Vanessa Voller ’16, who graduated from Colorado College with a degree in sociology, has been awarded the 2018 Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship from the School for International Training (SIT) to develop a community project in Bolivia.
The fellowship allows SIT alumni to return the country where they studied abroad to pursue or continue their research. While a student at CC, Voller spent the spring of 2015 in Bolivia, where she explored alternative forms of community transformation that resist traditional forms of international development and globalization.
Voller will travel to Buena Vista, Bolivia, in January where she plans to co-develop sexual health and reproductive rights training with rural Bolivian youth. Her community project is aimed at confronting Bolivia’s high rates of gender-based violence and teen pregnancy.
She plans to collaborate with local public health officials, doctors, indigenous healers, women business owners, and community leaders to co-facilitate trainings for young people ages 13-18 about sexual health and reproductive rights. She also will co-develop a youth-led health fair and radio campaign to raise awareness about gender-based violence and establish a safe space for the youth of Buena Vista to develop their own sense of worth, increase their self-esteem, and develop aspirations for their futures.
“I cannot imagine a better to opportunity apply what I have learned in the classroom to a meaningfully and action-orientated project that will impact the lives of youth today and for generations to come,” she says.
Voller credits CC’s interdisciplinary courses and field opportunities with her current career path.
“While at Colorado College, I was fortunate to not only take part in interdisciplinary coursework through the education and sociology departments but also be closely mentored by faculty in each department. In addition, my participation in the Community Engaged Leadership program exposed me community based research models and methods which seek to democratize the production and dissemination of knowledge,” she says, all of which will serve her well in Bolivia.
Voller says the education classes gave her skills as a peer educator and provided experiences working with students. The sociology courses allowed her to explore critical social theories as to what drives global inequity, provided rigorous methodological coursework, gave her strong technical skill sets, and offered the opportunity to pursue qualitative research projects. Her interdisciplinary coursework led to her thesis, an examination of the impact of international service learning programs on host families in rural Costa Rica.
“My multi- and inter-disciplinary experience at CC, coupled with my time studying abroad in Bolivia, catalyzed my decision to apply to the interdisciplinary doctoral program,” says Voller, who currently is a Ph.D. student in Comparative International Development and Education and Global Health Studies at the University of Minnesota.
While a student at CC, Voller spent three summers in Costa Rica where she worked with Amigos de las Americas; received a Venture Grant; undertook two independent research projects which integrated education and sociology; was a PIFP fellow with the Bell Policy Center in Denver; and was a Collaborative for Community Engagement fellow whose Community Engaged Leader capstone project was “Breaking the Stigma — How to Effectively Understand, Intervene, and Treat Eating Disorders on College Campuses.” Voller notes that her Collaborative for Community Engagement experience led to her being hired as the coordinator for community-based research at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), which assists in funding her Ph.D. program. While at CC she also was an NSO leader, FYE mentor, and manager of the Sacred Grounds Tea House.
“The rigorous demands of the Block Plan, in conjunction with the unparalleled mentorship and advising I received at Colorado College and opportunities for undergraduate research, equipped me with the skills, knowledge, curiosity, and confidence to excel in graduate school,” she says. “Moreover, the intensive writing component of CC’s curriculum prepared me to write at the level necessary to thrive at the graduate level.”
Voller, who eventually plans to become a multidisciplinary professor of education, gender and sexuality studies, and women's health, credits CC’s interdisciplinary classes, her PIFP fellowship, independent research, and Collaborative for Community Engagement learning experiences with leading her to where she is now.
“I am extremely grateful for my liberal arts education at CC,” she says. “For me, the liberal arts were transformative. My experience at CC launched me into an interdisciplinary program and into a fellowship in a field that is in the intersection of health, gender studies, and education.”