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Saint Mary’s introduces new major

Valerie Kornfield | Wednesday, September 13, 2006

After decades of Saint Mary’s students spending a semester abroad in Rome, a piece of the country is finally coming to the College with the institution of a new Italian major.

According to Peter Checca, counselor for Saint Mary’s Rome Program, the Italian major has been a long time coming. The Rome Program has been in place since 1970, and with strong courses in Italian offered both home and abroad, the main impediment to introducing an Italian major was the shortage of personnel, Checca said.

An initial step to remedying to this problem came six years ago, when Umberto Taccheri joined the ranks of Saint Mary’s professors of Italian.

The driving force behind the inception of the new major was, however, the students themselves, who continued “asking, inquiring [and] demanding” that it be made available, said Checca. Two especially instrumental students were former Rome Program attendees Jessica Sloan, class of 2005 and Maria Francesca Muscarello, class of 2006, who put together surveys of the first-year students studying Italian and of the returnees from the Rome Program.

These surveys showed wholehearted support of the Italian major, Checca said, especially from those who had already experienced Rome. Many students felt that the Rome Program could provide an ideal opportunity to those double majoring in Italian and political science, communications, French, or other areas of interest – if the Italian major was made available.

The visible interest in an Italian program at Saint Mary’s is on track with national trends, according to Nancy D’Antuono, professor of Italian at the College.

Enrollment in Italian in American colleges and universities has grown 29.6 percent since 1997, D’Antuono said. Unlike the strategic urgency presented by languages like Chinese and Spanish, the marked growth in Italian seems to spring largely from positive reactions of tourists or from Italian descendants desiring to rediscover their heritage, she said.

According to Christian Moevs, professor of Italian at Notre Dame, globalization has taken prominence away from languages once considered ‘prestigious’, like French, and opened the door for the learning of all languages.

“No single language stands out,” Moevs said.

Seven students will be able graduate in 2008 with the major, and the College will continue to work toward an increased variety of courses in the area.

Italian majors are required to take two language courses as well as six of a list of varied literature, cinema and writing courses, all of which are taught in Italian. Participation in the Rome Program is not required.

Many of the Saint Mary’s students working toward the Italian major plan to pursue work in Italy, teach Italian, or in some way incorporate their knowledge of Italy into their careers.

For Muscarello, who helped usher the program into existence, the major will attract a certain kind of student.

“This major needs and will thrive upon people who are in love with Italian culture; people who essentially bleed green, white and red,” she said.

Italian major Christina Palella is one of those students.

“Italian culture has always been a part of my life because it is my heritage,” she said.

For Emily Skube, also majoring in Italian, the language is a source of inspiration and its institution as a major will affect future Saint Mary’s students.

“Italian is not just a major, it’s a passion, and … Saint Mary’s is passing that fire down to a new generation, one that will carry it with pride.”