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Scholar ventures to Belize, Guatemala to study ancient Maya

Medina is one of 11 CSULA students to receive CSU’s pre-doctoral scholarship

For the 2011-12 academic year, Cal State L.A. boasts more Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars (11 total) than any other CSU campus. Four of them are from the University’s Department of Anthropology: Jeremy Coltman, Paulo Medina, Cecilia Salvi (Spanish double major), and Thien-Tin “Tino” Truong (physics double major). Additionally, three anthropology majors received honorable mentions: Kaitlyn Brown, Ian Irving and Rebekka Knierim.

Other scholars include CSULA students Joanna Barreras (social work major), Te-Kang Chao (computer engineering), Andres Garza (philosophy), Efren Lopez (English), Oscar Marquez (Latin American studies), Susana Morales (Latin American studies), and Amy Wat (mechanical engineering). Honorable mention also went to biology major Diane Rico.

Since 1998, 155 CSULA students have been recognized as Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholars. More than 50 percent of the CSULA students have entered top-ranking doctoral programs throughout the United States and in several foreign countries.

The prestigious scholar program supports the doctoral pursuits of CSU students who are economically or educationally disadvantaged. Each scholar is awarded a $3,000 scholarship, covering travel expenses to doctoral-granting institutions and to attend professional conferences as well as to pay fees for college applications and graduate exams.

Picture of Paulo Medina in Santa Elena, Guatemala.

Cal State L.A.’s anthropology graduate student Paulo Medina—one of 11 CSULA students recently selected by the California State University (CSU) as a Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar—spent his summer investigating the ancient Maya in Belize and Guatemala.

Medina said, “Thanks to the CSU funding, I was able to participate in summer research internships, and also network with trained archaeologists from other institutions.”

With a desire to pursue a Ph.D. in archaeology, Medina’s research focuses on the role of warfare, specifically on defensive architecture that infers violence among the Preclassic lowland Maya. He explained, “My research interests include the role of warfare in relation to the origin of complex societies, cave archaeology, and Maya hieroglyphs.”

Picture of Paulo Medina cleaning out the wall to be restored.

During the summer months, he attended the Belize Archaeology Symposium in San Ignacio, then participated in fieldwork at Xunantunich—a Maya archaeological site dating back to about 200 to 900 A.D.—for the joint Mopan Valley Archaeology and Preclassic Projects. From there, he headed to Guatemala to attend the Guatemalan National Archaeology Symposium and to conduct research in El Mirador, an early pre-Columbian Maya settlement.

After a two-day hike through the swamps and remote jungles of Peten, Medina said, “I was working hard as soon as I got to El Mirador. I consolidated and restored the entrance from the Danta complex sacbe (white roadway) to prevent further collapse and deterioration. This entrance is associated with a ‘defensive’ wall that surrounds the western group. I also surveyed the extremities of the western part of the city to get an idea of the landscape and identify other entrances on the wall. My goal is to identify the role this architecture played in warfare during the Preclassic.”

To further his aspirations and support his research for his master’s thesis, Medina was also awarded scholarships from the Emeriti Association at CSULA, and the Golden Key International Honor Society. Additionally, he was recently selected for the Phi Kappa Phi 2011 Love of Learning Award.

A Pasadena resident, Medina attended 32nd Street School and USC Magnet High School in Los Angeles, and received his bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and global studies from UC Santa Barbara. His interest in archaeology was inspired by his grandfather and other family members, who have been part of discovering and preserving the cultural patrimony of Guatemala for decades.

Once he completes his master’s degree, Medina hopes to continue his studies at a doctoral-granting institution, become a professor, and then conduct research in Mesoamerica.

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Last Update: 09/30/2011