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Combining disciplines to fuel research

Hispanic studies professors Maria Irene Moyna and Gabriela Zapata may just be the dream team of grant applicants. The two of them have received a combined six grants this past year, many of which stretch across multiple disciplines.

By Hannah Falcon ’21

María Irene Moyna and Gabriela Zapata, two associate professors from the Department of Hispanic Studies, have collaborated on several grants that lend their knowledge of the humanities to research projects in other colleges.

“The way in which I see academia, the future is in interdisciplinary work,” Zapata said. “Bringing people from different areas together can complement a particular project in a unique way.”

Moyna and Zapata worked with Leonardo Lombardini from the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences to receive the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Since 1965, the NEH is one of the largest humanities funds in the United States.

“For researchers in the humanities like us, receiving the NEH is wonderful because the funding makes our work possible, but also because of the boost for our morale as researchers,” Moyna said. “Receiving one of their grants is a nod to the work you have done and to the projects you propose for the future. It is evidence that your research is not only academically rigorous but also socially relevant.”

They’re using the endowment to develop a minor in agriculture and Hispanic studies. The four classes they’re developing will be available as open access materials: Spanish for agriculture; Hispanics’ role in food industry in Texas; history of Hispanics in Texas; and cultural studies courses will be ready by the end of the summer.

María Irene Moyna

Gabriela Zapata

“Our main objective is to help agriculture students work with Hispanic populations in Texas once they graduate,” Zapata said.

Moyna and Zapata also received the Triads for Transformation grant with Michael Miller, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, to study Hispanic populations’ habits in relation to medication. Their objective is to create a database from different Hispanic populations.

“We are trying to figure out what social aspects influence the way in which Hispanics take medicine—or not,” Zapata said.

These grant projects are made stronger through interdisciplinary collaboration. Moyna and Zapata are able to expand their expertise since they work with professors from other colleges.

“By encouraging collaboration within and across departments and colleges, these grants are a great way to learn from our colleagues,” Moyna said. “Isolation is quite common in humanities research. Once we recognize how complex some social problems are, working alone in a corner is hardly the optimal way to solve them.”

Moyna appreciates her teammates and believes that their collaborative work is the reason she’s able to do so many projects and receive the grants to continue them.

“Your teammates need to have complementary skills, and they need to be people you can trust to pull their weight,” Moyna said. “I don’t select collaborators because of their name recognition or their prestige; I choose people that I know I can count on to meet deadlines, to do the grunt work, and to share responsibility equally.”