Cal State L.A. anthropology student Mario Giron-Abrego is honored with Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement
Graduate student also named CSU Foundation Board of Governors’ Scholar
Los Angeles, CA — Contrary to the typical use of the expression, “The writing on the wall” was not a sign of peril for Mario Giron-Abrego when he lived with very little as a child in Guatemala, but instead an introduction to a dynamic future as he explored the Maya ruins of Kaminaljuyú.
As he works on his master’s degree in anthropology at Cal State L.A. (CSULA), with the goal of earning his Ph.D. in Maya archeology, Giron-Abrego draws from his already extensive knowledge of Maya hieroglyphs, an allure to the ancient culture that was first nurtured when he was a child.
“I remember those weekends spent with my grandfather at the ruins observing archaeological excavations,” said Giron-Abrego, a Los Angeles resident. “I became increasingly fascinated by the archaeology and the Maya hieroglyphs, and read as much as I could find about their civilization.”
Giron-Abrego has been honored by the CSU Board of Trustees with a $3,000 William Randolph Hearst/CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. The award is given to one honoree from each of the 23 CSU campuses cited for academic excellence and commitment to education.
In addition, Giron-Abrego will receive $3,000 as the CSU Foundation Board of Governors’ Scholar, a distinction added to enhance the value of the Hearst scholarship. Sponsored by board Chair Ronald R. Barhorst, the award is given to the scholar who exemplifies significant achievement both academically and in service to community.
Times were tough in Guatemala. At the age of six, Giron-Abrego was left in the care of his grandmother, who had difficulty supporting him. Despite the hardships, and with the help of World Vision International, Giron-Abrego was still able to pursue his interest in Maya archaeology on his own, often attending free monthly visits to the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, a national archaeological and ethnological museum in Guatemala.
At 14, Giron-Abrego left Guatemala and traveled with his cousin through Mexico for two months with no funds to support them, which was very challenging for both of them. He finally arrived in the United States, where he spent his first few years learning to speak English and assimilating into American society.
In 2001, he applied to Cal State L.A. and was accepted. He had learned that the University’s Department of Anthropology conducted archaeological fieldwork in Maya regions, a perfect fit for his educational aspirations. However, paying for the cost of tuition for international students proved insurmountable for him at the time, and Giron-Abrego’s immigration status left him unqualified for financial aid.
“My dream had to be postponed while I resolved my difficulties and worked multiple jobs to pay the immigration fees. I waited for three years before my permanent residency came through, which then enabled me to start attending Cal State L.A. [in 2004],” explained Giron-Abrego, who carries a 4.0 GPA and is on the Dean’s List. “Once I was there, my education—my training in archaeology—couldn’t have been better. I took courses on Maya civilization and cave archaeology, which provided essential background for my future fieldwork in Belize.”
Giron-Abrego has achieved great heights at CSULA. He has participated in ample fieldwork, such as excavating in the Mojave Desert at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, and surveying in Utah with USC’s Paleontological Kaiparowits Formation project in 2007.
Like a dream come true, Giron-Abrego was selected by CSULA’s anthropology Professor James Brady as one of five students invited to work at the renowned “Midnight Terror Cave” in Belize. He financed his fieldwork research in Belize with Cotsen Fellowships for Archaeological Research in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
In 2009, Giron-Abrego was asked to present his findings at meetings of the Society for American Archaeology, which he entitled “A Behavioral Interpretation of High Density Ceramic Sherd Concentrations at Midnight Terror Cave.” He also gave a presentation last year to the Society regarding his discovery, “Epigraphy and Iconography of a Polychrome Vase Found at Midnight Terror Cave.” He recently presented a paper regarding his investigations on ancient Mesoamerican blood-sports, “Ritualized Gladiatorial Contests in Classic Maya Ceramic Art.”
Giron-Abrego was also awarded second place in his division at the 19th Annual Student Symposium on Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity at CSULA for his hieroglyphic analysis of Maya polychrome ceramics.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree last year, Giron-Abrego immediately applied for and enrolled in the anthropology master’s program at CSULA. He became a U.S. citizen soon after.
Still very involved on campus, Giron-Abrego is a founding member of the Society for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, and serves as the president of the Society for Maya Hieroglyphs. This year, he also garnered the Cal State L.A. Golden Eagle Award of Excellence and the Emeriti Association’s Mary Gormly Memorial Fellowship.
“These experiences have solidified my goal of pursuing a doctoral degree so that I might one day teach at Cal State L.A.,” he said. “After the 2010 season, I took advantage of the opportunity to do an epigraphic and iconographic analysis of polychrome ceramics for my M.A. thesis. I spent an additional month at the Programme for Belize Archaeological Project, helping analyze the 29,000 ceramic fragments recovered from the Midnight Terror Cave site during the three years of the project.”
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