Study abroad from the comfort of home: Virtual course lets students explore pre-Roman Italy

When study abroad was suspended throughout the SUNY system in March 2020, Associate Professor of Art History Keely Heuer was determined to continue providing experiential learning opportunities for New Paltz students.

Through her own creativity and with support from Foundation Board member Giancarlo Traverso and the team at the Center for International Programs, Heuer created a summer 2021 virtual program, “Italy before Rome: Archaeology, Visual Culture and Political Power,” that made it possible for students to explore another part of their world without leaving home.

This online course explored the history and cultural achievements of pre-Roman Italy to reveal the regions that inspired and fueled what would become one of the greatest superpowers in world history. But it was more than just an online summer class – it was designed from the ground up as a virtual global learning experience.

Students participated in sessions with world-renowned archaeologists and art historians, virtual tours, experimental archaeology projects, movie nights, cooking classes and more. Each student received a large care package before the start of the course containing cooking supplies, the materials for the experimental archaeology projects (including drop spindles with terracotta whorls made by a recent MFA ceramics graduate, Yage Wang), and lots of typical Italian foods for the students to sample.

“Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and I was grateful to have an opportunity to think outside the box and stretch my skills,” said Heuer. “This experience was a delight because of the dedication and enthusiasm of my students, who truly threw themselves whole-heartedly into this unconventional course. They created a wonderful sense of comradery, despite our being physically separated from one another, and at times, even their family members joined us.”

The curriculum is a natural fit for Heuer, whose research concentrates on the iconography of Greek vase painting and the interrelations between Greek settlers and indigenous populations of pre-Roman Italy. Her courses cover the breadth of ancient Mediterranean visual culture, with a particular focus on the art of Greece and Rome.

Student participation in the course was made possible by Professor Emeritus Giancarlo Traverso, creator of the Luigi and Anita Traverso Endowment in honor of his parents. Traverso currently serves on the SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board, the SUNY New Paltz Campaign Cabinet, and began the Italian Studies program in 1968.

“We are so grateful for the generosity of Professor Emeritus Giancarlo Traverso, who made the experience possible,” said Executive Director of the Center for International Programs Beth Vargas. “Together, Professor Heuer and Professor Traverso represent the resourcefulness of true educators in meeting the needs of students and expanding their horizons.”

After a challenging year in the COVID-era, this unique program became an academic highlight for Heuer and her students.

“It reminded us all that the best learning happens when we make it a joyous experience,” she said.

Learn more about the Center for International Programs online.