Even in a state with the largest number of Pacific Islanders per capita in the continental United States, many Pacific Islander students at the University of Utah say the first time they ever learned about their culture was in the university’s Pacific Islands Studies program.

Thanks to a new $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, the program will be able to expand its reach by adding new faculty, a graduate certificate and a Center for Pasifika and Indigenous Knowledges.

The grant was awarded to the U.’s School for Cultural and Social Transformation. It follows a three-year $600,000 Mellon Foundation grant, which allowed the program to greatly accelerate its Pacific Island Studies initiative in 2018.

“In a word, we’re overjoyed,” said Kathryn Bond Stockton, dean of the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, in a statement.

“This tremendous ongoing support from the Mellon Foundation will allow PI Studies faculty, staff and community members to realize collective visions for how Indigenous knowledges will shape and enrich all who embrace them.”

According to Stockton, the U. has some of the most impressive and visionary Pacific Islander Studies scholars and staff in the country.

“It is an immense privilege to be at an institution where none of us (students, faculty or staff) is the only Pacific Islander,” said Pacific Islands Studies director Maile Arvin in a statement.

“When we don’t have to prove to others that we exist or that the issues impacting our communities are not marginal, we have so much more space to pursue what interests us. The success of our program lies in the mutual support and relationships we continue to grow across our campus, our local communities and our international networks,” she said.

The Utah-Pacific Islands connection dates back to missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proselytizing in the South Pacific in the mid-1800s.

Since starting the program, the U. has hired five new faculty members focused on Pacific Island Studies and developed an official interdisciplinary PI Studies Certificate.

Other students have discovered Pacific Island Studies through the Pasifika Scholars Bridge Program, a five-day, intensive summer course aimed at preparing first-year and transfer students and those interested in the certificate.

In recent years, the program has grown into the Pasifika Scholars Institute, a webinar series which runs throughout the academic year.

This is the program’s second Mellon grant in just one year. In December, the school received more than $500,000 to help build a national network for intersectional studies.