The Italian Club of Dallas (ICD) recently inaugurated an annual scholarship to the University of Dallas Italian club through the club’s relationship with Dr. Anthony Nussmeier, director of the Italian program.
This is the Italian program’s first external scholarship, and both Nussmeier and ICD President Ken Venuso hope that the scholarship’s influence will increase over time.
A conversation with Nussmeier is akin to returning to the heady days of one’s Rome semester, in which time is measured not by hours and minutes, but the number of empty espresso cups that litter the desk.
The current scholarship amount to be awarded annually stands at $500, but the club hopes to expand the fund to $1,000, according to Venuso.
“As our funds increase [so] will the amount we give to a student selected [sic],” Venuso wrote.
Nussmeier said that he and Venuso hope to award the scholarship to multiple students per year.
The ICD intends to finance the scholarship in numerous ways, Venuso wrote. Initial funds were provided by the ICD’s financial committee. Events such as ICD’s annual North Texas Giving Day and fundraising gala will continue to bolster the fund.
Additional events, such as Italian-themed lunches, are other potential sources of revenue for the scholarship program, Venuso wrote.
Nussmeier said that the relationship between the Italian program and the ICD blossomed “organically.”
Venuso said that the ICD was actively searching for ways to engage with the wider community when he met Nussmeier earlier this year at an on-campus event hosted by the Italian program.
“It was great to see his personal enthusiasm to help Italian culture and traditions,” Venuso wrote.
With Nussmeier’s help, the ICD offered the scholarship to UD. The recipient must be an incoming freshman, Nussmeier said. The scholarship is intended to defray the costs of a student going to Rome, according to Venuso.
Applicants must apply for the scholarship and undergo an interview process, according to Nussmeier.
According to French program head Dr. Jason Lewallen, the Italian program is unique among programs in the language department in obtaining an external scholarship.
Most departments fund program-specific scholarships awarded by the Office of Admissions, according to Lewallen.
Lewallen said that unlike the ICD scholarship, departmental scholarships factor in applicant-specific data, such as the amount of financial aid or merit scholarship the applicant has already been awarded.
Because the professors do not have access to this data, a list of potential recipients are provided to the Office of Admissions each year, according to Lewallen. The Office of Admissions then makes the final decision regarding whether or not to award a scholarship, and if so, the scholarship amount.
By contrast, the ICD scholarship permits Nussmeier to independently select the scholarship awardee, said Venuso.
“Our guidelines are to keep it simple. Support students going to the Rome Campus but leave the vetting of the candidates up to the U of D with Anthony [spear]heading it,” Venuso wrote.
Nussmeier explained that the Italian program and the ICD share similar goals, rendering their partnership natural. Both celebrate the role of Italian language and culture in Texas.
Numerous Italians have found a new patria in Texas, especially Dallas. Venuso’s father hails from Italy, and many members of the ICD come from similar backgrounds, according to Venuso.
For the ICD, celebrating the Italian heritage in Texas is not just about one’s roots, but about fostering a sense of community through Italian-themed dinners, supporting local Italian businesses, and engaging in volunteer work, according to Venuso.
For Nussmeier, the question is more specific.
“How does Italian ‘fit’ at UD?,” he asked in his office, where a life-size cutout of Dante Alighieri stood behind him.
“I like to joke that the first Italian in Texas was here in 1532, which was before Texas or Italy actually existed,” Nussmeier said with a smile.
The recent scholarship award is the latest of Nussmeier’s concentrated efforts to expand the scope of the Italian program since his recent arrival at UD.
Last year, the B.A. in Italian was approved by faculty senate, while a new lecture series given by the program is now fully sponsored by Lamberti’s Ristorante in Irving, according to Nussmeier.
“The program came alive when Dr. Nussmeier arrived,” 2017 alumna Diana Hassink wrote in a Facebook message, citing numerous extracurricular opportunities that Nussmeier provides his students, such as viewings of Italian-language operas.
One of these opportunities is a one-year immersion program in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. The program, titled Study, Intercultural Training, and Experience (SITE), sponsors recent graduates to live with a host family and teach English in local schools.
According to Nussmeier, UD signed a memorandum of understanding with SITE in 2017, giving UD applicants preferred status.
Hassink is currently participating in the SITE program and lives with a host family in the northern town of Varese.
Hassink explained that she teaches English in a variety of courses in a local Italian school. According to Nussmeier, Hassink is an instructor in her speciality of biology, but also in subjects like physics.
“The students vary greatly in their ability to speak English,” Hassink wrote, adding that at times she needs to alter her lesson plans in order to fit the students’ needs.
However difficult, Hassink takes a positive view of teaching students English through means other than dedicated language courses.
“I am not only teaching them English, but I am teaching a subject they already know well…so it comes more easily and naturally for students to speak,” Hassink wrote.
For Hassink, who wrote that she wanted to study Italian since her youth, the weakness of the Italian program at UD lies in its lack of recognition on-campus. Some people do not know that the Italian major exists or fail to recognize “how interesting of a major it could be,” Hassink wrote.
Conversely, the strength of the program is inherently linked to the Rome semester. The “uniqueness” of Italian culture melding with the sense of home many students cultivate at Due Santi “creates this thriving aspect of the Italian program,” Hassink wrote.