Oct. 1, 2014
Wayne Fike | Special to Viewpoints
It’s a sweltering 95 degrees on a mid-May afternoon and students are thinking “could it get any hotter?”
Five minutes before class starts the door swings open and in walks anthropology professor Ryan Mongelluzzo. The first thing he says before starting class with roll call the entire class laugh.
“Apparently the earth is on fire, someone turned the oven up to 450 degrees,” Mongelluzzo said.
Laughing is a common thing in Mongelluzzo’s classes.
Sadly, Mongelluzzo is parting company with Riverside City College as of the end of spring 2014 to accept a full-time teaching position at San Diego Mesa College.
“He was kind and helpful, and always with a cheerful joke or story,” said Laura Greathouse, associate professor and department chairwoman of Behavioral Sciences. “I appreciated his kindness then, and it’s that collegial spirit that I will miss. I am sending good wishes to Ryan, and I know he will continue to be a fantastic instructor of anthropology, continue to create an interest and understanding of archaeology as well as continue to support students through humor and understanding.”
Mongelluzzo started teaching at RCC in 2012. He originally taught Intro to Anthropology and Ancient Cultures of Mexico.
He tells a story about being on a field trip in seventh grade to a museum, where he saw a mummy which captivated his attention. It was the instance that would eventually direct his life toward anthropology and archaeology.
Mongelluzzo described his first dig in La Milpa, Belize as solidifying his life’s calling and in 2000 he did a second dig in Holmul, Guatemala.
“I’ve always enjoyed my work, but on the Holmul dig in Guatemala the site boss told us we were going to work 7 days a week until the rains came and shut us down.”
After 28 days straight working and running out of food at the dig site he names this as the only time in his career he had doubts.
In June, Mongelluzzo traveled again to Central America in Ucanal, Guatemala where he surveyed his next and upcoming dig, this time as the site’s director.
Graduating from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in archaeology, and continuing on for an M.A. and Ph.D. at UC Riverside, Dr. Mongelluzzo is a stern believer in education.
He encourages all RCC students to take anthropology classes.
“In an era of seemingly increasing intolerance, an anthropological perspective can provide insight into understanding why people are different from one another,” Mongelluzzo said. “Anthropology is very rewarding to teach. It is a perspective that can change world views.”
Throughout the spring semester, it was not uncommon for jokes about class and life in general to get thrown around.
Any Anthropology 3 student might remember an in-class assignment where groups of students had to craft a set of verbal instructions that would take a person from a seated position into a standing position. The task is not as easy as it might seem.
People take for granted the small things in life such as standing up from a chair. To find a professor who would be that seated person following each instruction to the ‘T’ in order to teach a valuable lesson to his students is a rare quality.
It’s not often a student gets a comical instructor willing to contort themselves into a pretzel to teach a point. However, it was entertaining to see the look on Ryan’s face from instructions given to him by students.
Mongelluzzo described receiving a burial site skull he was instructed to clean it up and make it museum ready. He was taking great care in cleaning out the dirt and sediment that had accumulated inside the damaged skull.
While slowly and meticulously removing debris from inside the skull cavity he noticed a part of it “started to pulsate,” which had caught him off guard and made him jump in his chair a bit.
“It’s a given that everything in archaeology is dead when it comes into the lab,” Mongelluzzo said.
Apparently the site was home to a particular type of frog that enjoyed burrowing in the ground. Four frogs later and a few chuckles on his part the skull was
“They just kept appearing inside of this skull,” he said.
It is apparent Mongelluzzo’s anecdotes will be missed among colleagues at RCC.
Mongelluzzo originally was a fill in instructor for Barbara Hall, who at the time had become sick and eventually died while he was covering her classes.
Mongelluzzo wants to leave RCC students with one thing in mind, “Don’t ever be discouraged, or think that college is not for you. Don’t be daunted if you choose an uncommon focus, like anthropology. Seek out positive, like-minded people in both the student body and faculty. You are not alone and you can do it!”
It’s not often instructors make students pause and seriously think about their existence and ponder the “what ifs” of life. Mongelluzzo is one of those people who can take a subject, make it his own, and re-create it to make it a student’s own.