This profile is part of a series that features members of the UOG Society of Emeritus and Retired Scholars. There are two main classes of emeriti at the University of Guam – a professor emeritus who has primarily taught and an administrator emeritus who has spent time administering for UOG. Individuals who are selected to join the Society of Emeritus Professors and Retired Scholars must go through a rigorous application process. The Society serves as an important bridge between those with institutional memory of the history of UOG and the new generation of scholars.
Dr. Rebecca A. Stephenson retired from the University of Guam in 2007 after thirty years of teaching. Born and raised in Bemidji, Minnesota, her academic journey began while attending Hamline University and completing her B.A. Degree in Anthropology. A summer spent in Hawaii after her sophomore year would change her life forever. She studied Pacific Island Cultures at the University of Hawai'i while working as a waitress at the Ilikai Hotel in Waikiki. After completing her M.A. Degree in Anthropology at the University of Oregon in Eugene, she spent another summer in Hawai'i, this time on the Big Island, taking part in a University of Hawaii Field School, studying the village of Kalapana, which no longer exists as such, because it has been covered by a major volcanic lava flow.
While gathering research material for her Ph.D. at Oregon, she lived on Atiu in the Cook Islands for eighteen months, among some 1,200 people within an island of about ten square miles in area. It was the 1970s, and for her dissertation, she was faced with a difficult decision: either to focus on the physical environment or on the sociocultural environment of Atiu. She chose the sociocultural route, and with degree in hand, she would move on to study island communities on Guam and in Micronesia while teaching at UOG.
She worked with Dr. Stephen J. Winter and the Water Resources Research Center (WRRC), now known on campus as the Water and Environmental Research Institute (WERI). Travelling throughout Micronesia, beginning in 1977, she interviewed villagers concerning their freshwater resources, an experience that contributed to numerous publications.
Dr. Stephenson has also travelled to Republic of Palau with UOG students earning academic credits in order to study on Anguar (Ngeaur), the only island in the Pacific region with a resident colony of monkeys. The team discovered that the macaque monkeys were almost certainly brought in during German times, when there was much shipping between Indonesia and Palau, and used either for medical studies or as pets.
The study of monkeys would eventually lead to her connecting with Dr. Agustin Fuentes, a biocultural anthropologist with expertise regarding monkeys in Bali, and what would become a Field School for UOG students, now an international program based at UOG that continues to this day. Dr. Stephenson considers the establishment of the Bali Field School to be her proudest accomplishment at UOG because it involved everything that she loves: teaching, research and community service.
Her career has spanned across Polynesia, Micronesia and into Asia, conducting research work and giving her heart and soul to teaching. While retirement has allowed her to enjoy community service work with several of Guam's women's associations, she has returned to her original dissertation research and resumed the physical environment work that she was forced to leave behind in the '70s.
Land issues in the Cook Islands have become more contentious today than years ago. On Atiu, where some 1,200 people lived in the 1970s, there is now a resident population of less than 500. Her early field research work on Atiu offers unique insights because others may not know about its history, and many of the islands' elders have now passed on. She maintains a vast network of nieces and nephews across the Pacific whom she considers her Cook Islands family, and hopes to publish a book one day on what that region is experiencing.