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Rome Studies Program to take place in abbreviated form over summer

| Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The School of Architecture’s Rome Studies Program will take place in a shortened form over the summer, according to the dean of the School of Architecture, Stefanos Polyzoides. The program typically consists of third-year architecture students spending the entire academic year in Rome, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic students were not able to travel abroad during the 2020-21 academic year.

Polyzoides announced to the architecture students on April 30 that they would be traveling to Rome this summer. 

“When I went to tell the students about it, there was a scream that was heard in the rest of the school,” Polyzoides joked. 

The announcement came after over a year of tracking the pandemic conditions and attempting to plan how to safely send the students to Rome, Polyzoides said. With the Rome Studies Program having been the centerpiece of the Architecture School’s curriculum for 52 years, Polyzoides said determining how to provide the students an opportunity to complete their architecture education in Rome was crucial for him.  

“If they had not been there I think it would have been a very serious debt to their education,” Polyzoides said. “That’s why we worked so very hard for this long to make sure that it may happen in the end.”

The Rome Studies Program is the only foreign studies program required for all students among American university architecture schools. Third-year architecture student Lucas Misra said the decision to go to Rome was of serious importance because the Rome program was what set Notre Dame’s architecture school apart from others for some students. 

“For some students, going to Rome was the big reason they came to Notre Dame architecture,” Misra said.

In normal years, students are required to take four courses when in Rome, which Misra said can be difficult. However, this summer the architecture students will take a watercolor course and an urbanism course. Because the program has been shortened from nine months to about two months, Misra said the workload will be lighter. The students have already completed the studio course, the most time-consuming class, and architecture history.

“When you’re doing that, it’s quite the workload. You’re trying to balance getting to see all of Rome and essentially all of Europe, but you have this basically a full-time student job while you’re doing it,” Misra said.

The students traveling to Rome must be vaccinated. Polyzoides said the 54 students going to Rome are all vaccinated. The program begins May 28. 

Misra and third-year student Danielle Corbin both said the question of when and if the Rome program was going to happen loomed over the students and faculty for the entire year. Because the Rome curriculum is required, third-year students took Rome-centered classes in the fall and spring. Corbin said this was difficult because it served as a constant reminder of what the students were missing. 

“It was really discouraging because it was just the whole year was a reminder that we weren’t in Rome, which is unlike other study abroad programs that were canceled because they just took normal classes here,” Corbin said. 

Corbin said the Notre Dame professors located in Italy have adapted to the disruption caused by the pandemic. One of Corbin’s professors for an urbanism class in the fall would wear a GoPro and walk the streets of Rome while lecturing. She said learning about Rome without yet experiencing it in person has only made her more excited for the trip.

Additionally, several of the professors traveled from Italy to campus to teach in-person classes in the fall and spring. Corbin said one of her professors, Paolo Vitti, taught an architectural history course from Rome over Zoom in the fall and then came to campus in the spring to teach a studio course in person. 

Despite the difficulty of modifying the curriculum so it could be taught outside of Rome, the faculty has provided a strong education in place of the experience offered abroad, Misra said.

“They completely left their families in Rome so that our academic education was just as good,” Misra said. “So, we did lose the experience of being in Rome and seeing all the construction, all the buildings, yes, but I think the education had stayed the same. It was really, really heartwarming to some of the students to have the faculty make that sacrifice.”

With the other University study abroad programs canceled for the summer, Polyzoides stressed that the decision to allow the architecture students to travel to Rome required a lot of planning and deliberation.

“That was a University decision,” Polyzoides said. “This is a decision that is deliberate and comes from … understanding and appreciation of what this means to the students.”

For Corbin, the Rome Studies program has long been something she has looked forward to and is excited to finally be able to take part in it. 

“I have actually been thinking about going to Rome as an architecture student at Notre Dame for a full year since my sophomore year of high school,” Corbin said. “I’m so excited.”

After months of uncertainty about the status of the Rome trip, Misra said he was shocked when he found out he was going to Rome this summer.

“I was in disbelief,” Misra said. “I still can’t believe it. I mean in about two and a half weeks I’m going to be on a new continent.”

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