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San Diego Mesa College researcher Ryan Mongelluzo

San Diego Mesa College Professor Ryan Mongelluzzo.

Mesa College professor researching a civilization
February 24, 2016
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San Diego Community College District

San Diego Mesa College Professor Ryan Mongelluzzo wanted to be a professional football player. Or maybe a fighter pilot. But that all changed during a middle school field trip to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

“I saw an ancient Egyptian mummy and thought it was the greatest thing,” Dr. Mongelluzzo recalled. “That was it. My future was set. I was going to become an anthropologist.”

Today, Dr. Mongelluzzo is among the leading community college researchers into Maya architecture. He has led several excavations of Maya palaces and is applying for a Franklin Research Grant to open a field school at Ucanal, Guatemala, which will enable San Diego Mesa College students to travel there for course work. If all goes according to plan, the field school will could open as early as summer 2016.

Colleagues say Dr. Mongelluzzo exemplifies the excellence in education at Mesa College.

“Dr. Ryan Mongelluzzo has greatly strengthened our anthropology/archaeology program,” said Dr. Charles A. Zappia, Dean at the School of Social/Behavioral Sciences and Multicultural Studies at Mesa College. “He is a very knowledgeable, animated lecturer who is popular with our students. His service record is exemplary. He is the Faculty Advisor for the Mesa Anthropology Club and is a member of several important campus committees.  His commitment to scholarship includes the development of a local archaeological field work program while he continues his ongoing research in Guatemala during the summers. In addition, he has been active in presenting papers at professional conferences, and has continued to publish in peer‐reviewed journals. In short, he is the kind of scholar/teacher our students deserve.”

According to Mesa College President Pamela Luster, Dr. Mongelluzzo is a model of teaching brilliance the college expected from the 80 or so new faculty members hired in the past few years.

“Our new faculty are bringing a passion for their fields into the classroom and enhancing the student experience,” Dr. Luster said. “We are seeing this across the board, from anthropology to architecture, to culinary arts, English and art history. This infusion of new ideas and excellence is truly enhancing the landscape of academic excellence at Mesa.”

Dr. Mongelluzzo’s interest in all things Maya developed while he was attending Boston University and majoring in archaeological studies in the late 1990s. At the time, Dr. Mongelluzzo was aiming to become an Egyptologist. Degree requirements mandated he study at a field school in Egypt, but the political situation there was a bit unsettled at the time.

So Dr. Mongelluzzo changed course and headed to Belize, home of Boston University field school programs at the Maya city/states of La Milpa and Cuello. Dr. Mongelluzzo returned to Belize on numerous occasions, and he has also done extensive research in Guatemala. He earned his Ph.D. at UC Riverside, completing his dissertation on Experiencing Maya Palaces: Royal Power, Space, and Architecture at Holmul, Guatemala. Dr. Mongelluzzo supervised a team of undergraduates excavating a Maya palace. He was trying to better understand how the Maya expressed power through architecture and the experience of space.

“To me, Ryan's greatest strengths as a researcher are his originality, his dedication to seeing work through, and his skills at communicating his findings to a wide audience, not just fellow academics,” said Dr. Mongelluzzo’s doctoral advisor, Wendy Ashmore. “Of the phenomena he described for experiencing that palace, one of my favorites is that sound briefly ‘cuts outs’ when moving between some palatial spaces. Audible sounds suddenly become silence, potentially disorienting the visitor, as part of the king's means of expressing power over others' experiences.”

Laura J. Kosakowsky was similarly impressed. She is an anthropology research scholar at the University of Arizona who has known Dr. Mongelluzzo since he was a student of Kosakowsky’s at Boston University.

“His examination of palace architecture at Holmul to explore how the Maya state expressed power through architectural design features and how these features were parts of strategies to affect the experience of those in and around the palace and the ruling elite informs on how elites exerted power in ancient societies across the world stage,” Kosakowsky said.

Dr. Mongelluzzo’s research has been published in Ancient Mesoamerica and he has presented papers at archaeological conferences from San Francisco to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

After earning his Ph.D. from UC Riverside, Dr. Mongelluzzo taught at Norco College, Riverside City College, and UC Riverside before coming to San Diego Mesa College in the fall of 2014.

The opportunity was too good to pass up. “Mesa College has an outstanding anthropology program and it has been very supportive of my research,” he said.

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