About Anthro Mama

AR Kirwin, Kirfaid.org

AR Kirwin Near Whitney Portal, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California

I have had many jobs in my life but my current favorite one is teaching. I am currently teaching as an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at three community colleges in Southern Californ:ia College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita and Los Angeles Valley College and Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley.  My approach to teaching college students like more like a coach than what I remember experiencing when I was an undergrad. I feel that it’s my role is to listen to you, to encourage you,  and to help you succeed –not just in my class, but in life.

My research interests are diverse. One of them is Disaster Anthropology. My last community volunteer work and fundraising for disaster surivivors who needed help was with Mary fire in 2019 and the Thomas Fire in 2017.

Another interest of mine is local archaeology. I have volunteered as a field archaeologist with prehistoric and Mission Era Chumash material culture at Mission San Buenaventura in Ventura, California. Another interest is cross-cultural development work. I helping start a women’s vocational training project in rural Bihar, India, which challenged me in many ways. I have also helped a high school in a rural Maasai area near Arusha, Tanzania get a supplies for a rain cachement system so their campus would have drinking water.

Food is a major interest of mine. Who isn’t when they’re hungry, right?  I have done qualitative research and wrote an ethnography (unpublished) about the subcultures and foodways of triathletes and marathon runners in Southern California (2008-2009).   I try to incorporate food in my in-person classes each semester. it’s a little more challenging online, but its possible and still fun.

Why anthropology? I was inspired to become an anthropologist after working for Dr. Jane Goodall. I got hired for a year contract as a website consultant for the Jane Goodall Institute (2005-2006). After working for her and visiting her environmental and community service Roots & Shoots groups in Arusha, Tanzania, I took my first anthropology class and the rest was history. At this point, I am interested in practically all things anthropological. After getting my Masters of Art in Anthropology,  I travelled to Nicaragua and did a monkey census and mapping project for a local eco-tourism/wildlife protection project. My favorite monkeys are, by far, howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata). I find the social lives of chimpanzees and bonobos fascinating, too, but they are not monkeys (they are apes).

Before becoming a full-time college professor, I did volunteer disaster relief for with local community service organizations in the US and abroad and the American Red Cross. My day jobs during my pre-professor years included working as a web developer for outdoor companies like Patagonia and local businesses and non-profits. Before that I worked in sales in the bicycle industry.

I know what it’s like to work and go to school. During grad school, I worked a lot. So much that most semesters all I had time for was 1-2 classes! I also had two school-age children to care for and bills to pay. It took me a while to graduate, but I did and I did it with an A average. NEVER GIVE UP. Eventually, if you don’t quit, you will achieve your goals. It’s just takes time.

During my years as an undergrad at San Diego State (SDSU) I did all kinds of things to pay the bills from food sampling at local health food stores, sports product promotions at running races and triathlons, waitressing, selling advertising on commission for two publications, telemarketing (I lasted a month), selling over-priced chocolate truffles and candy at a gift shop, selling imported items at Pier One, working as a security guard in an olympic village, and delivering newspapers (middle school). I learned that restaurant jobs are the best: you’re guaranteed at least one good meal each day.

I don’t always work. I “play” a lot. I’m happiest when outside and in motion. In high school I competed on the cross-country and track teams. I also rode our quarter horse (Western style) for a few years. I’m not a good rider but I still love horses. When I was a college undergraduate at SDSU, I ran a lot, tried to surf a lot, swam a lot, and rode a road bike a lot. I fell in love with competing in triathlons and raced as a nationally-ranked triathlete for a few years. Addicted to having fun in the sun, I eventually qualified for the World Ironman Triathlon Championships and competed in Kona, Hawaii in 1994. Today, I still love being in the outdoors and in motion but nowadays I jog slowly, swim occasionally, ride a bike when I have to (rarely), walk our dogs (a lot), and really enjoy going on long day hikes in the Eastern Sierra.

I’m happily married and have two busy adult children. Our son who recently graduated from UC Davis and our daughter is at UC Berkeley. After seeing what our kids had to do to get into those universities, I have a lot of empathy for my students! What drives me to teach each semester is to help students succeed.

Background in applied anthropology

My history with anthropology is a bit backward: I began with research design for website usability studies (UI/UX) before I was an anthropologist. I also did cross-cultural disaster relief field work as a disaster relief volunteer (and continue to do so when I can fit it in my teaching schedule). In graduate school  I learned how much I really enjoyed learning about anthropology, talking about anthropology, and doing ethnographic and quantitative research.

Here are some areas of cultural research I’ve done:

Archeology – I learned a little about archeological fieldwork and using GIS tools to analyze archaeological features and ethnohistoric data from historic maps while an intern at a public archaeology firm.  At a Mission Era excavation site I learned a lot about some of the local history of Ventura and the trans-national cross-winds of political, demographic and economic forces that transformed the place where I live from a socially complex First Nation settlement into an urbanized English-speaking beach town.  After the excavation was complete, I supplied the firm with georeferencing (GPS data) of several features of the San Buenaventura Mission complex and surrounding settlement features based on antique maps and fire insurance records using Arc GIS 10.

Research Design – Before entering graduate school I worked for the Jane Goodall Institute as a web project manager for their youth service learning program Roots & Shoots. One of my duties was to develop the research design used to discover the beliefs, concerns and online informational needs of donors and youth members of environmental non-profit. Tools of data gathering included participant observation at community service projects, online surveys and focus groups of youth members, parents and donors of the non-profit.

My foodways research project on the sport cultures of triathlon and long distance runners is a non-commercial scientific research project. The foodways research explored the diet, eating practices and beliefs of racing triathletes and marathon runners. Research methods for the ethnographic foodways research project included two snow-ball or convenience samples of local athletes affiliated with local sport clubs and followers on a twitter account (@MultisportMama) and blog (MultisportMama.com) created for the project.

Disaster Relief Field Work My disaster relief field work experience began by accident in a small port city in southwestern Thailand called Ranong on December 26, 2004. By sheer luck, my family and I just missed getting hit by Andaman Sea tsunami that morning. I did my first field work there by providing care and emergency translation and transportation services for injured tourists who were stranded without anything but their clothing at a local hospital. In 2005 I delivered relief supplies through an informal aid network of local school district personnel and local humanitarians in Picayune Mississippi that delivered disaster relief supplies to families who lost their homes due to Hurricane Katrina. Since 2004, I have done disaster relief and education development projects working with local community leaders in communities outside my native culture in India, Thailand, Tanzania and the United States. More information about these projects are at KIRFaid.org.

Academic Background

My academic background includes MA in Anthropology degree at California State University Northridge,  a BS in Business Administration, Marketing degree from San Diego State University, a Web Master Certificate from University California Santa Barbara’s Extension program and an assortment of interesting (well, to me anyway) classes and workshops. While an undergraduate at San Diego State University I did the marketing research design and analysis (using SPSS) for an on-campus research project for Apple. I have earned a Distance Education certificate, online accessibility @ONE certificate for Canvas, and a Skilled Teaching Certificate at College of the Canyons, too.

When I first wrote this post, I said that I believe whole heartedly that:

  1. Life is a journey, not a race, so you may as well make this life the best adventure ever.
  2. Work hard and always do your best–a 100%. It takes courage and a lot of work to do a great job. A great job is the only job worth doing.
  3. No matter how young you are or how old you are, everyone has a role to play. Anyone can make a difference in making the world a better place.
  4. A rich person to me is a person who lives in compassion. I try to be rich every day… Okay, I try…!
  5. Life is a team sport, pick your team mates wisely and be grateful for their help. I grew up with a gifted artist who would disappear into her studio and come out with art. I had to learn how to succeed as a non-artist, which meant collaborating and helping others succeed.  I find it more fun to share and “our” success as well.

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