Profile: Marne Ausec
A Life-Changing ExperienceWhen Marne Ausec was accepted into the Kenyon Honduras Program in 1988, she had no idea that both Kenyon and Honduras were about to become lasting parts of her life. She was a senior at Albion College and had already spent a semester of her junior year in France.
"When my advisor suggested I apply to this program, I thought he was crazy," says Ausec. "I was a French and Spanish major and had never studied anthropology or archaeology. But I soon concluded that studying a foreign language is about culture and that archaeology is also about culture and that the two things went very well together."
Today, Ausec's career remains very much involved with culture. As the associate director of international education at Kenyon, Ausec skillfully guides students much like her youthful self into what may turn out to be, as it was for her, the experience of a lifetime. "I want them to understand that personal growth can sometimes come in the most unexpected ways and that sometimes one can find one's heart's desire even when one isn't looking for it," she says.
She also works closely with international students at the College, helping them with everything from federal red tape to the art of living on a hilltop in central Ohio.
When Ausec arrived in Gambier in March 2001, it was in some ways like coming home. For seventeen years she had maintained a friendship and working relationship with Ed Schortman and Pat Urban, professors of anthropology and architects of the Naco Valley Project in Honduras. She also knew quite a bit about what Kenyon students are like, having worked with them during her many return trips to Honduras, first as the lab director for the Kenyon program in 1990 and later as a graduate student.
She received her master's degree in material culture and museum studies from the University of Denver in 1992, and she is pursuing a Ph.D. in archaeology at the University of Massachusetts. Her doctoral dissertation, still a work in progress, is an expansion of her initial research on identity and political divisions through interpretation of variations in ceramic designs.
Ausec has a more personal reason for returning to Honduras on a regular basis. She met her husband, Juan Varela, in Cofradia, the Honduran town in the Naco Valley where the Kenyon researchers were based. Now she goes back to visit his family.
Ausec first began working in international education in 1997 in the international programs office at the University of Massachusetts. That office served eighteen hundred foreign students, compared to about forty at Kenyon. "Although I loved working there, it was almost impossible to really get to know any one student very well," says Ausec. "At Kenyon I know everyone's name and see most of the students nearly every day. It is so much more satisfying."
In 2000, returning to Massachusetts after another research trip to Honduras, she was offered a job in the international students and scholars office, an area that dealt primarily with immigration issues. That knowledge was to prove especially useful in the search that led her to Kenyon, because the College was looking for more expertise in the increasingly complex area of federal documentation for foreign students.
Although Ausec continues to work on her dissertation and intends to complete her doctorate, she has no plans to pursue a teaching career. "I love to teach and I love to watch students learn, and international education fulfills that need for me. But I absolutely hate to write," Ausec confesses. "I knew right from the beginning that I was never going to be a professor. On the other hand," she says with a grin, "I'm looking forward to the very cool cap and gown I will get to wear."
Ausec is part of an informal dissertation support group at Kenyon comprising the dissertation fellows and some others who are struggling to stay on task and complete their writing. "We meet every week for encouragement and idea sharing and we read each other's work," she says. "It provides a sort of graduate seminar kind of atmosphere that is both fun and intellectually stimulating."
Ausec and Varela have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Marisol, who is growing up bilingual and bicultural. They take her to Honduras at least annually so she will feel at home there with her extended family.
"The Kenyon Honduras program changed me-the way I think, the way I feel. It gave me confidence in my ability to use my intellect and express my ideas," says Ausec. "Study abroad does that, and watching this transformation take place in Kenyon students is why I love my job."