Since earning my PhD in 1995, I have designed and taught 22 different courses at 5 institutions, including 2 online courses. In my anthropology position at KU, I have taught
Indigenous Traditions of Latin America, Mexamerica, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology,
Masculinity in Cross-cultural Perspective, Contemporary Central America & Mexico, The Teaching of
Anthropology, Indigenous Development in Latin America, Varieties of Human Experience, Multidisciplinary Field School in Collaboration with the Ch'orti' Maya, Succeeding in Anthropology, and Doing Ethnography. Most have been joint undergraduate/graduate courses.
A principal tenet of my teaching philosophy is that students should learn how to connect the dots between a course's subject matter and their everyday decisions; otherwise, they will not only forget the material as soon as they walk out the door but they will be uninformed citizens. I remind them that courses with global content are offered here because the U.S. is a global power and has a sense of global accountability, such that students here have inordinate responsibility to understand others on the planet. To enhance my strategies for getting students to make course material a part of their lives, I attended a CTE Best Practices Institute in 2005.
Since then, I constantly test students' abilities to interpret current events and challenge erroneous media representations. I announce relevant campus and community events, and feel it my duty to attend them myself. For Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, I offered students an extra credit point for every Global Awareness Program (GAP) "extracurricular activity" point earned,
which put them in the habit of seeing campus events as opportunities.
My most popular courses are Indigenous Traditions of Latin America and Mexamerica. The goals of the former are for students to become engaged experts in the struggles of Latin America's indigenous peoples. I cover the historical, environmental, and cultural diversity throughout Latin America before exploring the complex issues of indigenous rights. I introduce each section with the major questions to be answered, and if the section culminates in a take-home paper, I give them the assignment at the start to guide them in their readings and notes. I also provide questions for each reading on Blackboard as springboards for discussion. My
classes generally have a question-and-answer format covering the main points of the readings and videos and how they relate to the students' lives. I periodically experiment with new techniques to enhance engagement, such as in-class debates, the submission of "truth statements" or key quotes from readings for discussion, and calling forward a small group for questions and answers. If the enrollment is low, I grade on daily participation. For larger classes I might give pop quizzes, which have served as an impetus for greater student engagement and higher grades. Exams and take-home papers are designed not to test students' ability to apply concepts, not simply memorize them. For example, I might ask them to compare and contrast the utility of two or more approaches. Finally, I have students compose their term papers in a grant proposal format, in which they propose to either investigate an issue as it relates to course themes or carry out an applied project. Graduate students submit longer research projects as well as critique supplemental readings.
In Mexamerica, the goal is for students to become specialists on how Mexican and U.S. popular culture, politics, economics, and identity are dialectically intertwined. Topics include the Mexican-American War, US investment in Mexico, migration, maquiladoras, national debt, tourism, movies, music, NAFTA, and the drug/weapons trade. Students' consciousnesses are raised as to how their everyday decisions affect others. Besides the various approaches mentioned in the preceding paragraph, I instituted a service-learning component, in which
students are required to donate twelve hours to the Lawrence Hispanic Center or other local organization serving recent Mexican immigrants. Activities have included a survey of local Latino needs, the creation of a community service video documentary, translation for health clinics, and one-on-one English-Spanish language partnerships.
Since 2011 I have lead multidisciplinary groups of undergraduate and graduate students on applied field courses in Honduras and Guatemala among my main research population, the Ch'orti' Maya. Their projects have included doing tourism analysis, researching for and designing ethnic activism webpages, organizing cultural fairs, and collecting data for rural water systems. I am far from perfect as a teacher but strive for constant improvement for the sake of the students. I pay close attention to evaluations and my TA's advice, taking heed that I need to aim my lectures more towards the general student population rather than the upper echelon. I have
much to learn from some of my award-winning colleagues, and I would like to take more advantage of the CTE.
Regarding advising, I was Undergraduate Coordinator in Anthropology for 3 years and served on the Undergraduate Committee in Anthropology for 9 years. I also served on the Undergraduate Committee in Latin American & Caribbean Studies for 3.5 years. In Anthropology, I led efforts to institutionalize a capstone and 1-credit online career course for the major, among other initiatives. My effort has been especially focused on getting students to think of their larger careers and personal enrichment rather than just the minimum to complete the major or minor. As the Anthropology student club advisor in 3 different years, I organized a Career Night for majors and prospective
majors. I regularly urge students to pursue study abroad, internships, and perform service learning. I have also regularly participated in Honors Program recruitment functions.
Graduate students sometimes feel underserved and disrespected, and I make it a point to treat them as incipient professionals and convey the importance of their potential contributions to anthropology and society in general. As with the undergrads, I expect the most out of them. I remind them constantly that graduate school is their opportunity to build a foundation for their careers and become experts in their specialties. In other words, taking the route of least resistance will not serve them in a tough job market. I have also done my best to give them practical experience, and with university grant or assistantship funds I have employed five of them on my research projects. One area in which I have been improving is attending more to promising graduate students rather letting my time be monopolized by low-performing ones.
Currently, I am in the process of arranging a series of multidisciplinary field schools in collaboration with KU Study Abroad, the Center of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, and the Intercultural University of San Luis Potosí (UISLP). I will be leading 5 faculty on a guided trip to UISLP's campuses and the general population they serve over Spring Break 2020.
- Latin America
- Central America
- Teaching of anthropology
- Applied field school
- Service learning
- Climate change
My primary research focus since 1990 has been the changing quality of life and the politics of identity among impoverished Ch'orti'-Maya subsistence farmers in eastern Guatemala and western Honduras, and mestizos in the former Ch'orti'-speaking area of northwestern El Salvador. I just (Dec 2019) submitted a book on the contradictory approaches – particularly deconstructionist vs. activist – to indigenous recognition, using my research in the former Ch'orti'-speaking region as a case study. The digital version of the book includes hyperlinks to 3 hours of video on YouTube, as well as dozens of digital maps and photos. My latest research has emphasized applied anthropology. I have led three multidisciplinary field schools among the Ch'orti's of Honduras and Guatemala (2011, 2013, 2016), helped co-found the Engineers Without Borders – Sunflower Professional Chapter (2011) to implement sustainable development among the Ch'orti's, and have served on the Board of Directors for the Lawrence Centro Hispano (2006-12), for which my students have performed service learning since 2007. Since 2016, I have been invited to be a part of a multidisciplinary research team on climate change and water scarcity in Central America's "Dry Corridor", which coincides with the region traditionally known as southern Mesoamerica. We met in September 2019 at the U. of Arizona and in October 2019 at the U. of New Mexico and plan to write a team NSF grant within the next year. My sabbatical will largely be devoted to this project, as well as individual grant applications.
I am interested in development in the broadest sense in terms of quality of life, including identity, consciousness raising, technology, health, and political participation. I have also undertaken ethnographic research among Mexican-American migrant farmworkers in Michigan, on religious festivals in Seville, Spain, and of agrochemical practices among Costa Rican coffee farmers.
- Indigeneity, development, indigenous reformulation, culture and power, collective memory, ethnographic representation, masculinity, climate change, water scarcity
- Ch'orti' Maya, Mesoamerica, Central America, Mexico, Latin America
Service, like teaching, is a realm for which faculty must be responsible but receive relatively little training. I lean strongly on my elders' experience for my own training in service. I also believe that integrating service, teaching, and research is possible in many cases if one involves one's students in service learning, particularly on behalf of the community at large. I have served on 3 external boards of directors, the KU Senate, 4 committees in Latin American Studies, as Undergraduate Coordinator in Anthropology, and currently the interim Director of Latin American Studies, among other responsibilities. I also conduct much community service in Lawrence, especially involving the Lawrence Centro Hispano, for which I was a founding board member and organized several service learning courses. All 4 of my field schools in Central America were service learning courses. I am also a founding member of Engineers Without Borders - Sunflower Professional branch, in which we have been working since 2011 on a sustainable water project for a Ch'orti' community of over 3,000 people.