The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a two-year grant of $350,000 to UCLA to support a pilot project designed to reframe how Middle Eastern studies are conceptualized and taught.

The grant will fund workshops, faculty-graduate student research groups and a conference to inform the development of new curricula and teaching models on the Middle East and North Africa region that can be shared with other universities, community colleges, high schools and the public.

“The complexities of the modern Middle East are grounded in histories and cultures that are poorly understood in the U.S.,” said Ali Behdad, director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA and the John Charles Hillis Professor of Literature in English. “At a time when government funding for Middle East programs is diminishing and public demand for expertise is increasing, the need to foster better understanding of the region has never been greater.”

Behdad is a veteran of curriculum review and redesign, having overseen an overhaul of the UCLA English department as its former chair. This earlier effort, also funded by the Mellon Foundation, resulted in new courses that drew on the breadth and expertise of the department’s interdisciplinary faculty.

The new university-wide curricular project will involve UCLA faculty and graduate students, as well as leaders of Middle Eastern centers at other universities and non-academic members of the Middle Eastern and North African communities in Los Angeles. This will be achieved through new undergraduate and graduate courses for UCLA students, and through engaging students directly with community members and cultural events.