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Triumph of the Rome Summer Program Architecture Student Experience

Necessity is the mother of invention—the pandemic has given ample opportunities to prove the truth of this adage. At the end of May 2021, as the Covid-19 pandemic continued on a roller coaster of ups and downs both in the United States and Italy, the architecture Class of ‘23 and members of the graduate class of ‘21 embarked on a first in the 53-year history of the School's Rome Studies Program: a nine-week summer program in Rome in the shadow of a pandemic.

In the midst of extraordinary complications and ongoing constraints throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, faculty, staff and administrators at the School explored dozens of scenarios for the students who were unable to travel to Rome as planned. When the availability of vaccines and the easing of travel restrictions allowed the University to make the decision to allow Architecture students to travel to Rome, the School and the Rome Global Gateway (RGG) jumped into action. There was little more than a month to actuate the plans that had been discussed for months to get the students to Rome. RGG staff organized living and study spaces according to Italian public health requirements for room capacities and social distancing, as well as organized weekly surveillance testing at the Villa to ensure that Notre Dame’s Italian home was ready to receive students. School staff in South Bend worked with University partners at Anthony Travel on the enormous project of sending 60 students to Rome—originating from 30 different home airports—while organizing the necessary testing for each leg of each student’s travel in compliance with both U.S. and Italian travel regulations.

Students (and Prof. Mazzola) take selfies around Italy.

There were delays and last-minute panics, but the students arrived in Italy on May 29, 2021 where they were met by architecture staff and faculty who had been eagerly anticipating this moment for months. During their summer in Italy, the students experienced firsthand the difference in public health mandates in different Italian cities. They saw the removal of the national curfew as well as the easing of some other restrictions—all milestones in Italy’s pandemic journey.

By far the most important milestone for Notre Dame was the successful completion of nine weeks in Italy with 100% negative results in weekly surveillance testing. This was no small feat—it was possible because of the vigilance of the students and the dedication of the School of Architecture staff and faculty, both in Rome and on campus as well as the staff of the RGG.

The class of 2023 also has the distinction of being the largest class in recent history to pass through the Rome Studies Program. In addition to the physical logistics of hosting 60 students in the Rome Global Gateway and 56 of those students in the Villa on The Celio, Rome Studies Program faculty and staff worked to reorganize course structure to adapt to not only the shortened time period but also public health restrictions. Architecture faculty adapted their regular semester courses and braved the Roman summer heat, along with the students, to teach Roman urbanism and watercolor courses almost exclusively outdoors for the entire two months. Outdoor teaching allowed social distancing measures to be respected and enabled faculty to truly use the city as their classroom.

Students attended classes four days a week and used Fridays for day trips and Faculty Advised Travel. Faculty Advised Travel is a Covid-19-inspired adaptation to semester field trips in accordance with government restrictions on organized group travel. In addition to adapting their courses, faculty also adapted their field trip itineraries to work within three four-day weekend trips in three different cities with rotating groups. While the structure was complicated at first, students, faculty, and staff adapted quickly to traveling on three different and simultaneous trips every other weekend, for a total of nine separate field trips.

Students had spent the 2020-2021 academic year on campus where they were prepared extensively for both the academic and logistical experience of Rome. During that time, architecture faculty from Rome volunteered to leave their homes to teach students in South Bend, ensuring that when they finally arrived in Italy, the students were prepared to make the most of their limited time. The students’ energy, gratefulness, and autonomy showed through in the private exhibition of their work, displayed at the end of the summer. In his remarks at the exhibition, Rev. Richard S. Bullene, C.S.C. ‘76 & ‘88, Academic Director of the Rome Studies Program, said, "There are countless people to thank for making this summer program happen, but we are equally thankful to this group of students who have navigated this complicated summer with care and responsibility and made this summer the best it could be. You made it happen."

The School of Architecture, Notre Dame International, and the Rome Global Gateway drew on resources from all over the University to support this seemingly unlikely Summer program. After the completion of the program, with students safely returned to their homes, in a note to faculty and staff across the University, Dean Stefanos Polyzoides lauded the interdepartmental work carried out over the course of the summer. The Rome Summer Program shows the spirit of the Notre Dame community in action.