The environmental humanities program at the University of Utah — the first of its kind in the country — has received a multimillion-dollar gift that in turn secures its future at the school.

Environmental humanities, which aims to help students connect the forest to its trees, and to the world around it, began at the U. in 2005 with a $500,000 grant. The Kendeda Foundation provided the money in hopes that the program would grow.

The College of Humanities announced that the program would in fact flourish with the recent donation of $2.7 million from the same Kendeda Foundation. The donation, made public Tuesday, is intended to launch the environmental humanities graduate program endowment.

Robert Newman, dean of the College of Humanities and associate vice president for interdisciplinary studies, said the foundation's gift is both "significant and symbolic."

"It speaks to the power and success of the program's vision," he said.

Since the gift was granted, the college has added $1.2 million to the endowment value, bringing the total to $3.9 million. Over the course of the next year, the college hopes to raise the additional $1,750,000 needed to fully fund the endowment and cover all program costs.

The endowment is intended to support 12 competitive graduate fellowships, a two-year professorship in environmental humanities, the program director, international internships for students and an ecology of residency course, taught each summer by noted author and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams.

"We're so honored that the Kendeda Foundation has recognized the value of such a program in creating environmentally literate leaders in business, politics and the social sciences," Newman said.

The first class of environmental humanities students graduated last spring.