PULLMAN, Wash. — The new master’s degree track in the American Studies Program at Washington State University will teach students about the diverse cultures of the United States as they learn to design and maintain Web sites of use to those diverse communities.

“Our degree is unique in the country,” said T.V. Reed, director of WSU’s American Studies Program. It is the first to combine multicultural studies with multimedia studies. “Our goal,” he said, “is to help make the Internet more user-friendly for low-income people, rural people and people of color.”

The degree grew from a simple concept,” Reed said. “Because computer technology is unavailable to certain segments of the population, it stands to reason these groups are underrepresented on the World Wide Web.

Students enrolled in the new program will also mentor undergraduates in computer use, work with the Center for Environmental and Social Justice and help staff a new mobile technology van run by WSU’s Center to Bridge the Digital Divide. The computer lab will travel around the state bringing high-tech access to migrant camps, tribal communities and rural areas. The degree program also includes a two-semester internship where students volunteer to help with computer needs of nonprofit community groups.

Reed and others at WSU are hoping to spin the “Project for Digital Diversity” into a larger debate about public policy issues around the digital divide and debates around content and media production, rather than hardware and access only. “Both the need and the skill are there in many underserved communities. What are missing,” Reed said, “are new models of how computers can be useful to people in these communities.”

He estimates about six students will be enrolled in the program when it debuts next fall, and plans to expand it as scholarship funds are secured.

The application deadline for the master’s degree program is Feb. 1. For more information, contact the Program in American Studies at (509) 335-1560.