CSU Stanislaus alumnus S. Steve Arounsack has returned to his alma mater as an anthropology professor, and he's quickly making a name for himself through innovative research in which he uses digital media to document and tell stories of different cultures.
Arounsack, who earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at CSU Stanislaus, is the lead researcher on a team that recently received a $250,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to support the creation of the Keck Visual Anthropology Lab, where faculty and students will use digital media to tell the stories of various Central Valley cultures.
"More than ever, visual media are ubiquitous, powerful avenues for instruction and awareness," Arounsack said. "This lab responds to those trends by offering a solid academic foundation by which to study and preserve the Central Valley's cultural heritage."
That approach paid off for Arounsack last year, when he earned the Sony Electronics Faculty Award for Innovative Instruction with Technology. The award is given to four CSU faculty members each year and provides each with an electronics package valued at $2,300 to use in their teaching.
Arounsack's journey has been an unexpected one. While finishing up his Ph.D. at UC Davis in 2005, a former professor at CSU Stanislaus asked if he would teach a freshman class that spring.
"I was actually late to my first class and was speaking so fast that some poor student in the back had to ask me to speak slower," Arounsack recalled. "I didn't think my career would last much longer than that semester."
Today, Arounsack is well on his way to establishing his academic credentials at his alma mater.
Arounsack said he initially had no plans to enter academia as a profession while an undergraduate student at CSU Stanislaus. But the relationships he forged on campus led to the opportunity that would set his path.
"Being at CSU Stanislaus actually helped me quite a bit for graduate school, because my time here taught me how to build relationships with fellow students and professors — not just for the short term but the long term," he said. "We have a learning-centered approach and collegial atmosphere here."
A native of Laos who grew up on Maui before his family moved to the Central Valley, Arounsack has devoted much of his research to cultures of Southeast Asia. Much of that research can tie in with the Valley, he said, which is home to "quite a mosaic of Southeast Asian enclaves" of Laotian, Cambodian, Filipino and Hmong peoples.
His research, then, can have special meaning to Valley students. And his use of technology allows them to experience cultural traditions and rituals virtually, often in real time using web cameras.
"I think students appreciate that their professors have real-world research experiences and are out in the field or engaging the community," Arounsack said. "Students seem keenly interested in the human stories behind the research theories. CSU Stanislaus provides a safe learning environment to ask probing questions and challenge students."