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Research equals policy, passion for alum

Lisa Piscopo

Alumna Lisa Piscopo, center, assessed the well-being of Colorado's children late last year through her position with the Colorado Children's Campaign. In this photo, she poses with former Gov. Bill Ritter during a trip to the Colorado State Capitol.

Lisa Piscopo (PhD geography ’05) is busy.

The adjunct professor, sought-after public speaker and vice president of research for the Colorado Children’s Campaign spent a good part of late last year preparing an assessment of children’s well being over the past 10 years to better inform state legislators about what policies are best for Colorado kids.

But for Piscopo, who has a passion the child advocacy, busy equals rewarding.

“Being able to take my education and do something with it that’s changing people’s lives, it’s so cool,” she says.

Piscopo completed all her college schooling at the University of Denver. The degrees and their foci — anthropology, social science and geography — may initially seem like a random jumble of liberal arts disciplines, but Piscopo says the mix is ideal for her job with the campaign.

“I need all aspects of my education to make sense of the data I collect and how I present that,” she says. “Also, education is about growth and development of the human spirit, not necessarily vocation. I was never criticized for my choices, because it was all about getting a very holistic view of people.”

While researching her dissertation — a human-geography assessment of variables that may affect CSAP scores — Piscopo presented her research to the Colorado Children’s Campaign, a nonprofit bipartisan research group that lobbies on behalf of children. After sharing her findings with the Campaign, she joined up in 2005, the organization’s 20th year.

As senior research director, she is responsible for obtaining and packaging data relevant to current poverty rates among varying counties, and the state as a whole. She says she is gratified to be using the research skills she honed at DU and apply them toward work that influences public policy.

“Making the knowledge accessible to the people making policy is incredibly rewarding,” she says. “It doesn’t do any good if I’m locked away in a DU office doing this research if no one is ever going to see it. It has to be shown to certain people to exact any sort of meaningful change.”

Given the mountains of material through which she must wade, Piscopo says one of the biggest challenges is presenting her findings to politicos who want to go straight to the bottom line.

“People are not going to read a 200-page dissertation, so it can be hard to boil down months of research into 10 sentences or less,” she says. “People don’t have time to spend on the rigors of getting these numbers, so I do it for them.”

Another challenge for Piscopo and the Campaign is keeping bipartisanship amid an environment of sometimes-controversial policy discussions.

“Sometimes it’s not popular with one side or the other, but we work hard to maintain our bipartisanship,” she says. “We’re careful not to slant the information one way or the other. It’s what the data tell us is best for the kids. Period.”

Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, has an acute understanding of what it takes to navigate the political environment as an advocacy group. She touts Piscopo’s understanding of the same. 

“I trust her not only with the numbers but what the numbers mean,” Watney says. “It’s nice to have a colleague here where I can walk into her office and have a conversation about something beyond the numbers. She’s committed to the accuracy of the data, but there’s also real concern for the kids behind that data.”

As Watney alludes toward, Piscopo’s function at the Campaign should not be mistaken as that of a research wonk. As a single mother of four, there is passion in her advocacy. At her frequent public-speaking engagements, she is often confronted by some variation of the question: Why should I care?

“Excellent question,” Piscopo bellows, clearly regarding the debate as one of those ‘cool’ aspects of her job. “It’s in your best interests to make sure the kids in your community get a good education, get healthcare, because it’s all bound up in our economy, not to mention our future.

“You can have kids having kids themselves, dropping out of school, not making good employees, filling up the welfare rolls,” she says, “or you can have them be the future leaders, the teachers and the policemen. It all depends.”

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