by Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Lauren Anderson
Whether it's enjoying pizza and esprit de corps while grading French exams at the end of the semester, receiving a Valentine's card from your Italian language class, or hauling a refrigerator into the department conference room, our MA and PhD graduates have many fond memories of their time in FRIT. When asked to describe their favorite thing about the Department of French and Italian, this year's graduates overwhelming said that it was the collegiality and camaraderie found amongst their peers.
"You sometimes hear stories about departments where there is a fierce spirit of competition between students or an aloof faculty, and my experience in FRIT was quite the opposite," says Jake Ladyga (B.A., 2013, M.A., 2016, Ph.D., 2020). "While the department was rigorous in the training it provided, the environment among the graduate students and the faculty was one of constructive support." Marion Velain (M.A., 2020) agreed, saying, "I always appreciated how open-minded the professors were, how we could just talk to them."
Timothy Lomeli (M.A., 2020) said the best thing about the Department is the ambiance. "I am thankful for the cohort I had; I really think that we were a great group. We really helped each other think through our thoughts, which helped us to become better students." Vincenzo Dimaggio (M.A., 2020) also reflected on the positive atmosphere, saying, "I am really enjoying both the friendly environment and the high scientific rigor the program has transmitted to me." Dimaggio is continuing on to the Italian PhD program in FRIT this fall.
This year FRIT had 11 students who completed their PhDs, the highest number of PhD graduates since 2007-08, and that amidst a pandemic! With dissertation topics ranging from medieval cookbooks to the specific French dialect spoken in Maine's Saint John Valley, these budding scholars have added significantly to existing knowledge in their fields. "My degree prepared me for a career as a teacher and researcher," says Sara Dallavalle (M.A., 2015), who is defending her dissertation in August, "but also as administrator in case I would opt for an alt-ac job in the future." "Alt-ac" refers to job alternatives outside the traditional academic track of becoming a faculty member. Indeed, Dallavalle has administrative experience organizing several graduate student events as well as the national conference on comics, "Panels on Panels," held at IUB February 13-14, 2020. For the coming academic year, she has a position as an Assistant Instructional Professor in Italian at the University of Chicago.
Like Dallavalle, other graduates also valued conferences and workshops organized through FRIT. "Memories from two events in my first two years stand out in particular," said Kelly Kasper-Cushman (M.A., 2014), who is defending her dissertation in July. "The first is when IU hosted NWAV, a large annual sociolinguistics conference. It was so exciting to have scholars come from all over the world to IU to talk about sociolinguistics, and to meet graduate students in my sub-discipline." The second event was a graduate student professionalization workshop which was "an amazing coming together of students from all years, faculty, and alumni – there was a real feeling of community." Kasper-Cushman is staying in FRIT for one more year, as Visiting Lecturer and Acting Director of Language Instruction in French.
Amanda Vredenburgh (M.A., 2016, Ph.D., 2020) also values the wide range of professional experiences she had during her time in the Department. These opportunities included teaching in study abroad programs (the High School Program in Foreign Languages), working as a research assistant for a few professors, organizing roundtables for the Student-Faculty Forum series, and planning cultural events for undergraduate students as part of the French Club. Vredenburgh will start a position as Visiting Assistant Professor at Loyola University this Fall.
A few graduating students also gave a shout out to the department staff. Claire Fouchereaux (M.A., 2020) said, "From the professors, to the administrative staff to my colleagues, I could always find someone to reach out to when I had questions, needed advice or wanted feedback." When asked what his favorite aspects of being a FRIT student were, Lino Mioni (Ph.D., 2020), said, "Having access to world-class libraries such as the Wells and the Lilly Library and working with the wonderful FRIT staff!" He may be a bit biased about the libraries, since he is employed as Senior Collections Reference Assistant for Latin American and Caribbean, Spanish and Portuguese, Chicano-Riqueño, Latino, and European Studies at the IU Wells Library.
Naturally, course work and interactions with faculty also left a big impression on our graduates. "I loved basically all my courses," said Giulia Benghi (M.A., 2013, Ph.D., 2020). "I am very grateful for the professors I had: not only are they brilliant scholars, so that I found their courses always exciting and their teaching always inspiring, but I also felt respected and encouraged by them." Students also appreciated the more casual interactions with faculty, which was new to those coming from Europe. "I will never forget the first Christmas party: during my previous studies, I had never had the occasion of meeting my professors outside the academic environment," said Dallavalle, "At that moment I realized how different this experience would be from what I was expecting, and I felt relieved that I would be considered not just a student, but a person!"
Carly Bahler (M.A., 2013, Ph.D., 2019) shared a memory from the reception with faculty and student colleagues after her defense last fall. "I asked a member of my committee, a full professor in FRIT who also chairs another department, whether he rolled his eyes at graduate students' struggles with the odyssey of the dissertation, given that he had written a book, etc. He responded, 'Of course not! Because we were all there, and we all remember how rough it was!' His human response really surprised me and validated how tremendous of an accomplishment the PhD is."
Ladyga really appreciated the mock job interviews organized each year by our Graduate Student Services Coordinator with volunteer faculty members, as well as the Student-Faculty Forum series which allowed advanced students to give practice job talks. "Thanks to these opportunities," he said, "I went to my interview with a much stronger sense of what I should anticipate, and generally felt greater confidence in my ability to navigate the rapid-fire and somewhat intense experience of a day-long interview." Ladyga was successful in his job search and will start a position as Visiting Assistant Professor of French at Wittenberg University in Ohio this fall.
Overall, graduate studies present a learning experience not just in one's subject area, but in many other aspects of life as well. "Graduate school has taught me more about myself in the last few years than any single experience in my life," said Bahler. "Even if the road ahead is not always smooth, or well-defined, I feel confident that if nothing else, I possess the strong analytical and problem-solving skills, and not to mention the tenacity, to find success in my career(s)."
The Department would like to congratulate this year's graduates on the tremendous accomplishment of completing a graduate degree, and to thank them for contributing a supportive atmosphere for learning.
- Elke Defever (French/Francophone Studies)
- Vincenzo Dimaggio (Italian Studies)
- Claire Fouchereaux (French/Francophone Studies)
- Timothy Lomeli (French/Francophone Studies)
- Sneha Ravichandran (French/Francophone Studies)
- Noëmie Sollier (French Linguistics)
- Marion Velain (French/Francophone Studies)
For a list which includes the dissertation titles and names of the thesis advisors, please see our commencement article here.
- Carly Bahler (French Linguistics)
- Giulia Benghi (Italian Studies)
- Mark Black (French Linguistics)
- Roberto Borfecchia (Italian Studies)
- Sara Dallavalle (Italian Studies)
- Kelly Kasper-Cushman (French Linguistics)
- Jake Ladyga (French/Francophone Studies)
- Lino Mioni (Italian Studies)
- Alisha Reaves (French Linguistics)
- Renata Uzzell (French Linguistics)
- Amanda Vredenburgh (French/Francophone Studies)