2022 Biggs Award for Excellence in Earth Science Teaching

Presented to Christy C. Visaggi

Christy C. Visaggi

Christy C. Visaggi
College of Arts & Sciences, Georgia State University


Citation by Patricia H. Kelley

Christy Visaggi epitomizes the “innovative and effective teaching” recognized by the Biggs Earth Science Teaching Award. We write as Christy’s PhD advisor and mentor (Patricia Kelley) and as “Dr. V’s” undergraduate and graduate mentee (Megan Rich) to share why Christy Visaggi abundantly deserves this award.

When I (Kelley) heard my teaching assistant, Christy, connecting with her lab students by chirping like a cricket (!), I knew she would be an inventive teacher. But when she accepted a geoscience lecturer position at Georgia State, I wondered whether her heavy teaching responsibilities might bury her professionally. Instead, she has flourished, becoming a trailblazer in innovative teaching at GSU and a national leader in geoscience education.

Lecturer (now Senior Lecturer) may be the wrong appellation for Christy, because lecturing is a minor component of what she does. Her student-centered classes, from introductory to advanced to field courses, are studded with new pedagogical techniques that maximize student learning. She developed or substantially revised 16 of the 17 courses she has taught, incorporating welcoming and inclusive approaches: culturally responsive pedagogy; place-based learning; service learning; field-, project- and problem-based learning; and experiential learning (including Course-Based Research Experiences). Consequently, she is now the Undergraduate Director in Geosciences and the GSU Senior Faculty Associate for Signature Experiences, promoting such experiences across campus. Her impact extends beyond GSU through her pedagogical publications, her outreach work with the Paleontological Society and Georgia Geographic Alliance, and as incoming president of NAGT.

Students attest to her life-changing impact on them. I (Rich) have seen Dr. V wear many hats since I started working under her as a freshman at GSU four years ago. She helped me chart my career path as an undergraduate, showed me the compassion and creativity of a committed professor when I served as her TA, and now as my graduate mentor serves as my sincerest supporter and role model. Working with her has built my confidence immensely and inspired me to foster similarly welcoming learning environments for others. I feel lucky to have become her student and look forward to witnessing the life-changing domino effects she has initiated.


Response by Christy C. Visaggi

The joy of discovery lies inside us all. Some of us seek such moments throughout our lives; others need to be reminded that curiosity and exploration can still be captivating long after childhood. Scientific discovery is much like happiness, in that, it is most fulfilling when shared. My “why” as an educator began with having a passion for lighting that, perhaps buried, spark in others. I am so honored to be recognized for my efforts through this incredible award from GSA.

I grew up exploring nature, and when I was five, I found my first fossil. My parents brought me to a museum to get it identified, and soon after, we joined fossil clubs and I had unknowingly started my career on these family adventures. Throughout my journey, I have had mentors, colleagues, and students who have inspired me and influenced how I approach what I do. Experiences at museums and national parks, mentoring students in summer programs, and participating in workshops led by the amazingly strong, supportive, and welcoming geoscience education community have motivated and challenged me every step of the way.

While I’ve always had enormous enthusiasm for what I do, I learned that simply ‘teaching the science’ is not enough. Doing more to support individuals through diversity and inclusion work is critical. Integrating equity and culture in how students learn is necessary for belonging. Incorporating place leverages familiarity and meaning for students. Making connections to our everyday lives encourages individuals to think about the future of our planet. Experiential learning is powerful whether in the lab or field or in doing research or service. Students can learn science by doing science. Fostering professional and personal development through career-empowering experiences is key in guiding their way. Emphasizing collaboration and skill-building is essential for their road ahead. I also learned the many struggles that come with being a teacher but how unbelievably rewarding it can be as well. I am indebted to many individuals who have served as role models in shaping my journey. Ultimately, because of their energy in investing in me, my students have benefitted from their long-lasting impacts.

Asking questions is a key characteristic of being a scientist, and as an educator, my work is enhanced by continuing to ask questions. What experiences and existing knowledge do students already have? What approaches should I use to maximize learning? How I can help prepare and guide students for their next steps? How can I be a more effective and inspiring instructor and mentor overall? Just as in research, by continuing to ask questions, make observations, utilize new approaches, analyze/interpret data, and evaluate the results, I have grown as an educator in understanding how best to do what I do. Let’s keep asking questions as researchers and educators and encouraging our students to do the same in making their own discoveries. I am so proud to be a member of this amazing geoscience education community; I look forward to continuing to make an impact with all of you.