A Friend for New Knowledge - 2018 Impact Report

Virginia Castagnola-Hunter shares inspiration behind her philanthropy


Albert Einstein once said that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” For Virginia Castagnola-Hunter, that statement rings true.

“What really inspires me is exploring how things work in our universe and what is possible in the future,” explains Castagnola-Hunter. “We need the KITP to convene the brightest minds and push the boundaries of what we know.”

For boundary-pushing, there’s no better example than Virginia herself. As a native Santa Barbaran, Virginia (better known as “Ginnie”) has traveled extensively and explored nearly every discipline. After graduating from Stanford University, she studied International Relations at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (she was one of the first three women invited to enroll in the formerly all-male school). She also did a stint on a political science scholarship at Mills College and three years of graduate study at UC Santa Barbara in Italian Renaissance Art History, with a minor in Greek.

While traveling the world many times over, Ginnie’s camera lens was focused on archeological sites including Machu Picchu in Peru; Angkor Wat (Khmer ruins) in Cambodia; Persepolis, capital of the ancient Persian Empire; Chichén Itzá, the ruined Mayan City in Yucatán; Easter Island in Chile; Aphrodisias in Turkey; the temples of Sicily, and other historic sites in Greece and Albania. Having studied the variations and mysteries of these impressive ancient sites, Ginnie especially looks forward to the discoveries scientists are making as they explore our uncharted universe.

“I love learning about the discoveries of new planets and distant galaxies,” says Castagnola-Hunter. “It puts you in a positive mood to look at the stars and to imagine the possibility of what we have to look forward to in the future.”

Ginnie’s expansive worldview was shared with KITP Nobel Laureate Walter Kohn, who became a good friend of hers over the years. She once asked Kohn if she could support KITP’s “Chalk Talks.”

“So many brilliant physicists visit Kohn Hall from everywhere in the world to collaborate, so it seemed like a win-win situation to connect them with inquiring members of our local community,” says Ginnie.

Today, the Friends of KITP is a 300-person community, whose interests are uniquely multidisciplinary. Friends enjoy opportunities to interact with scientists through events and quarterly “Chalk Talks,” where informal discussion is encouraged.

“I truly love what the KITP does and it’s been an honor for me to support it and to be a part of such an incredible community,” says Ginnie. “There is no doubt that I have received much more than I have given.”

What Castagnola-Hunter has given is generous. Her support, along with other members of the Friends of KITP, sustains programming and promotes the Institute’s trademark approach: interdisciplinary research that’s inspired by possibilities.

“Having traveled all over the world, I am so proud that we have this incredible intellectual asset right here in my hometown of Santa Barbara,” says Castagnola- Hunter. “It is hugely inspiring and I have loved every minute of being involved with the KITP. I think the biggest contribution comes from a multitude of people from different backgrounds working together.”

Indeed, Friends of the KITP could very well mirror the Institute they support: their collective efforts, united by a shared vision, serve to stimulate discovery.

As Castagnola-Hunter puts it: “Everybody’s ideas are pouring in with their unique cultural backgrounds, and they become a cohesive team working together in pursuit of new knowledge. It really is a brilliant model. It’s so important that it be sustained.”



KITP Impact Report 2018