Above: Italy Intensives students touring the Coliseum in Rome
Campus in Italy now open yearround
Classrooms are inside a renovated medieval palace,
the Palazzo Stiozzi Ridolfi, which dates to 1330.
ECU students spending fall semester in the centuries-old village of Certaldo Alto in central Italy aren’t treated as tourists by the villagers. Most nights they see the students in the local restaurants and chat with them on the train to nearby Florence and Siena. Having seen ECU students around town for a few years now, they assume they aren’t just passing through. Now, it’s official that East Carolina students are in Certaldo Alto to stay.
East Carolina’s Italy Intensives program, begun four years ago as a summer enrichment offering, has proven so popular and academically effective that it’s being strengthened into a year-round endeavor, with classes offered during fall and spring semesters and during summer sessions. Committing to a firmer footprint in Italy requires ECU to reach long-term business arrangements for classroom space, meals and apartments for the students. It also means four or more faculty and support staff residing in Italy for extended periods. The Board of Trustees was briefed on these new responsibilities at its September meeting.
Operating its own curriculum in such a year-round setting means Italy Intensive students receive direct credit, not transfer credit, for their classes.
Operated by the College of Fine Arts and Communication, the program is especially popular with BFA students majoring in art and design. Students say it’s inspiring learning to draw, sculpt and create other art forms in the heart of Tuscany, the region that gave the world Dante and da Vinci. You can draw Michelangelo’s statue of David from a picture but that doesn’t compare to standing in front of the real thing, sketchbook in hand, as these students do.
A sidewalk in Florence becomes a classroom
This semester, professor Linda Darty ’89, coordinator of the metals arts program in the School of Art and Design, and three other faculty members are teaching classes in Certaldo Alto, where Renaissance writer Boccaccio was born in 1313. The 23 students there are enrolled in up to 15 hours of courses such as art history, jewelry design, painting, digital photography, enameling and ceramics. Students are learning Italian while others are studying communication subjects like international news and feature writing.
To date, about 250 ECU students have lived and studied in Certaldo Alto. They meet in classrooms located in a renovated medieval palace, the Palazzo Stiozzi Ridolfi, which dates to 1330. Students live in apartments in a Renaissance-era building surrounded by ancient olive groves and vineyards. Each evening students dine together with the locals at a village restaurant where they can practice conversational Italian and learn the finer points of Mediterranean cooking. Some classes are taught nearby at the highly regarded Le Meridiana International School of Ceramics.
The Italy Intensives program costs $9,850 per semester, which covers tuition, lodging, in-country transportation and many meals. Also included are expenses for scheduled trips to Rome, Florence, Pisa, Assisi, Naples and other cities for museum tours and similar enrichment experiences. Students sunbathed on the Amalfi Coast and explored Pompeii during one recent break.
The number of ECU students studying abroad has noticeably increased in the last couple of years as the university has made it a priority. Besides Italy Intensives, programs operated by other departments and schools on campus sent 388 students to 15 other countries in the past year. All of the 48 current EC Scholars will spend a semester abroad because it’s included in their scholarship. About a third of all Honors College students will study abroad.
However, Italy Intensives is the first study-abroad program to operate year-round. Twenty-five students already were registered for spring semester, when the faculty will grow to seven professors and an expanded curriculum.
Chancellor Emeritus Richard Eakin, who is leading the Honors College, said Italy Intensives “is an absolute gem. The setting in the Tuscan hill town of Certaldo is picture postcard perfect. Student accommodations are in my estimation among the best anywhere for study abroad. If I were a student again, I would participate without question.”
The program “is providing an extraordinary experience for ECU students,” said Provost Marilyn Sheerer. “Due to Professor Darty’s keen skill for putting together a very integrated, authentic program in another country, the students have an in-depth experience and become part of the city of Certaldo and all of its cultural richness and history.” Darty is committed to the program she founded in 2008 because it was a semester she spent in Italy as a sophomore that she says changed her life.
Villagers treat students to a meal and entertainment during a festival staged right outside their classroom door.
ECU plans dental clinic in Spruce Pine
ECU will partner with Blue Ridge Regional Hospital to open a dental clinic in the Mitchell County community of Spruce Pine. It’s the second community service learning center sited in western North Carolina, joining one previously announced for Sylva in Jackson County. At the Spruce Pine center, dental students and residents will train and, together with ECU faculty members, provide care to residents of the Mayland area—Mitchell, Avery and Yancey counties.
Spruce Pine, a town of about 2,200 near the base of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, is the fifth site to be named for what will eventually be 10 such centers across the state. Besides Sylva, the other sites identified so far are Ahoskie and Elizabeth City in eastern North Carolina and Lillington in central North Carolina.
The 7,700-square-foot center in Sylva will be a fully functioning general dentistry office with 16 treatment rooms, X-ray equipment, educational space and more. The state will own the land, and construction likely will begin next year, said Dr. Gregory Chadwick, interim dean of the dental school. Site selection is ongoing.
Full-time dental school faculty members will staff the center, along with dental hygienists and other staff members, and fourth-year dental students and residents will train at the center. Chadwick has described the centers as similar to “moving the fourth floor of the dental school—the clinical training—off campus to rural areas of our state where dental services are needed.”
State Rep. Mitch Gillespie of Marion, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said local and university officials worked six years to make the dental school and the Spruce Pine center a reality. “These things don’t just happen,” he said. “They don’t magically appear. This took years to happen, and it’s a miracle it ever happened this year the way the budget was.”
Spruce Pine currently has three dentists, only one younger than 60. —Doug Boyd
Wintergreen Intermediate School students in FoodMASTER class
Using cooking to teach math
ECU researchers Melani Duffrin and Virginia Carraway-Stage received a $1.27 million federal grant to develop teaching aides that will add a dash of math and a cup of science to seventh-grade classrooms in eastern North Carolina. The grant from the National Institutes of Health was awarded to the FoodMASTER program, which uses the hands-on activities of cooking—measuring, mixing and following directions—to teach math and science.
FoodMASTER, which stands for Food, Math and Science Teaching Enhancement Resource Initiative, was developed by Duffrin to help increase math and science skills through food preparation and handling. The curriculum was developed in 1999 by Duffrin, an associate professor of nutrition science at ECU, and Sharon Phillips, an Ohio elementary school teacher. It is now operational in North Carolina and Ohio, and officials plan to spread the program across the country. The concept behind the program is that pupils can better comprehend math and science principles when they are applied to vital everyday activities, like cooking a meal.
Duffrin said the grant “allows us to help seventh-grade teachers pull fresh math and science resources out of their bag. Food activities are a natural, fun way to help students apply math and science to their everyday lives, and we believe this is an effective way to teach those subjects.”
The funds also will be used to develop a FoodMASTER summer camp. The ECU Center for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education will support the project’s teacher training and outreach in eastern North Carolina.
The ECU FoodMASTER program received a $504,000 NIH grant in 2009 that was used to develop course materials that were used in classrooms at schools in Pitt, Ashe, Mecklenburg, Craven, Harnett, Gaston, Pamlico, Wake and Surry counties. Learn more about the program online at foodmaster.org.
Professors explore climate change
impact on NC weather patterns
Geography professors Tom Rickenbach and Rosana Nieto-Ferreira won a $314,000 National Sciences Foundation grant to examine how changes in the atmosphere control the manner in which rain and snow fall in North Carolina and how those changes affect the state’s current and future climate. Because precipitation is a primary source of water for North Carolina’s rivers, soils and groundwater reservoirs, the professors believe that studying the manner in which the precipitation arrives will help scientists understand how population growth, climate change and land-use patterns affect the state’s climate.
“Scientists and engineers are constantly improving our ability to measure how much rain and snow reach the surface. What we don’t understand as well is the manner in which that water is typically delivered to us,” said Rickenbach. “That missing piece of the puzzle is crucial to knowing whether precipitation reaching the ground will help or hinder us as we lead our lives. Knowing how a given amount of precipitation reached us—as gentle widespread daily showers, intense isolated but brief thunderstorms, or heavy snowfall—determines how we can best harness it for our needs and whether we must protect ourselves from its impacts.”
Nieto-Ferreira said that scientists do not fully understand how the state’s fresh water resource responds to changes in the environment. “We may then better understand how these variations in precipitation impact our lives, such as agriculture, urban runoff, coastal development and flooding,” Nieto-Ferreira added.
The scientists will conduct their research in three steps. First, every precipitation system that occurred across North Carolina over a three-year period will be identified and characterized using newly available high-resolution precipitation and three-dimensional radar reflectivity data sets. Next, the mode of delivery of the precipitation will be placed in the context of the prevailing wind and weather patterns of the atmosphere, based on archived maps and analysis. Finally, the climatology will be applied, with the goal of improving the interpretation of state-of-the-art model simulations of future regional climates. —Lacey Gray