Sarah McGonigle first got the idea of studying abroad at Hickory High School in Hermitage, Pa., but it wasn’t until her second year at University of Dayton, where she is an art education major, that she knew exactly where to go, when, and why: Athena’s program at Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Florence campus for courses in Italian art history and culture.
McGonigle, the winner of Athena’s 2019 $8,000 Michele Iavagnilio Charitable Service Scholarship, returned from Florence in May, having completed two courses in Italian art history, plus an Italian language course, the Expanding Creativity course, and the cooking-oriented Pairing Food and Wine course. Athena’s Iavagnilio Scholarship is designed for the Athena student who can best demonstrate a commitment to, and active participation in, charitable service to his or her community. Michele Iavagnilio, the son of an LdM Florence professor, dedicated his life to teaching and otherwise helping autistic children, and who was killed at age 25 in the devastating 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy.
McGonigle explained that attending Florence LdM with Athena for spring semester 2019 worked ideally for her. As an art education major, she needed courses in art history, and what better place to do that than in Florence? (She said that she never thought she would like art history, but now she’s an “art history nerd.”) McGonigle pointed out that Florence was at the heart of the Renaissance and therefore modern art’s birthplace. She also said it was very helpful to see important art in Florence, the Vatican, and elsewhere in person (not on “PowerPoint slides”) because she professes to not be very good at memorization. McGonigle said that she currently is planning to also finish minors in art history and photography—and a certificate in applied creativity.
She said that she chose Athena’s Florence LdM program because of the wide cross-section of students and academic programs. For instance, McGonigle said her roommates were from Belgium, India, Seattle, Boston and Chicago, with many majors, not only art.
McGonigle’s short-term goal after completing her bachelor’s degree is teaching art with her pre-K-grade 12 art education certification. But she’s already thinking longer-term about a master’s degree in education administration.
At Athena’s Florence program at LdM, the modern arts-oriented Expanding Creativity course allowed McGonigle to both be creative on major projects and to think deeply about helping others discover their creativity. Following a series of lectures and assignments in the course’s first half, McGonigle’s major project for the course was a series of seven scenic embroideries–about 4 x 6 inches each–which she has framed and also photographed. The embroideries took about 15 hours each. (Enlarged, the threads look like yarn!) During her time in Europe, she also took hundreds of photographs and selected many of them for a self-published, printed and bound book. (McGonigle said that her entire family is creative, starting with her grandmother’s crafts.)
The Pairing Food and Wine course was something of a revelation for McGonigle. She said that she enjoys cooking, which she has learned from family members. But at 20, McGonigle’s not old enough to legally drink alcohol in the USA. So imagine her surprise (and that of others) when it became clear that she has a natural talent for describing wines’ unique aromas!
She noted that her ancestry is half-Italian (and half-Irish, hence McGonigle), and her aunt (with her aunt’s two brothers) even owns a house in Italy and visits it annually. McGonigle’s older sister, Lauren—a communications student at Pennsylvania State University—also was studying in Florence during Spring 2019; this allowed the two sisters to travel together, support each other, and both be visited by their parents and younger sister during the semester.
McGonigle’s semester in Florence was exceptionally busy, and not only because of her family’s visit. She spent St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland and spring break in the Greek Islands (Santorini and others), along with trips to Portugal (Porto and surfing), Switzerland (twice) for skiing and sightseeing, the South of France, and “all over” Italy (though missing the Amalfi Coast and a few other places she could not get to). Countries that she wishes she had been able to visit are Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands—but they give her a reason to go back to Europe!
McGonigle said, that as someone who is “very Catholic,” her favorite places she visited were Assisi and Luciano, Italy, the latter for its Eucharistic Miracle at the St. Longinus monastery.
McGonigle received the Iavagnilio scholarship for her success in volunteering for a wide variety of activities, including Four Paws for Ability (program training service dogs for children) and being an alter server and singer in her church. She also is a tennis instructor and an art instructor for the Hermitage, PA, parks and recreation department. Susan MacElroy, an English teacher at Hickory High School, highlighted McGonigle’s outstanding work on the school’s senior prom, National Honor Society, and more, calling her former student a “thinker, a doer, a motivator, and a marvel.”
“She shares the gift of song throughout the community, has hosted luncheons for veterans, organized blood drives, and participated in musical presentations solely for elderly members of our city,” MacElroy wrote. “Her talents are so rare and varied that she can always contribute to the good of others…she is a woman of ability, compassion, innovation, and energy, a student leader, a conscientious community member, and global thinker.”
McGonigle said planning her study abroad involved few challenges. One was taking 18 credits in Fall 2018 (and taking online summer courses at Slippery Rock University when she returned). A second one, she said, was working two jobs (including one at the UD’s unique Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation) last fall, while a third one was paperwork complications from living in Pennsylvania while attending college in western Ohio.
Her advice to other students is: “plan early and explore all your options.”