• About

    In 2009, Zaytuna College was founded in Berkeley, California, with a mission that called for grounding students in the Islamic scholarly tradition as well as in the cultural currents and critical ideas shaping modern society.

  • Academics

    As a Muslim liberal arts college in the West, Zaytuna offers a curriculum that provides its students with a foundation in the intellectual heritage of two major world civilizations: the Islamic and the Western.

  • Admissions & Aid

    Our mission is to educate students to become morally, intellectually, and spiritually accomplished individuals ready to contribute to our contemporary world in ways that are proportionate to their gifts and to the needs of human society.

  • Campus Life

    Zaytuna’s campus is on Holy Hill and students enter the College as part of a cohort, a community of learners that travel together through the curriculum.

Dr. Cindy Ausec, A Lifelong Learner

by Maryam Awwal
September 2021

Dr. Cindy Ausec

“Don’t be upset if God doesn’t give you what you ask for, because what He gives you is always better than what you intended. Set goals and keep working toward those goals. Make learning a lifelong thing."

When Dr. Cindy Ausec was young, she wanted to be a nurse. “My family didn’t know about grants or scholarships, so my stepmother suggested that I join the military so that I could attend nursing school through their system.” In 1975, Dr. Ausec joined the military as a German translator. She later enrolled in the Defense Language Institute as a speaker, the only private E-2 to do so at the time. She was stationed in Germany for four years before completing her bachelor’s degree in political science, hoping to work as a diplomat.

Dr. Ausec declined the option to be deployed to Korea, choosing instead to be stationed at Fort Huachuca near Tucson, AZ. There, she met her husband and worked in security and, later, aerospace. The two planned to retire when they turned fifty and go back to school, but Dr. Ausec started the process earlier. “I’m kind of a lifelong learner,” she says. “I always keep learning; I always keep reading.” She completed her master’s degree in classic art and archaeology at the University of Arizona in Tucson and earned an MBA from National University.

After moving to the Bay Area, she earned her doctorate in near eastern religions through a joint program between UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. She arrived at Zaytuna College in 2012, teaching courses in ancient civilizations, the rise and fall of civilizations, democracy, US history, and philosophy, but the favorite part of her tenure has been the opportunity to continue learning.

Today, Dr. Ausec heads the Academic Support Center, providing academic assistance for students in numerous ways. She organizes and delivers workshops to help students adjust to college life; improve their grammar; develop better note-taking, writing, and reading skills; and plan for future careers. She also supports the students’ senior theses, tracking progress and coordinating with advisers.

Unlike most faculty members at Zaytuna, Dr. Ausec works closely with students across cohorts, reading and editing their papers and providing one-on-one writing support. “The best part of my job is working with students and watching them improve,” she says.

“I also love what I do because I’m always learning. When I read students’ papers, I get a taste of what everyone is studying, and that keeps my job fun.”

On campus, Dr. Ausec revives skills she learned in childhood visits with her great-grandmother Katie. “I used to visit her every summer, and we would spend time doing crafts together,” she explains. “She taught me how to sew, to crochet, and to make jams. I was really lucky. She inspired me a lot.”

Now, students, staff, and faculty are fortunate to receive her peach jam, made fresh with fruit from her husband's garden every year. During reading week, she always makes comfort food that students can take back to their dorms, giving them a little taste of home cooking. “If I’m ever feeling homesick, I can always rely on her to remind me of a mother’s love,” says MA student Zaid Khanani (’22). “She cares for us students beyond just the academics. She keeps us fed, makes sure we are doing well, and is always there to offer her ear along with some chocolate.”

For students, she has a few life lessons to share: “Don’t be upset if God doesn’t give you what you ask for, because what He gives you is always better than what you intended. Set goals and keep working toward those goals. Make learning a lifelong thing. And start your papers early!”


Higher Education for a Higher Purpose