This week our interview tells a story of beauty. Four different beautiful things, actually. The first beauty is the donation of 500,000 $ by the late Italian American Ernest L. Pellegri, one of NIAF's donors. Mr. Pellegri passed away in April 2012 at age 83. He wanted to give back, and – as many other Italian Americans did and do – chose NIAF to be the channel of his generosity. The second beauty is NIAF: which since day one has been effective and proficient in delivering programs, scholarships, grants to help and promote in several different ways Italy and the Italians in the US. The third beauty is made by the numerous programs organized by many American Universities (represented this time by the University of Maryland), that have been describing and teaching for a long time to thousands of American students the magnificent heritage of Italian art, culture, studies. The fourth beauty, these days more than ever we can call it The Great Beauty, is Italian patrimony of splendor: a pride for every Italian, all over the world.
We asked Mrs. Anita Bevacqua McBride, NIAF Chair of the Education and Scholarship Committee, to talk with us about these beauties. It is also, for those here in Italy who will want to learn from it, an extraordinary description of how wonderfully works in America the model of private involvement in the education system. As lovers of Italy, the United States and their special relationship, we are grateful to each of the subjects involved in this fantastic project.
Mrs. Bevacqua, please tell us something about this operation. Is this really the largest single University Grant in NIAF's history?
Yes, it is. Having the opportunity to give such a large gift that could be directed to a single project is very exciting. This donation allows us to award a grant to a single university at a large level. It is more impactful over a period of time. We had given other grants this big, 500.000 dollars for the Advanced Placement (AP) Italian Program, but that is targeted for various schools around the country that teach Italian. This grant is unique because it goes to one single university for one specific program.
Would you tell us a little bit more about this program?
First of all, as a part of our criteria we wanted to identify an outstanding university program on Latin and the Classics. We released a request that went nationally and to Italy. The proposal included a number of requirements that would be evaluated in the review process. We were looking for a school with the ability to design and implement a large program: how many students it would reach; the expertise of the faculty; a well-documented budget and a robust marketing outreach strategy. We also looked at the compatibility with NIAF's mission, to promote Italian culture in the United States but also to advance the ties between our two countries. We had 25 universities submit applications from all over the United States and Italy. This response demonstrated that there is a significant interest in Roman studies and the Classics.
The University of Maryland proposal was selected not only because of its strong program in the Classics and Roman archeology, but also because they drew a direct connection to how the Roman antiquities influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States in developing our documents, our art, our architecture. We felt it was a perfect link between Italy and United States that complements our mission and lives up to the request of the late Ernest L. Pellegri.
How many students will be involved?
Up to 20 students at the graduate level and undergraduate level will be part of the program, every year. This is a multi-year grant and the project is anticipated to last for five years. One of the other important components is that the University of Maryland has a well-established program that brings its graduate students into high schools in Maryland, to support teachers of Latin at this younger level. We believe that by reaching high school students and encouraging their interest in this field of study, we will strengthen the opportunity to expand graduate study to these students.
Now that this grant has been awarded, the University of Maryland is developing the material necessary to encourage students to apply to this program. We are looking forward to seeing how many students will take advantage of this program.
Does the University of Maryland have a campus here in Italy?
No, they don't have a campus in Italy but what they do have, and this is another reason why we chose Maryland, is a long standing archeological and historical research project in Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples. They have been working on this project since 2004: a small but continuous program in archeological research and architectural design, and the University of Naples is one of their partners.
It seems that this interest of the American students for Latin, ancient Roman archeology and ancient Roman civilization is really strong, and this is not the idea that we have in Europe about the average American student – but of course we are wrong: so We the Italians is thankful because you give us the opportunity to explain better to our readers in Italy that many American students are interested in these matters. How can Italy improve the exchange in this sector?
Our Committee was excited to see the level of interest demonstrated by so many American universities. The study of ancient civilizations and comparative politics is important not only for students to understand the development of our country but of those around the world. We live in a global society that is increasingly interconnected and evident in the curriculum in our schools.
My own son attends a catholic high school here in Washington. The school requires the study Latin for three years, with the purpose of understanding the influence of this language to our culture and others.
NIAF donated for scholarships and grants a terrific amount of money in its almost 40 years ...
Yes, we actually donated millions of dollars in our 39 years of history. This is a result of contributions of our generous members, money raised during NIAF events as well as significant gifts, such as the one bequeathed to us by the late Ernest L. Pellegri. Our donors trust that we will use the funds for many valuable projects, such as scholarships and grants.
We are always impressed about the importance of scholarships in the Italian American community, and for the associations representing the Americans of Italian heritage. It is always the first thing mentioned by everyone: and of course, it is such a wonderful and praiseworthy activity. They say that this "giving back" attitude is typically American, but at least we can say it is also 100% Italian American, right?
Yes, that's sure. This is a recognition of the value we place on education. That's a guiding force for us at NIAF and for our donors, to support educational opportunities and pursuits. Going back to our 39 years history, the majority of the founders of the National Italian American Foundation were first-generation immigrants themselves: born in Italy and then arrived here; overcame obstacles by working hard; pursuing their dreams of a better life for their children and recognizing that education is vital for a successful life in the United States.
They also recognized the importance of promoting the study of our rich Italian language and culture for all students regardless of heritage.
So, not every scholarship NIAF gives goes to Italian American children?
Correct! For example this program for the University of Maryland will include students from many backgrounds who are enrolled in this field of study. Our goal is to help as many students as possible to study and fully understand the contributions of ancient Roman society to the United States.
NIAF also offers many cultural grants and programs that are specifically dedicated to Americans of Italian ancestry. We also administer numerous individual scholarships for Italian Americans, as well as the NIAF Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery travel program that sends 20 university students to Italy to discover their roots and learn more about modern day Italy. This program is now in its 15th year.
Talking about donations and giving back. We have a huge cultural patrimony, and we clearly have problems in defend it and restore it. NIAF and other institutions, like the Italian American Museum in New York, raised money after the earthquake in L'Aquila. What should Italy do to involve more the Italian American community in helping as and restoring our monuments?
L'Aquila was one of those catastrophic events that underscores the difficulty in protecting one's cultural patrimony, and people obviously were deeply moved and responded quickly. The question is how to keep the interest going, once the immediate effects of a crisis have passed. One possibility is for Italians to further explore partnering with private organizations to secure more funding in order to preserve and restore its monuments and landscapes. Everyone benefits from a greater understanding of the collaboration between the public and private sectors. Italy, like all countries, recognizes that public money is limited therefore, protecting one's cultural patrimony requires corporate and foundation funding.
This gift from Mr. Pellegri is an honor and excellent opportunity for NIAF to demonstrate that our organization has the management principles in place to administer a large financial gift. We are confident that the results from the University of Maryland program will encourage other donors to support our work.
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