A Campus Without Walls

Tue, 06/01/2010 - 11:15am

As thousands of Americans flock to Rome and Florence to study abroad, Spring Hill students will have the opportunity to live like locals in the vibrant college town of Bologna, Italy.

In spring 2011, the Spring Hill College Italy Center will open in Bologna, a beautiful medieval city in northern Italy known for its cuisine, porticoes, and terra-cotta-colored architecture.

Bologna is home to oldest institution of higher learning in the Western world, the University of Bologna, founded in 1088. A fraction of college students in this progressive city are Americans, which makes Bologna an authentic Italian immersion.

College officials hope to enroll 100 students at the Italy Center each year and to offer 10 to 12 courses each semester. The curriculum is a globally focused set of liberal arts and business courses. Students from all disciplines are welcomed to apply for a summer session, semester or year abroad.

“We live in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world,” said Spring Hill President Richard P. Salmi, S.J. “For the College to truly continue to form leaders engaged in learning, faith, justice and service in our world, we must provide study abroad opportunities for students to learn and experience other cultures and peoples firsthand.”

The Bologna campus aims to attract not only Spring Hill students but also students from other liberal arts colleges and universities. Spring Hill has partnered with fellow Jesuit colleges as well as schools affiliated with the Bonner Foundation, a scholars program that encourages community service and engagement in social justice issues.

Salmi stressed that while establishing the Italy Center will incur some startup costs, the campus will prove to be a wise investment for our students and the College. “We know that this initial investment is a strategic one, and one that requires a budget commitment in less than perfect economic times,” he said. “We also believe, however, that the quality and uniqueness of the Italy Center program will reap obvious educational and cultural benefits not only for those students who participate, but in short order will also provide additional revenue to the college through the enrollment of students from other colleges and universities.”

The president, board of trustees, and the college’s strategic planning committee agree that it is important for Spring Hill to further develop the study abroad program. “As a result,” Salmi said, “we were able to identify a unique opportunity with the establishment of the Italy Center, and we were fortunate to find a very capable person in Todd Waller to direct the effort.”

Having spent the last several months developing the Italy Center, Waller is eager to launch the new program in January. From 2000 to 2003, he worked for the Johns Hopkins Graduate School of International Studies, where he directed the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development. During that time, he cultivated contacts with numerous academics, local activists and business leaders.

For the past seven years, he directed the University of Loyola Chicago’s John Felice Rome Center. “I absolutely love working with students, and my history with Bologna will assure that our students will live and study alongside Italian students, which is not often the case for Americans living abroad,” Waller said.
    One exciting aspect of the Italy Center, Waller explained, is the opportunity for American students to share a community with a group of Italian honor students. Students would live together in Collegio Alma Mater, the residence hall at University College. The Collegio Alma Mater is comparable to modern American-style residence halls and is located within minutes of the bustling University of Bologna district.

Another distinctive feature of the Italy Center is the human rights focus, anchored in social justice travel. “It is often assumed that travel in itself is a learning experience,” Waller said. “However, many young Americans travel through Europe but fail to reflect, integrate and act on the valuable lessons that can be gained from the experience.”

In order to deepen the knowledge students gain while traveling, academic “road work” is incorporated into the curriculum. The program integrates traditional classroom learning with travels that expand students’ worldview, so they can become global thinkers, learners and collaborators. Social justice travel allows students to observe injustices in the world, to reflect on the issues, and to develop skills in order to take future action, Waller said. Faculty members would lead academic trips to destinations such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Northern Ireland, Ghana, Poland and Tunisia.

The Italy Center places an emphasis on understanding social problems that are rapidly changing the face of Europe. Students will be able to meet with immigrants; hear from religious, business and political leaders; witness how Italians are dealing with environmental issues; or intern for a human rights agency.

In addition to road work, at the close of the spring semester, students will have the option to continue their studies during a two-week, service-learning project in either West Africa or India.

“Ultimately,” Salmi said, “many of the students who participate in our study abroad program in Italy will be able to better understand the challenges facing the many nations of the world as well as our own challenges and opportunities here in the United States.”

During their stay abroad, students will be encouraged to absorb all they can in Europe. The academic calendar allows for periodic three-day weekends and provides ample time for extended trips to destinations such as Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Prague and Budapest. Students can also partake in outdoor adventures such as camping in the Sahara Desert or skiing in the Swiss Alps.

Waller is enthusiastic about welcoming students to Italy next spring. “As an undergraduate, a wonderful Jesuit put a scholarship in my hand so I could go abroad. For a kid from Nebraska, being given the opportunity to go overseas was like winning American Idol,” he said. “The experience I had studying abroad has impacted everything I have done for the rest of my career. The chance to give back, and help to offer a similar experience for our Spring Hill students is a blessing for me.”

To learn more about the Spring Hill College Italy Center, visit www.shc.edu/italy.