Professor Profile: Luis Vivanco

College is an endless montage of class, books, tests and above all, professors. Ten years from now, you may have to really think hard to remember some of the professors you had. There are certain professors, though, that stand out in our minds, who really impact their students’ lives.

We are fortunate to have many of them here at UVM. One of those professors who will be hard to forget is Professor Vivanco, or “Luis” as he prefers to be called. Luis teaches in the Anthropology Department and when asked what drew him to the field of anthropology, he described his life experiences of growing up in southern California.

Transitioning from the subculture of California beach life to Dartmouth College “created a displaced feeling. I saw that my vision of the world is different than others,” said Luis. “Also, My father is from South America, so I knew that cultural differences made a difference.”

Luis is definitely a professor you should become acquainted with at some point during your time here at UVM, and anthropology is a discipline that a student of any major can get something out of. One of his students, Frances Galli, told us, “He makes it clear that when you study anthropology, you can apply it in every career.” One reason his class is so engaging is that he is so knowledgeable about his area of study. Learning from his experiences as a cultural anthropologist, Luis brings what he is teaching to life. Luis never really “decided” to become a teacher. While in graduate school, Luis “knew the realities of the job market.” He came to Vermont as a graduate student on a year-long fellowship and was a featured speaker in the Aiken lecture series. After being here about a week a tenure track job opened up.

By being in the right place and talking to the right people, Luis ended up getting the job. It is a good thing he did too, because he is a favorite of many students. Cathy Durickas, a sophomore who took his Introduction to Human Cultures class says, “What makes him stand out as a professor is that even though there are 180 people in the room with you, you feel like you are in a very small class because of the way he teaches and the activities he does.” It takes work to be able to do this. Luis told us what he does to prepare for class, and he works as hard as his students.

He practices reading his lecture notes aloud, and talks to other professors to find out what they are doing. “Great teachers are made. It’s a funny combination of hard work and opportunism,” says Luis. Everyday before class starts, he plays music from different cultures and nationalities that most of us would never experience otherwise. Luis focused most of his ethnographic fieldwork in the area of Oaxaca, Mexico and has numerous stories from these experiences that his students hear throughout the semester.

This casual and conversational way of interacting with students is one reason why he has so much respect from the student body. Frances continues, “If you have a question, he communicates with you on an equal level. He doesn’t make you feel ‘dumb,’ and that is so refreshing.” After receiving an education from both Dartmouth and Princeton, Luis has answers to almost all of your questions.

What makes him such a compassionate professor is his ability to say, “I am not sure, let me get back to you on that.” Sure enough, by the next class meeting, in walks Luis with research he did just to answer your question (that may or may not pertain to anything in the class).

Clearly, Luis has impacted many students’ lives on the UVM campus. Cathy is one of them. “Going into his anthropology class I was still an undecided major, but his passion towards the subject matter is one reason why I am now an anthropology major.” It is this dedication to his students that makes him stand out so much. Anthropology major or not, get to know Luis.