, where he and his ASU colleagues redesigned the then Department of Chicana/o Studies. The School of Transborder Studies arose through their efforts in 2011. An entirely new model institution, the school was designed to bring the best scholarly and applied knowledge to issues of K-12 preparation and completion, community research programs and development, and the coordination of transborder research between Mexico and the United States.

With Vélez-Ibáñez’s leadership, a new curriculum emerged with a strong orientation to policy and applied practice and insistence on bilingualism and biliteracy. Four undergraduate concentrations were developed: Transborder Media, Literature and Arts; Transborder U.S. and Mexican Regional Immigration Policy and Economy; Transborder Community Development and Health; and Culture, Language, and Learning.

An internationally-recognized social anthropologist, Vélez-Ibáñez’s most recent studies focus on transnational issues of migration, immigration, cultural conflicts, and economic exchange and questions of human rights and civil participation. A dedicated scholar-teacher and devoted leader, he excels in applied research designed to make a difference in the populations he studies.

He has received several notable prizes in anthropology, including the Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence, and the Bronislaw Malinowski Medal. He is also an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), The American Anthropology Association, and the Society for Applied Anthropology. In addition, since 2005, he has been named the Presidential Motorola Professor of Neighborhood Revitalization. He is credited with more than 50 scholarly articles and 11 books, including the widely acknowledged “Border Visions: The Cultures of Mexicans of the Southwest.”

One feature that sets his written body of work apart from many of his contemporaries has been his treatment of populations as history-makers rather than as victims of oppression. Such perspectives became a foundation for much of his applied work and the development of the institutional reforms and formats he went on to create at ASU and within the University of California systems.

“In a sense, Vélez-Ibáñez pursues a much more grounded direction on the ethnographic realities of daily discourse upon which the basis of civil life rests and human rights guaranteed,” says Edward Escobar, who nominated Vélez-Ibáñez for the Regents’ Professorship. “And what is most important to note of all his accomplishments is that their impacts are long term, have lasting utility, and have developed as a strategy of application and understanding that insists on the efficacy of human beings able to contest and solve issues of stratification, miseducation, ill-being, and exploitation and most recently within a transborder context.”

While his institutional and scholarly accomplishments have been many, some say that Vélez-Ibáñez’s most important contributions have come in the arena of public service. For example, his applied research has had important outcomes on policy in areas such as women’s sterilization, educational approaches to increase literacy, community-based research awareness on environmental home health, the implementation of preparatory research programs to enhance the transition of community college transfers to universities, and the development of technology centers for migrants in rural California.

“Dr. Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez’s distinguished career has been and continues to be the hallmark of academic, applied, public and institutional achievement and development,” says Linda Lederman, the dean of Social Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. “We are fortunate to have such an exceptional scholar, teacher and institutional exemplar in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and at ASU.”