Made in Italy Study Abroad Hits on University Priorities

If one looks at the initiatives and priorities of Michigan State University – among them becoming a "world grant" institution; transforming lives through education, service and outreach; exposing first-generation college students to study abroad; and connecting with alumni and friends around the world in meaningful ways – the Made in Italy study abroad program was, again, a tremendous success. "I will never forget what I felt during my six-week stay in Rome – the genuine connections with each of my professors, the smiling faces I encountered while volunteering, and the bonds I built with my fellow Spartans, all left an impression on me that I am still unpacking," said Leticia Gittens, senior Communication major and Sales Leadership minor. "I know that the experience was critical in helping me develop into the woman I will become."

Hands-on activities of the program put theory into practice when the students volunteered at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center (JNRC), working with artisans, organizing soccer games, teaching English as a Second Language, serving meals, working in the distribution center, and participating in art therapy for guests at the center, all while testing their interpersonal and intercultural communication skills.

"At the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center, I was able to experience life and beauty in a way that looked beyond differences and even language barriers," Gittens said. "After a little hesitation, I was able to open my mind and especially my heart to love and learn from some the most underprivileged yet ingenious individuals the world has to offer. This program was a perfect combination of learning, giving and growing."

In addition to student involvement, alumni and friends of the university through the Rome pilot of "Spartans Without Borders," directed by Dale Elshoff, brought the skills of a K-12 art teacher, an MSU Extension and 4-H outreach and training specialist, an MSU Alumni Association representative, and an engineering professional to the JNRC for two weeks. Participants lent their professional skills to the center and to the refugees with projects ranging from developing an electronic inventory program with scan cards, developing volunteer training materials, creating a photo exhibit, and organizing the distribution center, all while enjoying the Eternal City.

Established in 2010, the Made in Italy Study Abroad program is far from just a six-week experience from mid-May until the end of June. Students are encouraged to apply in the fall, close to MSU's Study Abroad Fair, which this year takes place, Thursday, Oct. 15, at the Breslin Center.

The program then begins in late spring. Because it fills up quickly, program leaders Jennifer Rumler, Managing Director of the Sales Leadership Minor, and Karin Hanson, Director of Employer Relations and Professional Transitions for the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, hold bi-monthly pre-departure meetings beginning in February.

The goal of the meetings is to allow students to get to know each other, to demonstrate that the learning and teaching style will be far different from the typical MSU lecture hall, and to set firm expectations. Students learn about the professors they will encounter, the excursions they will undertake, and the hands-on experiential learning that is built into every class.

Students earn nine credits in six weeks taking these three classes:

  • "Made in Italy, the Marketing of an Ideal," taught by Fabiana Romano, Editor of OM Magazine and field expert in marketing, sales, advertising, event planning, public relations and media management
  • "Italian Communicators: Popes, Politicians, and Popular Culture," taught by the Director of English Language Programming for Vatican Radio and 38- year-veteran journalist, Seàn-Patrick Lovett
  • "Intercultural Communication and Sales," taught by Rumler and Hanson

During this summer's marketing course, students learned about the Made in Italy branding phenomenon and the historical, social, political factors that went into the explosion of luxury brands in Italy in the 30s, 40s and 50s, mostly aimed at the American market. In addition, they created marketing and communication plans to launch an original Italian product in the United States during the 1980s, based on their research of conditions in both markets at the time. Guest lecturers were Laura Buonocore, Corporate Events Manager for Salvatore Ferragamo, and Umberto Mucci, Founder and President of We the Italians, and Italian Representative for the Italian American Museum in New York City.

The Italian Communicators course included lectures and discussions as well as experiential excursions to locations in the Eternal City that brought the discussions to life. Excursions to St. Peter's Basilica, Basilica San Clemente, Vittorio Emanuele II monument, Castel Sant'Angelo, Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, and the Vatican Radio and Television Stations rounded out the experience.

"One of the greatest connections I made during the program was with professor Seàn-Patrick Lovett. His natural tendency to draw you in with his wisdom was pleasantly overwhelming…he truly cared for each and every last one of us, and made sure that we made this experience one that would never be forgotten," said Gittens, who was voted most-effective communicator by her peers as they defended their resumes in the Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II) recording studio inside Vatican Radio.

The Intercultural Communication and Sales course began with two weeks of intensive professional development with Hanson, who helped students explore their tolerance for change and uncertainty as they experienced a new culture and language, as well as new living and learning environments.

In addition, Hanson facilitated and interpreted an assessment to determine personality styles and how those styles translate into strengths and weaknesses in the workplace and in professional and personal relationships. She also helped students identify themselves as "T-shaped Professionals," as they learned to expand the depth and breadth of their professional skills.

The course transitioned to intercultural communication with Rumler, where students explored culture, prejudice, privilege and race in the United States as a means of understanding those issues in the global workplace. Being engaged residents of the Eternal City rather than merely tourists, Made in Italy students became involved in current social issues in Rome, in this case, the current refugee crisis. Students began to understand first-hand the role of community engagement and corporate social responsibility, topics emphasized in the Sales Leadership Minor.

For more information about the Made in Italy program, please contact Jennifer Rumler at