BELEN — The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has awarded a 2019–20 Community Action Grant to the Nuestra Señora de Belén Archaeological Project, co-directed by Ventura Peréz from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Debra Martin from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Pamela Stone from Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts and Samuel Sisneros from the University of New Mexico.

The goal of community engagement project titled, Archaeology Girls! Excavating Belen, New Mexico’s History, is to provide a hands-on immersive STEM experience with field and lab activities for fifth-eighth grade girls as they aid in helping uncover their town’s history. They work side by side with archaeologists utilizing scientific methods for recovering and analyzing historic artifacts.

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The Girls in Archaeology Dig began today at Nuestra Senora de Belen. Each day four St. Mary’s girls will be working with anthropologists and archaeologists from several universities to uncover more of Belen’s rich history.

Now in the third field season, funding from the Community Action Grant provided by AAUW is helping to support the community engagement efforts that the project is built on. Obtaining the support and funding from AAUW has allowed the team to partner with St. Mary’s Catholic School in Belen with the aid of Principal Melodie Good, in order to recruit girls to participate in the archaeology program which runs from July 1-31.

The archaeological project is focused on excavating the original historic mission church (Nuestra Señora de Belén) that was built in the 1700s but was toppled in a flash flood in 1850. In cooperation with local authorities and the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, Department of Cultural Affairs, this multi-year excavation and conservation project will recover an important part of Belen’s history.

The recovery of one of New Mexico’s founding colonial communities and its original mission church (which was the social and spiritual center) links the present community with its historical past in important ways. Using state-of-the art recovery techniques and mapping, and performing analyses on artifacts and other findings in the field laboratory, girls participating in this project will gain experience in both field and lab components of archaeological research.

AAUW is one of the world’s leading supporters of graduate women’s education: Over the past 130 years, it has provided more than $115 million in fellowships, grants, and awards to 13,000 women from more than 145 countries.

For the 2019–20 academic year, AAUW awarded a total of $4 million through seven fellowships and grants programs to 259 scholars, research projects, and programs promoting education and equity for women and girls.

Since 1972, AAUW Community Action Grants have funded individuals, AAUW branches and state organizations, and community-based nonprofit organizations to support innovative programs promoting education and equality for women and girls. Special consideration is given to projects that focus on girls’ and young women’s achievement in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Projects must be collaborative, focus on women and girls and bring together AAUW branches, schools and community groups and nonprofits.

“For more than 45 years, the recipients of our Community Action Grants have changed—and improved—the lives of women and girls,” said Kim Churches, the chief executive officer of AAUW. “We’re confident that this year’s grantees will make their mark in the same way their predecessors did.”

Applications open Aug. 1 each year. Deadlines vary by program. To find out more about this year’s exceptional class of awardees, visit the online directory at

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