Expanding its study abroad program to a new level and seeking to make it accessible to as many students as possible, Santa Monica College (SMC) is launching a Latin American Education Program that will feature at least two trips next year, college officials have announced.

As part of its global citizenship initiative, SMC is establishing a study abroad foothold in Latin America, with excursions offered in winter and spring to Belize and Guatemala, and a possible trip to Argentina in the summer.

“SMC has sponsored study abroad trips throughout the world for more than 25 years,” said vice president of academic affairs Jeff Shimizu. “But most of them were short-term excursions of three to four weeks.

“Now, we are planning much longer trips, seeking financial assistance so that more students can participate, and incorporating volunteer work in host countries as part of the students’ experience.

“We’re very excited that our new Latin American Education Program will help establish us as an innovative leader in international education.”

The tentatively scheduled trip to Belize and Guatemala in January and February has an emphasis on the ancient Mayan civilization and the natural environment.

A longer trip from February to April, in the first half of the spring semester, focuses on intercultural sociology and communications in February to April.

Coordinating the establishment of the Latin American Education Program is Brandon Lewis, an SMC archaeology profes- sor who for ten years has led study abroad excursions to the Yucatan Peninsula, primarily on archaeological digs.

The trips have drawn students from SMC, UCLA, UC-Berkeley and other four-year institutions.

“Latin America’s growing economic, social and political influence has firmly established this region as a major participant on the world stage,” Lewis said. “Considering the growing representation of Hispanic cultures within the United States, a greater understanding and appreciation of Latin America’s rich history and cultural diversity is paramount.”

“The curriculum will be structured within a holistic framework,” based on the professors who are selected to teach in Latin America, Lewis said. “Or students could be asked to investigate the impact of imperial conquest on systems of ideology or the relationship between the natural environment and systems of economy,” he added.

SMC is also seeking forms of financial assistance from both public and private sources so that a greater number of students can participate, he said. Studies have shown that low-income students are often excluded from study abroad excursions because of cost, college officials say.

During the winter trip, which Lewis will lead with geography professor Bill Selby, students will earn six credits by taking two courses, selected from four offered in archaeology, environmental studies and the natural environment. Two weeks will be spent at SMC, and the other four weeks of the winter session will be in Central America.

The spring trip will be offered the first half of the semester, with two weeks at SMC and six weeks in Belize and Guatemala. Although the spring semester is 16 weeks, SMC offers eight-week courses over two sessions. Led by communications professor Nancy Grass Hemmert and sociology professor Guido Davis Del Piccolo, students will take two courses.

Although program costs have not been finalized, the estimated cost for the winter program is $2,500, while the spring session is $3,700, which includes airfare, housing, insurance and most meals. Fees for the classes — $20 a unit for California residents — are separate.

Lewis said he hopes that the Latin American Educational Program will expand over time to other countries and will include close working relationships with colleges and universities in Latin America and scholar exchanges.

Information, (310) 434-4743.