Rare, UTEP Degree Program Calls for Grassroots Change

Rare, an environmental non-profit organization, has partnered with the University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP) to develop a master's degree in communication for conservationists.

Students from areas of highest biodiversity around the world implement an entire social marketing campaign designed around a specific conservation goal, by mobilizing constituents in their communities. Rare's Chief Executive Officer Brett Jenks emphasizes that "The master's program participants do not graduate until they've made a measurable difference in the way people think about and practice conservation in their communities. Essentially, these students don't graduate until they change the world…at least, their part of it."

The program is administered in four languages by regional university partners in Mexico, China, Indonesia (as of late 2008), and, as of Spring 2009, at Georgetown University in the United States. All graduates receive an accredited master's degree from UTEP's Department of Communication. UTEP has a strong commitment to grounding cutting-edge research and theory in real-world applications.

Arvind Singhal, Ph.D., one of the world's foremost researchers and authors in the field of communication for social change. believes that the Rare/UTEP partnership "is a model of strategic alliance for conservation and beyond. It is a model of how social change should happen."

Rare's Jenks adds: "We believe our partnership with UTEP fills a real educational gap in the conservation field—arming leaders with practical tools and solutions for mobilizing millions and changing behaviors as we race to stem the tide of species and habitat loss."

Rare's proven, honed model for changing local awareness, attitudes, and behaviors regarding conservation is called a "Pride" campaign, so-called because it inspires people to take pride in, learn about, and act to preserve the precious natural resources that make their homes so unique. All students in the master's course are simultaneously Pride campaign managers throughout the two-year program.

The program includes classroom training where participants—most of whom are already career environmentalists chosen by Rare's local partners—learn how to change attitudes and behaviors, inspire support for environmental protection, and reduce threats to natural resources. The curriculum includes topics from social marketing and messaging, to threat analysis and multi-disciplinary strategic planning, as well as organizational, intercultural, and environmental communication and both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

The 'in the field' multimedia, social marketing component of the program includes the design of 30+ marketing vehicles, i.e., posters, mascots, bumper stickers, radio spots, press releases, festivals, school activities, sermons, workshops, billboards, etc., used to change minds and behaviors. Rare campaigns have been used to create new protected areas, reduce destructive fishing and illegal logging, and increase adoption of more sustainable agriculture, among other outcomes.

Rare, based in Arlington, Va., trains and supports leaders from the world's top environmental organizations, local grassroots groups, and governments.