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Sociology and anthropology professor lauded with University’s most prestigious faculty award
by Jeanna Goodrich Balreira ’08
Jennifer P. Mathews, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Trinity University, has been named the 2019 recipient of the Dr. and Mrs. Z.T. Scott Faculty Fellowship in recognition of her outstanding abilities as a teacher and mentor.
The Z.T. Scott Fellowship includes a cash award to be used for professional development and research. Trinity University Trustee Richard M. Kleberg III established the Fellowship in 1984 in honor of his grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Z.T. Scott. The award, announced May 18 during Trinity’s undergraduate commencement, is the most prestigious faculty award the University bestows.
Her work would be shortchanged if it were limited to “gum, rum, and them some,” but Mathews has whetted the appetites of anthropologists and civilians alike with research that follows the extraction of edible commodities across the Yucatán peninsula. Her 2009 book, Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas: From the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley, complements work a decade later on Rum in the Yucatán: Cane Knives, Cantinas and Cancun. In between, Mathews has written about tourism, archaeology, and the value of “things” from ancient Maya to post-Colonial Mexico.
And while she doesn’t bring the gum and rum into the classroom, she does integrate a service project every semester in her classes to raise money for a cause related to the class itself. Her “Eating and Drinking in the 19th Century” class volunteers at the San Antonio Food Bank, her “Seminar in Primatology” has adopted primates at the San Antonio Zoo, and her “Pre-Columbian Art of Mesoamerica” and her “Seminar on the Ancient Maya” support Maya women artists and artisans in Mesoamerica.
“My teaching philosophy is driven by one major theme—paying it forward. I am passionate about teaching and mentoring students in part because education and mentoring had such a dramatic impact on my own life,” Mathews says. “I feel strongly that although it is important to be supportive and help students through mentoring, I also want to foster independence, hold them to high expectations and teach them the ability to accept feedback and improve their work.”
“Dr. Mathews was was undoubtedly one of the best and most engaging professors I ever had the pleasure of studying under,” says Bridget Bey ’17. Bey graduated with majors in anthropology and English and took four classes from Mathews, who also served as Bey’s academic adviser. “Due in large part to the high expectations and guidance I received from Dr. Mathews at Trinity, I was particularly prepared for new academic challenges in graduate school. She was always more than just a professor. She was a role model and a mentor to me and numerous other students.”
Mathews’ colleagues agree. “Jennifer is an extremely caring and creative teacher and mentor who has always gone the extra mile for her students,” says David Spener, Ph.D. professor of sociology and anthropology. “She is an exceptionally gifted teacher, a productive scholar, and someone who has made major contributions to the mission of the University through her institutional service.”
At Trinity, Mathews emphasizes interdisciplinarity with her work in the Environmental Studies program and the Mexico, the Americas, and Spain (MAS) Program. She has served as vice chair and chair of the faculty senate, as acting chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and on numerous other standing and special University committees.
In the community, Mathews works regularly with local museums such as the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) to teach docents about the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica, and her students provide copies of their semester-long research papers on pieces in their collection. She has also curated two exhibits, “The Modern Maya: The Photographs of Macduff Everton” and “Crafting Maya Identity.”
Mathews, who has taught at Trinity since 1999, received her bachelor’s in anthropology from San Diego State University and her master’s and doctorate in anthropology from the University of California – Riverside.
Jeanna Goodrich Balreira ’08 is the director for content strategy for Trinity University’s Office of Strategic Communications and Marketing. Get in touch at jgoodri1 [at] trinity.edu or @jeannabalreira.