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victoria russo

victoria russo

A Local Twist on Visual Arts

Victoria Russo spent her summer painting a mural for the local community and helping educate local high school students in the Arts.

Victoria Russo spent her summer painting a mural for the local community and helping educate local high school students in the Arts.

By Ally O’Connor ’20

Thanks to Santa Clara University’s REAL program, Victoria Russo ’21 (Studio Arts and Art History) participated in not one, but two paid summer internship programs.  Russo was one of two artists involved in painting a mural for the Forge Garden, as well as a Teacher’s Assistant for SCU’s Community Initiative for Visual Arts (CIVA) Young Scholars Program.

In her time at the Forge Garden, Russo worked to combine research with art. A large part of the project entailed studying the history of the garden and Santa Clara county itself, so she could incorporate small and large details into the mural, a hyper-local piece of work.  Russo explains that “Santa Clara used to be called the Valley of Orchards, so we included a plum tree and some grapes because that is what California is known for. We also incorporated the state flower—the red poppy—into the green fields that take up a quarter of the piece.  In the dirt area towards the bottom of the mural, we put in some blacksmith tools to include the history of what the Forge used to be before it was actually turned into a garden.” At the conclusion of her work in the Forge, this large scale acrylic-based mural on the Solar Office’s wall will be a colorful addition to the SCU community garden.

In addition to creating artwork for the local community, Russo worked for the 2019 CIVA summer camp as a teacher’s assistant. After working in the same capacity for Professor Kelly Detweiler’s (Art and Art History) painting class, Detweiler was so impressed by her work and her leadership skills that he invited her to fill a similar role for the camp.  Since 2012, Detweiler and Professor Pancho Jiménez (Art and Art History) have facilitated the CIVA Young Scholars Program, which provides high school students from Christo Rey and and Downtown College Preparatory—many of whom would be first-generation college students—with the opportunity to take college courses in art and writing taught by SCU faculty.

In her role as a CIVA Teacher’s Assistant, Russo assisted in both a writing class intended to prepare students for their college application essays and a printmaking class; helped with lunchtime setup and SCU-led seminars that informed students about the college experience; and worked to prepare students for their art show presented to friends and family at the conclusion of the program.  

Russo shares that her favorite part of working with CIVA was getting to know the students.  “In the writing class, at first, many of the students were shy about sharing their stories,” she says, “but after I shared my college essays with them—which were pretty personal—they started opening up.  I found that being vulnerable was the best way for them to see that there was mutual respect between us.” Further, Russo says that she was grateful to “be able to listen to them because I think everyone needs someone to hear their stories in high school. I liked that I was able to become someone they could count on to listen.”

When asked about Russo’s involvement, Jiménez explains that “Victoria has done a great job this summer coordinating the lunchtime seminars, acting as a Teaching Assistant for the printmaking class and providing the students with a mentor and friend.  The program is very happy to have her and grateful for all her time and effort.” 

Drawn to the REAL program because of its flexibility, Russo was “able to apply for a stipend for both internships” which allowed her to follow her interests down two different paths. 

Working with the CIVA program “has been one of the best jobs I have had,” she says. “This program helped me realize that I love helping people and being able to make others smile and understand they are heard. That is something I always wanted to feel when I was growing up and surviving high school.” 

Now knowing she is happiest when helping others, Russo plans to work towards a career as an art therapist for women and people who have experienced forms of domestic violence in their household.

About the REAL Program

The College of Arts and Sciences developed the REAL Program to allow students to discover their interests, gain a rich understanding of a particular field, discern their career goals, and explore future employment fields. We believe financial means should not determine whether or not a student can participate in internships, research, or creative works opportunities. Committed to providing paid experiential learning opportunities for students, the REAL Program provides stipends up to $5,000 for undergraduate opportunities lasting up to 10 weeks over the summer. Since inception, the program has distributed nearly $1.3 million to more than 300 students.

For more information about the REAL Program, email

REAL, CIVA, student story