Thanks to a Superman cartoon in which a mummy came to life, Mary Theresa Bonhage-Freund first became interested in archaeology at 6 years old. When her grandfather took her to The University Museum in her hometown of Philadelphia to see real mummies, she says she knew there was no turning back.
“Archaeology is the cultural anthropology of the past, so there is a natural link between the study of living populations and the lives of their ancestors,” she says. “I find that the study of other cultures, ways of life, and belief systems opens windows to the world I would never have otherwise experienced by merely reading or traveling.”
Bonhage-Freund received her doctorate in anthropology from The Pennsylvania State University in 1997 and began teaching at Alma College shortly after. As an associate professor of anthropology and sociology, she says she has seen the joys in both motivating students and seeing students motivate themselves.
“It is exciting for me when a student realizes that a passing interest has blossomed into a passion,” she says. “When that happens, a student is poised to follow his or her dream. Inspiration, perspiration, and a little advising and mentoring on my part usually gets those students on the track to where they want to be. What is even more rewarding, though, is when these self-motivated students move on to become peer mentors.”
As an anthropologist, Bonhage-Freund says her biggest challenge is combating ethnocentrism, the worldview that one’s own culture is the measure of perfection. Through her personal experiences and Alma’s international focus, however, she says she is able to begin breaking down these barriers.
“I have been very fortunate in my life to study at great institutions, to count world-class researchers among my peers and friends, and to travel to developed and developing countries alike,” she says. ”I love sharing these experiences and creating opportunities for students to learn about and interact with people of other cultures, both domestically and abroad. It is one of the best ways to overcome ethnocentrism!”