Since the ‘60s, Italian language and culture courses have been offered at Fresno State to fulfill G.E. requirements. But starting Fall 2020, students will be able to take classes to fulfill the newly established interdisciplinary minor in Italian Studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures.
This unique program will allow classes from a wide variety of disciplines to count toward the minor, such as Introduction to Mechanical Engineering and World Viticulture. Additionally, there are plans for opportunities to engage students outside of classrooms.
“Not only does it comprise many more disciplines than the typical Italian Studies program, but it also will actively invite the community to campus to enjoy performances, exhibitions, and invited guest lectures that will cover the gamut of Italian culture both past and present,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.
Dr. Andrea Polegato, assistant professor of Italian Studies, plans to curate a lecture series featuring successful local speakers to establish a connection between students and the local community. The series aims to bring international guests through the Italian Cultural Centers in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In addition, he has submitted two study abroad program proposals — one to study Italian culture in Florence and one to study the language in Salerno, on the beautiful Amalfi coast. Once approved, he plans for students to have a full immersion into Italian culture and knows it would especially be a great experience for those of Italian descent who would be able to have “firsthand experience of being in the homeland.”
Polegato had the minor in Italian Studies approved in just one semester thanks to the active engagement of Chapman as well as the support of a group of locals from the Italian and Italian-American community seeking to celebrate and preserve their heritage.
“In the Valley, there is a long-lasting presence of Italian people. The first generation came a century ago. There was the risk of losing the memories of these people, but thanks to this program, their lives and experiences will be preserved,” said Polegato.
Currently, the program is collaborating with the Fresno County Historical Museum at the Fresno Fairgrounds to create a permanent area for Italian heritage. Polegato is working on a new service-learning course to get students actively involved in gathering items and stories for the exhibition and being docents.
For a century now, Fresno has been home to a large Italian population, a majority who came from southern regions of Apulia and Basilicata. They were concentrated in southwest Fresno in neighborhoods around St. Alphonsus Church until the 1950s. Now, they live all over the Central Valley.
Polegato is excited to head the program and be continuously involved in the community. Having grown up in Italy, Italian is the language he “thinks of and dreams of.”
“When I teach Italian, what I see in my students is the possibility to learn something about my country but also for them to learn something about themselves. When you learn a new language, you open yourself to something you didn’t know about, discovering new parts of yourself.”