The American Indian Studies program at the University of Arizona is now its own department.

This means the undergrads will soon be able to declare AIS as a major. Until now it was only offered as a minor.

Established in 1982, the AIS program was part of an administrative unit of the university. It’ll now move to an academic college, the College for Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Ofelia Zepeda, director of the department, said the change will bring better resources to AIS and put it on equal footing with other academic departments, including the Department of History and the Department of Mexican American Studies, and foster better interdisciplinary cooperation.

Zepeda said she also expects it to strengthen the university's connections with nearby tribal communities.

“I think as a department AIS will be able to be more visible to work with and support the local tribes and hopefully recruit from the local tribes. With regards say for instance to the undergrad degree, but also the masters programs," she said.

The mission, which is to cultivate understanding of the languages, history, lands and cultures of American Indians and Alaska Natives, remains unchanged.

In the fall of 1997, the UA became the first educational institution in the U.S. to offer a doctorate in American Indian studies.

Zepeda said development of the undergrad curriculum is underway, and she expects that students will be able to begin declaring it as a major in fall 2015.