Gabriella Vizzaccaro has a wide variety of overlapping interests. The breadth of Michigan State’s resources and majors seemed to be a better fit for her than Grand Valley State, which she attended during her freshman year, so she transferred to MSU when she became a sophomore. Once she learned about flat rate tuition, she realized she could pursue her interests and earn credit in the process, without incurring any extra cost.
An Environmental Economics major, Gabriella is passionate about international development. These concerns dovetail with her pursuit of a newly-created minor: The City: Environment, Design, and Society. “For me, flat rate tuition is making the minor possible,” says Gabriella. “All of the classes are super intriguing. It’s definitely something I already wanted to learn about in my free time. Doing that on a more structured basis is super beneficial to me.”
As a junior considering a wide spectrum of possible careers, Gabriella is grateful for the freedom to examine an array of options at MSU, as well.
“You get to explore a lot of different things. Obviously, being here, you learn new things every day, and they could take me down a different path. With 18 credits, there’s so much more you can do with that,” she says.
Michigan State is a colossal place, with scores of opportunities to connect with people and learn about new disciplines happening all the time. This was a big draw for Gabriella when she transferred, but finding a sense of community in such a large institution can be challenging. The social challenges of being a campus citizen are not unlike those facing city-dwellers everywhere--it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and end up feeling isolated. That’s one reason Gabriella’s ultimate aim is to help people make connections by creating spaces conducive to community.
“Facilitating community and conversation has always been really important to me. I also love research and design,” she says. “I think if you learn about your passions and pursue them, that’s going to be the most fulfilling for you. Coming to the university has helped me find purpose as a local citizen and as a global citizen.”
That passion is taking form in an audacious project, sketches of which fill the notebook she keeps in her bag.
“I was actually hit by a car on campus at Grand Valley,” recalls Gabriella. After the accident, she has developed a genuine concern about the way drivers and pedestrians cross paths so haphazardly. Seeing close calls on the streets of East Lansing, Gabriella’s interest in creating spaces for community merged with her concerns about safety, and she had a bold idea: closing down Albert Avenue in East Lansing and creating a green space and pedestrian walkway there in its place.
She knows the idea sounds extreme, but her vision is compelling: a renovated thoroughfare with street vendors that flows naturally into a mini-park. Gabriella thinks the space could be draw people together on its own merits and increase foot traffic into local businesses. She has been in contact with local officials about staging a temporary version of her vision.
“I’ve read a lot about green spaces and what they can do for a community,” says Gabriella. She is adamant that a place where people meet each other in open spaces fosters a sense of community that improves society. “I think empathy will save or change the world.”