Honoring Professor Diane Gifford-Gonzalez

Erica Ayón, Class of 2014

Photo: Diane Gifford-GonzalezDiane Gifford-Gonzalez has a tremendous presence in the field of anthropology; her contributions to Zooarchaeology and African Archaeology are what inspired me to pursue a degree in anthropology. During my time as an undergraduate, I took as many classes as I was able to with Diane and it was a joy to be able to experience her extensive knowledge. She is Curator of Monterey Bay Archaeology archives, leading and contributing to various zooarchaeology committees, has authored dozens of publications and most recently became President of the Society for American Archaeology. Many anthropology students at UCSC and myself know Diane as all of the above as well as a professor and great mentor.

My first day in Diane’s Zooarchaeology class was an experience unlike any other first day of class I’ve had. Being a junior in her class and having had many “first days” in the quarter system, I had general expectations for the first day. She started off explaining course content, assignments, and proceeded to tell us that she was a very busy woman, but understood that students are just as busy. Diane then passed out a survey asking how we are doing, she told us to write down anything we wanted to tell her what kind of course-load we had planned, any particular family matters going on, or jobs we had. She offered to talk with us about the survey if we chose to do so. I paused before filling out the survey, feeling confused. In my three years as a student at UCSC, I had never been asked by a professor how I was doing. I was taken by surprise and ended up staring at the blank survey for a few minutes. Soon after, I realized what this survey truly meant. This professor wanted to get to know and understand her students. I felt like I could confide in her and wrote, “I am taking 17 units and working two jobs.” I know she understood we were busy, some of us struggling to pay for our education, yet passionate and excited to be in class. This wasn’t a class where the students remained anonymous; Diane was very active in making herself available to students. She always provided very detailed commentaries on our work, often several paragraphs explaining strengths and suggested improvements on our papers. Diane held students to high standards and believed in our potential to grow.

My time in Diane’s Zooarchaeology course was a pivotal point in my undergraduate career; I fell in love with the breadth of information I learned from the archaeofaunal specimens we studied. When she announced that she was accepting interns for her Zooarchaeologyresearch lab, I jumped at the chance, very eager to learn more from Diane. The first impression I had of the research lab was that it was covered with bones, and that each of her computers had peculiar names. There was Binky, NSF Bob, iCloudeus, and Ovis (Latin genus for sheep). Though I shouldn’t have been surprised, as her quirky sense of humor also made its way into our lectures. “Yes, I’m as old as dirt,” she would say every time she mentioned the year her dissertation was published. Her jokes are often at her own expense or creative anthropological pun: which feel satisfyingly nerdy to giggle about in unison with her.

Once working in the lab, she taught us intricate details to look for in the bones. She not only took the time to mentor students in zooarchaeology, she was also always interested in our futures. She would recommend archaeology field schools and encourage us to pursue graduate schools which catered to our interests. Any questions I had about how to pursue what I liked, Diane made time to answer and offered suggestions and resources.

The zooarchaeology internship was coming to an end with the 2013 spring quarter and I was keeping my fingers crossed for Diane to have more intern work available for the following school year. Luckily, she was looking for student assistants to work on cleaning and documenting a HUGE collection of taphonomic specimens to be curated at the Smithsonian for research purposes. The opportunity sounded like a dream, and to my surprise an undergrad and I were chosen to work on the project. I have been immersed in my passion ever since Spring of 2013, and am still finding new ways to apply the skills I have learned in her Zooarchaeology class. Ihave obtained great faunal analysis skills from this project, but the biggest accomplishment and most challenging for me was eventually becoming a specialist and overseeing interns. I would describe myself as reserved and not the type to volunteer for leadership positions. When Diane told me that she wanted me to manage interns for the project, I was extremely nervous. However I am proud to say that I have given orientations to over thirty-five student interns thus far and feel more confident in my abilities as a leader. Giving dozens of undergraduates the opportunity to work on a research project showcases Diane’s commitment to student involvement in the archaeology labs. The work opportunities that she has provided us have enriched so many student experiences in the Anthropology Department.

Working for Diane as well as being her student has been instrumental in my development as an anthropologist, and I am very thankful that I have had an opportunity to experience her passion and wisdom. She is constantly hard at work, preparing lectures, SAA meetings, reviewing papers, publishing her own works; and, despite all of her commitments she always goes above and beyond for students. Never would I have imagined that I would be able to build such a relationship with a professor, from bringing me tea and persimmons when I’ve been ill to teaching me how to determine species from small bone fragments. I appreciate Diane’s time endlessly. Being able to learn from such a distinguished woman in archaeology has molded my experience as an anthropology undergraduate in so many ways. Diane’s accomplishments have and will continue to inspire many.