September 04, 2009
students clung to their last month of summer leisure, 30 new
freshmen at St. John’s University had their first taste of global
learning through a unique, two-week pilot program in which they
lived, learned and performed community service in Rome, Italy.
Freshman Passport Program — a dramatically new approach to one
of St. John’s most popular core courses — allowed the students to
live and learn at the University’s campus in the heart of Italy’s
Eternal City. From August 2 to 14, the freshmen engaged in
discussions, attended academic and leadership classes, toured
the city, served in a Roman soup kitchen and helped distribute
clothes to those in need.
The Rome experience launched a special fall section of Discover New
York (DNY). The same 30 students are completing the class on
the Queens campus. DNY uses New York City as a “living textbook” on
American history and culture: the new global component allows
students to compare urban issues facing Rome and New York.
The aim is
to make global learning an integral part of the freshman
experience, said Karl Rutter, Director of Recruitment in the Office
of Global Studies. “It’s part of our mission,” he said. “St. John’s
is dedicated to giving every student a global education, and this
makes it available right from the first semester.”
For new students, the Freshman Passport Program is an exciting
introduction to St. John’s. “I loved it,” said Katharine Cimmino, a
pharmacy major from Locust Valley, NY. “It was my first taste of
college life before the semester even started.”
Showing Freshmen the World
Two professors joined the students in Rome —
Harry Denny, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English and Director
of the Queens and Staten Island campus Writing Centers; and Lucy
Pesce, Director of Leadership Development for Student Athletes. Dr.
Denny is the sole instructor for the Queens-campus segment.
“This is the first time DNY has had an international component —
and we’re going to see more of it,” said James M. Keane, Ed.D.,
Associate Provost and Director of the Institute of Core Studies.
“Clearly, international studies will be a valuable part of the
The Freshman Passport Program this spring will add study abroad
options to more core courses. For example, a section of English
1000C (Freshman Composition) is joining the Freshman Passport
Program. The program also will include another section of DNY and
may expand to other core courses.
Two professors are already scheduled to “team-teach” the next
installments — Derek Owens, D.A., Associate Professor of English
and Executive Director of the Institute for Writing Studies, and
Tara Roeder, Assistant Professor of Writing.
Other departments also are adding international components. In the
College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, for example,
second-year pharmacy majors spent their spring 2009 semester
studying in three European cities. In spring 2010, another class of
second-year pharmacy majors will do the same, while sixth-year
majors will spend five weeks in Europe.
summer, The School of Education offered a study abroad course
in the Dominican Republic. In summer 2010, The School of Education
will offer an additional study abroad course in Ghana with plans
for another in Puerto Rico. The Peter J. Tobin College of Business
also is looking to enhance its own global offerings for
undergraduates through study abroad or destination courses with a
short travel component.
Global learning plays a central role in every aspect of a St.
John’s education. Through the Office of Global Studies, students
can enroll in Discover the World, allowing them to live, learn and
serve in three European cities in a single semester. Students also
may choose among winter, summer and semester-long options
throughout Europe, Asia and Latin America.
Tools for Leaders
The Freshman Passport Program is a powerful part of St. John’s
Vincentian mission, said Dr. Keane. “St. John’s prepares students
to be ethical leaders who make the world better. The Freshman
Passport Program lets them experience the world, so they have a
strong sense of the challenges and opportunities that await
The program’s launch represents a partnership among three
University offices. The Institute for Core Studies developed the
course structure, while the Office of Global Studies coordinated
housing, tours and service opportunities through Caritas of Rome.
The Office of Admission helped get the word out to incoming
also was crucial to teaching in Rome. Dr. Denny developed the
academic component, while Prof. Pesce focused on leadership skills.
Both professors emphasized service and technology as integral parts
of the course.
Dr. Denny asked students to explore the relationship between social
justice and “discourse communities — groups with a common language
and body of knowledge, based on shared passions, geographic or
“Cities are places where inequities among communities become very
clear,” said Dr. Denny. “Immigrants, the poor, the working-class
often feel like outsiders among more privileged communities.”
Living and serving in a foreign city sensitizes students to the
plight of ‘outsider.’ “It’s something we’re going to explore
further this semester.”
Prof. Pesce helped students translate their experience into
leadership skills consistent with St. John’s Vincentian mission.
“Whether it’s meeting new people, serving in a soup kitchen
operated by Caritas or distributing clothes—everything our students
did was related to leadership training,” she said.
In fact, Prof. Pesce observed, St. Vincent de Paul exemplified the
connection between leadership and service. The 17th-century French
priest pioneered efforts to improve life for the urban and rural
poor; he also founded the Congregation of the Mission, which guides
St. John’s to this day.
Technology enhanced the course. Students created video “blogs”
using the built-in cameras on the new Lenovo laptop computers all
freshmen received this year. They also used online course message
boards and created films about their experiences, which they placed
on the Web.
Cherishing an “Amazing Experience”
Living in a strange city, serving those in need, Katharine Cimmino
found the Freshman Passport Program an invigorating start to her
“Dr. Denny’s focus on different communities helped us draw many
parallels and differences between Rome, New York and other Western
cities, she observed. “And serving in a soup kitchen in another
country taught me to be more appreciative of what I have.”
“The entire trip was really well-planned,” said Jordan Brown, an
18-year-old freshman from Austin, TX. “The Rome campus is right
near the Metro station and St. John’s got us unlimited Metro
passes, so it was easy to get to see how people lived in different
parts of the city.”
Jordan also was intrigued by Dr. Denny’s focus on the plight of
society’s outsiders. “We’re all outsiders at some point,” she said.
“Some people are always outsiders, because of language, race or
financial situation. I learned how important it is to be sensitive
The service component of the course was “a real eye-opener,” added
James Patterson, an 18-year-old from Kernersville, NC. “This was my
first time in a soup kitchen. I’m from a small town where you don’t
see a lot of people who are homeless. Now we were able to see the
people and faces. It shows you how real their suffering is.”
For Sara Restrepo, who hails from Queens, NY, the Rome experience
revealed cultural differences between Europeans and Americans.
“When paying at a restaurant,” she recalled, “we found out that
you’re not supposed to put money in a cashier’s hand. You put it in
a little plate. It’s a kind of respect—they believe only
panhandlers take money directly.”
Yet some of the students’ most cherished experiences involved
communicating with new acquaintances — classmates, professors and
the people they met in Rome. “It was the first time we met, but we
became friends very quickly,” said Nabila Haque, a freshman from
New Hyde Park, NY. “Being in Rome with other St. John’s students
made the course more exciting.”
“It was amazing,” said Matthew Hirsch, who found community service
an ideal way to break the language barrier. “When you’re trying to
help others,” said the Ronkonkoma, NY, native, “you can always find
a way to communicate.”