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Cal State Fullerton's Widely Respected Anthropology Department Will Migrate to a State-of-the-Art Facility

December 04, 1996|BRAD BONHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Fullerton's anthropology department is sitting on a gold mine--and knows it.

Anthropology, after all, is the study of humankind, its cultures and all its myriad behaviors, and with Southern California acknowledged as one of the world's largest ethnic salad bowls, the match has been perfect.

The Fullerton program has taken advantage of this, supplementing classroom studies with work in the community. And the department has thrived:

Enrollment in its undergraduate and master's programs has doubled over the past three years, far outpacing the growth at other anthropology departments nationwide. The number of student anthropology clubs has jumped from two to eight. And many graduates, having begun careers locally, retain active ties to the college.

The Fullerton program can point to these strengths despite being handicapped for years by tight quarters, budget cuts and outmoded facilities. The ethnographic cultural analysis lab, for example, consists of one computer and one storage shelf in a faculty member's office, says department Chairwoman Susan Parman.

But those handicaps will soon be memories.

A 10,000-square-foot teaching and research facility is under construction on campus, thanks in part to a $1-million federal grant. The facility will include four state-of-the-art labs, a museum, a conference room, offices and study areas, all wired to serve as a sort of anthropology superhighway of data sharing.

That the grant money came from the National Science Foundation adds prestige to the project, says David Givens, director of academic relations at the American Anthropological Assn. in Arlington, Va.

"Fullerton is a very high-quality program," Givens said. "The faculty is very real-world, with good links to the community. At some campuses there's very little involvement. The ivy walls are really high.

"At Fullerton, not only do faculty members know theory, but they know how to apply it to the career realm for students--a mix of applied anthropologists along with more traditional academic faculty."

The new facility, due to be completed by fall 1997, will enhance that blend, says Parman, who is a strong proponent of an interdisciplinary, "four field" approach to anthropology.

The four sub-disciplines--cultural, linguistic, archeological and physical anthropology--not only will be addressed in concept but also will be "physically tethered" at the facility, Givens says.

With fiber-optic cable linking the various labs to one another and eventually to the campus as a whole, students and researchers will be able to create compound documents on a Web site.

For example, Parman says, students studying primate behavior at the Santa Ana Zoo could enter their findings, while archeologists could add data on ancient primate habitats. Then visual anthropologists might add film clips and other visual representations of the relevant primates, while cultural anthropologists add information on why and how studying primates is relevant to studying humankind.

Such a document, Parman says, would be an evolving tool and could form the basis for a series of exhibits at the facility's museum.

Other community-based anthropology projects will be enhanced by the resources at the new center, says professor Jacob Pandian, the facility's funding campaign coordinator and the chairman of the department for 18 years before he stepped down this year.

Among the projects:

* An ongoing archeology dig off Ortega Highway in which students are excavating and analyzing evidence of a "milling stone" culture between 5,000 and 8,000 years old;

* Student research into differing cultural attitudes toward doctors and hospitals, which has become a training tool for Kaiser health care workers;

* The forensic study of human bones under the supervision of professor Judy M. Suchey, who contracts with Southland coroners on crime scene investigations;

* And the biannual Ethnic Bazaar fund-raiser, an on-campus collaboration between anthropology students and local merchants.

To build the center, the university has provided $447,000 to supplement the $1-million federal grant. An additional $600,000 is needed, however, and that's where department alumni come in, says Norm Rosen, a 1994 master's graduate.

As chairman of the Anthropology Building Council, Rosen is tapping the goodwill of anthropology graduates for the capital campaign fund. And Rosen gave a sizable donation himself.

"The reason I gave a lot is that my experience at Fullerton was so wonderful," Rosen says. "I have a lot of schooling, and the years I spent at Fullerton were the most fulfilling I've had. There's a tremendous amount of esprit de corps among both graduates and undergraduates."

Education in anthropology provides critical skills for today's cross-cultural business world, and the new facility will help provide them, Rosen says. Anthropology graduates find careers not only in museums and research but also in personnel departments, public utilities and market research firms.

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