Center for Big Bend Studies receives $1 million in government funding 

ALPINE — Sul Ross University’s Center for Big Bend Studies, a 1987-founded entity specializing in archeological and historical research of the Big Bend region of Texas and Northern Mexico, will soon receive $1 million in funding as a part of recently-passed government spending bill. 

Dr. Bryon Schroeder, director at the Center for Big Bend Studies, said the government funds could sustain the center for up to five years, if their current donation and fundraising efforts continue to remain fruitful and stable. 

“It’s a big shot in the arm. It’s huge. I’d like to say we routinely get millions of dollars, but we don’t,” Schroeder laughs. 

The house passed the bill, which consisted of 12 fiscal year 2022 appropriations bills and funding for Ukraine relief efforts, in early March. The bill was signed into law on March 15 by President Joe Biden. Rep. Tony Gonzales, who represents Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, secured a total of $354 million in government funding for the region — $316 million for military bases and veterans’ services in addition to over $38 million for community-based projects. 

“During my first year on the House Appropriations Committee, I fought hard to make sure projects in our district were prioritized in the budget,” said Congressman Gonzales in a press release. 

The Big Bend region, which humans have inhabited for at least 13,000 years, contains thousands of archeological sites relating to early hunter-gatherers. The Center for Big Bend Studies conducts research projects across the Chihuahuan Desert, runs an archaeological site conservation program, and publishes a number of books and journals every year through their in-house publisher. They also host an annual conference where archeologists and historians working in the area share their recent research.

Schroeder said he has several ideas as to how the center might spend the government funds. While specifics have yet to be outlined, he said he’d like to earmark some money toward new programs and public outreach — getting the word out about what the center actually does and the value of their mission. 

“I think with that much money, we can hopefully engage and show people the importance of cultural resources out here,” said Schroeder. 

New programs could take shape in the form of talks or events, said Schroeder. He said because the Center for Big Bend Studies is made up of a small team, they will aim to craft initiatives that hit all their goals as a research and education-focused organization. 

“We have to be impacting science. We have to be impacting students. I’d like to impact the community and I’d like to impact the university,” said Schroeder. 

Another primary goal of the center that will be aided by the new funds is the effort to bring in and sustain more researchers and their projects, said Schroeder. 

“One of our biggest problems is getting really quality researchers here to stay for a while,” said Schroeder. “And I think it’s because this place is pretty remote.” 

Schroeder is considering starting a research fellowship program or the like with the new funds. He said there is simply a lot to research in the Big Bend. Plus, funding and supporting more projects could be something they are now in a good position to do. 

“What we have is a lot of access to places that these researchers can’t get,” said Schroeder.

Schroeder said his long term goal is to grow an endowment for the center, creating more stable research positions in the process. 

“I’d really like to boost our notoriety of the quality of research that we’re putting out because we have stuff here that’s interesting on a national level,” said Schroeder. “We can do research that is as good as any other university in the nation — right here. It just takes the right people.” 

The process of obtaining the funding started over a year ago, said Schroeder, who previously met Congressman Gonzales at an introductory meeting along with other Sul Ross faculty. 

“We are extremely grateful for the hard work and commitment Congressman Gonzales has shown Sul Ross,” said Sul Ross University President Pete Gallego in a press release. “CBBS is doing amazing work and is just one of the many great departments across our campuses.”