Faculty Focus: Alumni Programming in Italy

by Laura Coffin Koch, Ph.D. – University of Minnesota

After teaching University of Minnesota students in Florence and Rome for many years, I thought it might be interesting to offer a similar opportunity to adults, specifically alumni of our college. Internationalization is one of three pillars of the College and an initiative with Alumni Relations seemed like a natural extension of the work we do with students.

I have always appreciated the quality of services provided by Accent Florence, so I approached the Study Center Director, Michelangelo D’Elia, to ask if Accent would be able to provide support for such a program. I was delighted when he said that they would. Accent was the perfect choice.

Planning experiences for adults is very different than it is for students. They have very different needs and expectations. My students would walk everywhere both in Florence and Rome, but with older adults, we needed to use taxis much of the time. This usually wasn’t a problem, but one rainy Saturday night, we were having a group dinner quite a distance from the hotel and needed five taxis. One by one, four taxis arrived, but three of us waited for more than 45 minutes and after numerous calls to the taxi dispatcher, trudged off across the city, stepping in puddle after puddle. Dinner was still delicious!

Trying to mimic the experiences I include for my students, we arranged survival Italian lessons, lectures on Renaissance art and science, a cooking class, and guided visits in Florence to the Accademia, Uffizi, and Duomo, as well as the Galilieo Museum, Santa Croce, and the Medici Chapels; and in Rome to the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s, the Coliseum and Forum, and the Borghese Gallery. We had incredible guides whose passion and expertise were so appreciated.

A highlight of the trip was an aperitivo with Uffizi director Eike Schmidt and his wife. It helped that two of our group members were very close friends of theirs! Another treat of the trip was a visit to Castello Banfi winery and vineyard where we greeted by the owner and served marvelous wines and food.

We recently had a “reunion” with our alumni group. Many commented that it was the trip of a lifetime! It was indeed!

Laura is Director of International Initiatives and Relations and Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of Mathematics in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. She has led faculty-directed programs with Accent since 2005.