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Get to Know…Virginia Visconti, Assistant Director for Community-Based Learning and Research

Get to Know…Virginia Visconti, Assistant Director for Community-Based Learning and Research

Virginia Visconti, the new assistant director for community-based learning and research at the Collaborative for Community Engagement, is excited about the possibilities her new position offers. Visconti, who started at CC in December 2012 after serving as director of the Public Service Research Program at Stanford University’s Haas Center for Public Service, says any college course can incorporate a community-based learning or research component. That belief reflects her background in cultural anthropology and education policy studies – she has a dual major Ph.D. in both subjects from Indiana University-Bloomington and wrote her dissertation on rural household economies and formal schooling in a Northern Vietnamese commune. She also has a graduate certificate in Public Health Sciences from the Colorado School of Public Health, as public health is another of her interests.

The Collaborative for Community Engagement describes community-based learning as education that in roughly equal measures promotes student learning and meets community needs, and is thoroughly integrated into student coursework. Community-based learning includes class projects that draw upon students’ and faculty members’ intellectual expertise to clarify and search for solutions to problems facing a community.

Such courses may require student internships in community organizations, course fieldwork that encourages students to reflect on and refine theoretical ideas, and opportunities for students to provide feedback to members of the community and to teach – and learn – about their major discipline in off-campus settings. This kind of experiential learning is similar to what Visconti promoted while directing the Community-Based Research Fellows Program at Stanford, where she worked with research teams comprising faculty, undergraduates, and community partners.  She also taught courses focused on public scholarship, civic engagement, and community-based research, drawing on her fieldwork experiences in Vietnam.

More Virginia Visconti facts:

  • Earned a B.A. in English literature from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and an MAT in English literature from Indiana University-Bloomington.
  • Originally from Des Plaines, Ill.; the third of four children.
  • Husband is a molecular biologist in the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora; she commutes to CC from Westminster.
  • Is an avid cyclist, and vacations are planned with cycling in mind. Has cycled in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Germany.
  • Hopes to get back into sewing; previously made garments such as blazers and men’s shirts.
  • Enjoys national parks and grasslands.
  • Visconti quotes that didn’t make it into the article: “I now live where I used to go on vacation.” “I get paid to think and do something about what I really care about.” 



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Visconti is eager to work closely with CC faculty and local and regional community members to develop courses and partnerships that employ community-based learning and research. In keeping with her anthropological and fieldwork background, Visconti intends to visit faculty members in their offices and community partners at their workplaces.  “It would be weird as an anthropologist to have folks come to my office,” she says.  “I prefer to be out in the field, so to speak.”

She wants the Collaborative for Community Engagement to be known as an intellectual resource, a place where faculty, students, and community members can think through community-identified needs and craft effective and sustainable responses to them.  Such collaborations give faculty, students, and community members the rare chance to interact with one another as partners and co-learners.  The research they undertake together not only advances disciplinary knowledge, it also builds the capacity of the community and raises important questions about data ownership and utilization.

CC already has numerous courses with a community-based learning component, including offerings in anthropology, education, psychology, religion, sociology, studio art, environmental science, feminist and gender studies, philosophy, and filmmaking. In fact, the 2011-2012 winner of the Prize in Community-Based Learning was Associate English Professor Re Evitt’s Introduction to Poetry course, in which CC students were paired with poetry partners from the Colorado Springs Senior Center.

Community-based learning and research help students make sense of what they learn in the classroom, says Visconti. “It’s the practical application of what they are learning. Such coursework helps students appreciate what change can look like; what’s feasible and what’s not. Students learn on the ground; learn in the moment,” Visconti says. She also notes that many students want to help enact positive change and make meaningful contributions.

Visconti’s current research interests bridge medical anthropology and public health, as well as the ways in which community-academic partnerships can promote the health and well-being of communities.  For more on the Collaborative for Community Engagement, go to: http://www.coloradocollege.edu/offices/cce/

More Virginia Visconti facts:

  • Earned a B.A. in English literature from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and an MAT in English literature from Indiana University-Bloomington.
  • Originally from Des Plaines, Ill.; the third of four children.
  • Husband is a molecular biologist in the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora; she commutes to CC from Westminster.
  • Is an avid cyclist, and vacations are planned with cycling in mind. Has cycled in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Germany.
  • Hopes to get back into sewing; previously made garments such as blazers and men’s shirts.
  • Enjoys national parks and grasslands.
  • Visconti quotes that didn’t make it into the article: “I now live where I used to go on vacation.” “I get paid to think and do something about what I really care about.”