The end of the semester: what a joy!

The last week of classes was intense. After having enjoyed some Panettone (handmade artisanally and imported from Italy) to celebrate the Holidays, we learned how to make handmade tortellacci (a bigger version of tortellini) with a sauce made with sun dried tomatoes. pic-by-lori-deemerDean Messina, Director of Dining Services at Fredonia, and our guest chef throughout the semester, taught us both tortellacci and the sauce, while the students were fantastic in running our small kitchen. The usual laughs made all of us happy, while the enjoyment of a shared delicious meal was most appreciated by the students, the interns, the guest chef himself, and the instructor. After this class, our next step was the final dinner. Thanks to the FSA (Faculty Student Association), we were able to cook in a bigger, professional kitchen and we were provided a large room in which to set tables and welcome guests. The menu included appetizers (mortadella and burrata), two kinds of pasta (carbonara and risotto alla milanese), meatballs with tomato sauce, a mixed salad, and many different kinds of sweets and desserts, including cornetti alla Nutella and Tiramisu’. As a class, we cooked from 2 to 5:30 pm, while the dinner lasted from 5:30 to 7 pm, with the last students leaving around 8 pm. Again, the students did a fantastic job being left in charge of the kitchen, showing us how much confidence and autonomy they had gained in 15 weeks of classes. With Dean’s and my supervision, they were independent enough to prep, cook, and set tables and prepare the room. Dean and I were so proud of them! Our 40 or so guests, including  students, faculty, staff, administrators, community and family members, enjoyed the meal and the conversation. I was surprised and moved by the kind words of the students for their instructor and their gift of flowers and a note that reads: dscn0135“Professor De Santi, Thank you so much for this incredible experience. You have truly broadened our horizons of the Italian culture. We can all agree that throughout the semester, we went from simply a classroom full of students, to a family! Love, your Italian Food Culture Students. Fall 2016.” This course was my dream come true, and having left such an impression on the students has given me unlimited joy. It is true that the work I have put in went well beyond a usual course, however it was worth it. Anyways, even if this class would not have been possible without the collaboration of many people, the major work was completed by these 15 students, who accepted the challenge of a course heavy in academic requirements. Each of them ended up writing roughly 10,000 words throughout the semester and producing digital presentations without missing a single deadline nor a single assignment – and there were an average of at least three per week. They did an amazing, incredible job. As Dr. David Kinkela, Director of the Honors Program, wrote me in an email: “Students really loved the class, even though they wrote more for the course than any other course for general education. It just goes to show that if students are challenged intellectually and supported pedagogically, they can do tremendous things.” And they did! Kudos to them! Furthermore, the two interns from the Communication Department did an amazing job as well in both Public Relations and Video Production. From the perspective of Curtis Lord, our Public Relations’ intern in charge of the website and social media, the experience was a valuable one, as he wrote in our newsletter: “This class has been an incredible learning experience for me. Not only have I been able to strengthen the skills that I’ve developed as a future PR practitioner, but I’ve also been able to learn about Italy and their food culture as well. I wasn’t just the intern taking photos at the back of the room, I was treated as a student and a peer.” dscn0221From a site supervisor’s perspective, I truly enjoyed working with Curtis and Andrew Mertens (from left to right), who produced 18 wonderful videos, and I am positive that these internships will help them in the future as they refine their professional skills and look for a job. Finally, I can really say that Dean Messina and I were a team. We learned from each other, while we created a community of learners. When I proposed the idea of this course to him in January 2015, we were not sure how it would have turned out. At the beginning of December 2016, Dean wrote me this when I reminded him of how we started two years prior: “I think of everyone as an extended family and how much fun we have every week in class. While I was doing dishes the other day when you all were sampling the pasta alla carbonara, I could hear the students laughing and enjoying the class. I think your original thoughts of this class have really blossomed into a very special experience for the students.” And I think Dean is right: this class was an experience and a journey for them and for us as well, and I am sure that many of the students will remember it in the years to come. For sure, after the course was done, a student contacted me already twice. The first time, Melissa was watching an episode of Chopped at home and, “guess what one of the mystery ingredients was: panettone!! If only you had heard the awful ways that the contestants tried to pronounce it,” she wrote me.20170102_180536 The second time was after New Year to share that she made pasta alla carbonara for her family and they really enjoyed it. Beyond sharing the picture, Melissa also thanked me “for including this dish in our curriculum last semester.” Yes, it is a very delicious and altogether easy and fast pasta to make! Finally, as one student wrote in his/her final anonymous evaluation: “This class will be what I remember Fredonia by. It is a great gateway into the world of cooking and Italian Culture. I have learned so much from this class and had many unique experiences that I couldn’t have received anywhere else.” This is why we teach: to have the students leave our colleges and universities with a suitcase full of experiences, memories, and, certainly, academic and experiential learning. By Chiara De Santi

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