University of Arizona Launches B.A. in Arabic

Sonia Shiri
School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies

Sarah Williams
Advisor for the B.A. in Arabic

Drawing on the strengths of the UA’s widely recognized Arabic program, the new B.A. in Arabic will help students be competitive for a variety of exciting careers.

Students at the University of Arizona will now be able to obtain a B.A. in Arabic. The new degree solidifies the UA’s stature as having one of the best Arabic programs in the country.

Offered by the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, or MENAS, the Arabic B.A. will graduate students with proficiency in the Arabic language and knowledge of Arab cultures. In completing the B.A., students will be able to choose from five levels of Arabic courses, a few Arabic dialects, and a large selection of courses in English offered by MENAS.

In addition to being the language of a civilization that has contributed to science, philosophy and literature, Arabic is also identified as both a “strategic” and a “super critical” language for the United States. Employment opportunities for students proficient in Arabic are diverse, and include positions in academia, government, international business, law, development, and the tourism industry.

"We are excited to be able to offer a new B.A. in Arabic,” said Benjamin Fortna, director of MENAS, which is housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “This new major will draw on the strengths of our widely recognized Arabic program and will attract even more students to learn this rich language, which is so important for the world today."

The UA is well positioned to offer a B.A. in Arabic. MENAS offers an undergraduate minor in the language and a B.A. in Middle Eastern and North African studies. The school also currently has more than 50 students participating in its Arabic Flagship Program and the Project Global Officer Program, which are both federally funded by the National Security Education Program, who can benefit from the new major.

The UA is one of only five universities in the country selected to participate in the Arabic Flagship Program, which helps students from all majors reach superior-level fluency in Arabic. All Flagship students are required to spend a capstone study year abroad in an Arabic-speaking country. Students receive partial scholarships for overseas and domestic Arabic study. 

This past fall, funding for the Arizona Arabic Flagship Program was renewed until 2020.

Project Global Officer (Project GO) is an initiative aimed at improving the language competency, regional expertise and intercultural communication skills of ROTC students, including through study abroad. The University of Arizona is the only institution in the country funded to offer advanced Arabic language education for ROTC through Project GO-Advanced. 

Professor Sonia Shiri, the director of the Arizona Arabic Flagship Program, said that the pressure to create the major came from students, who as part of the Flagship Program were earning extensive course credits in Arabic.

“This need was quickly recognized by MENAS and the College of Social and Behavioral Science, who then supported the creation of the major,” Shiri added.

Because some of the students interested in the Flagship Program don’t have a language requirement, the large amount of Arabic coursework combined with the required 12 months of study abroad often means a delay in graduating. With the new B.A, students in the Flagship Program, many of whom are in STEM fields, will acquire an extra major in Arabic, which can be helpful with pursuing careers after graduation.

“I am excited that Arabic is now a major because I have been in the Arabic Flagship Program for almost four years now, and I have been working hard in all of my Arabic classes as well as in outside tutoring and language partner sessions,” said Marian Arthur, who is also majoring in political science and psychology. “This Arabic major will help me to show that I have achieved a high level of fluency in Arabic to future employers.”

ROTC students in the Project GO Program were also interested in the major, which can translate into extra scholarships now as well as improved career opportunities in the future.

“Arabic fluency is a highly sought-after skill set in the United States Air Force and the entire Department of Defense,” Col. Brian Donahoo, former commander of the ROTC, wrote in the B.A. application. “A certified Arabic language major at the University of Arizona will greatly benefit the University and the Air Force ROTC program by attracting and retaining high-quality students/cadets.”

Another program that will feed into the B.A. in Arabic is the pre-collegiate Arabic Jumpstart Program. Offered by MENAS, with a tuition reduction from the University and additional funding from the Arabic Flagship Program, the Arabic Jumpstart Program is an intensive summer Arabic course in which high school juniors and seniors earn college credit. Last summer, 27 students from seven local high schools participated in the program alongside UA students. The 2017 Jumpstart program is now also open to high school seniors from anywhere in the country as long as they plan to attend the UA next fall semester.   

Shiri anticipates that the new B.A. will be of interest to students from across the country, especially those in western states. The UA will complete the paperwork to have the B.A. in Arabic be eligible for the WICHE (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education) Undergraduate Exchange.

Through the Exchange, students from 15 Western states could earn their B.A. in Arabic from the UA with in-state tuition rates, as long as their state does not offer the same major. In the participating states, only two states – California and North Dakota – offer a B.A. in Arabic. The availability of the Flagship Program provides an added incentive to come to the UA to study Arabic. The UA also has a federally funded Title VI Center for Middle Eastern Studies, which offers FLAS (Foreign Language and Area Studies) fellowships to study Middle Eastern languages stateside or abroad.

“I came to UA for a variety of reasons, with the strong Arabic program being one of them,” said Ryan Brown, a sophomore majoring in pre-business. Brown, who hopes to work for an international company in the Middle East, has now declared Arabic as his second major. “I have always dreamed of one day attaining fluency in Arabic and the new Arabic major will definitely assist in achieving my goal.”

The excellence of the UA’s Arabic Program was recently confirmed by Roger Allen, a prominent Arabic scholar, who was an external reviewer of the program in 2015.

“This is one of the best conceived and executed programs of Arabic language-instruction that I have encountered during my now 46-year career teaching Arabic and its literature in the United States,” Allen said.




Published Date: 

02/07/2017 - 12:51pm