Faculty Feature: Laurie Occhipinti teaches diversity in classes

Dr. Laurie Occhipinti,  anthropology professor and assistant dean of Arts, Education and Sciences at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, had a strong sense of wanderlust that helped her declare her career. After being indecisive and going through a variety of different majors she earned her bachelor’s in anthropology.

She then worked in mental health in vocational rehab in the Boston area, which changed her mind about not wanting to continue higher education, before deciding to pursue and earn her master’s and Ph.D. in Developmental Anthropology at McGill University.

Occhipinti then taught part time at Northeastern University before she came to Clarion.

She is originally from Massachusetts; her hometown is 550 miles from Clarion, but she loves the small town.

She said, “I knew I wanted to be at a public school because I have gone through public institutions, and that was important to me. I also wanted to be somewhere more focused on teaching rather than research. Clarion has been nice because it is a tight community here, and I like that.”

Occhipinti has taught a variety of different anthropology classes over the last 11 years, including one of her favorites Magic Witchcraft and Religion, Ending Poverty, Latin America, and Theories and Methods of Anthropology.

She said, “Northeastern University is a really big university in Boston. It’s in a big metropolitan area and has a lot of international students, and I liked being there because it was neat. But when I came here I thought students here need anthropology. The students here often haven’t had a lot of opportunities to travel and haven’t been exposed to a lot of cultural diversity. It’s something that a lot of people are interested in but don’t have a lot of experience. So I was really excited about coming here… A lot of students come here, and a lot of them don’t know what anthropology is because it’s not taught at the lower levels. What happens is you take a course and you’re hooked. That’s what happened to me.”

Occhipinti has traveled to a variety of places to do research. She did research for her master’s degree in Eastern Europe, specifically in the Czech Republic, and during her doctorate studies she did research in Latin America, mostly in Argentina.

While at CUP, Occhipinti worked for three summers with students doing research in Ecuador, and her most recent research was in the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean.

She also took a student group trip to Egypt. Occhipinti can add Egypt to the list of places she went for a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Honors Program taught on Modern Religion in Egyptian culture.   One of the pictures in her office is a candid shot from the trip her husband took of a young woman laughing at “Moses’ Well.”

Occhipinti said she has learned quite a bit of valuable lessons during her travels. 

“Be flexible and always listen to people. As an anthropologist, I’m always doing this research that seems sort of nosy, but you are really getting into the details of people’s lives. When I first started approaching, I thought, wow I’m asking all these intrusive and personal questions, but I learned if you are really genuinely listening, people love to tell you things. People have stories and will share their stories if you are really listening to them.”

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