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CLARKSTON, Ga.–It was 1981 and the first Indiana Jones movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was in theaters. Ernie Guyton was instantly hooked.
“I was in my second year in college and saw that movie, and I thought, ‘Wow, I would love to do that,’ and then the second movie came out and (my career) was sealed,’’ he said.
While he’s not an archaeology professor, the 2022-23 Teaching Excellence Award recipient is an associate professor of anthropology, taking his “Indiana Jones” passion and love for teaching, adventure, and travel into his classroom and abroad. With degrees in both anthropology and geography, over the past two decades he has taught classes in anthropology, sociology and geography on the Clarkston Campus, and has led students on eight study abroad trips to South and Central American countries. He has connected the three areas of study with his interest in the environment as well. “I taught where things were, who lived here, and when they got there,” he said.
In 2021, after three years of research, he finished his textbook, “Introduction of Anthropology,” a resource for students across the nation.
It was an archaeology professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he attended college, who first introduced him to study abroad with a trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, igniting his interest in South and Central America.
“I got addicted to the area; I wanted to be able to converse with the people,” Guyton said. Eventually, he took six Spanish classes in a row, becoming fluent in Spanish.
By the 2000s, Guyton had also led faculty from across the University System of Georgia for private trips throughout Latin America. In 2006 he created a student study abroad program to Peru. Afterward, he created a similar program to Guatemala, traveling to those areas several times over the years. In a small village in Guatemala, his students did a service-learning project, repairing an old school and health clinic. “We turned both of those buildings and their supplies inside out—the school and health clinic got totally renovated and restocked, I’m still very proud today of that what we did there,” he said.
Now in his 25th year at the college, Guyton has organized more than a dozen trips for both students and faculty to Central and South America, visiting literally every country in Latin America.
For more than 22 years, Guyton has extended his love for the region as a presenter or moderator at the Conference of the Americas along with chemistry professor Dr. Luise Strange de Soria. The two faculty members attended the most recent conference in Athens at the University of Georgia. The conference provides a venue in which faculty and students can engage and share their interests and expertise regarding the Caribbean, Latin America and Canada.
This year, almost 17 years since his first study abroad program with the college, Guyton will lead a program with English associate professor Barbara Hall and Spanish instructor Stewart Goodman back to the Yucatan Peninsula. “It’s an area I know better than any other in the world,” he said. Two years ago, Guyton spent two months in the Yucatan, creating online videos in the area for online students.
Traveling to the Yucatan for study abroad is also a fitting end to his teaching career. Guyton is retiring this summer.
“It will be exactly 25 years at the college in August,” he said. He is proud of his accomplishments, organizing international events, and Earth Day celebrations over the years on the Clarkston Campus, and spearheading college-wide sustainability efforts—another passion of his–which started comprehensive recycling efforts collegewide in 2010.
Guyton has many positive teaching memories. But unlike his ‘hero’ Indiana Jones he will not be sneaking out the office window to avoid his students.
“My best memories are when students hang out after class with me and continue to talk about the class. That tells me I did it right that day. Teaching is a reciprocal gift that keeps on giving.”
Story by Rebecca Rakoczy
Photo by Bill Roa