Bidding “Addio” to YSU

By Jordan Unger

A full-time Italian professor at Youngstown State University will be departing for a new opportunity at Loyola University Chicago in the fall.

Carla Simonini accepted a position at LUC, where she has been named the inaugural Paul and Ann Rubino Professor in Italian American Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

According to LUC’s University Newsroom, “The endowed professorship was established to build a premier IAS program among only a handful of programs in the country.”

Simonini said she was honored to be selected for the position.

“Career-wise, it’s a big step up,” Simonini said. “It was not an easy decision because I love it here. I love my students.”

Although it was not on her radar to move, Simonini said a colleague convinced her to apply, and it was her late husband who encouraged her to take the position.

“When they made me the job offer, it was actually my husband who said, ‘I want you to take this. I think this is a sign.’”

John Sarkissian, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, said Simonini has made great contributions to the department and the university over the past eight years.

Simonini developed a program for YSU students to study abroad in Sicily, Italy.

“It was a model program for what study abroad programs should be,” Sarkissian said. “It’s just really a tremendous educational experience for the students.”

The John Felice Rome Center is LUC’s branch in Rome, so Simonini hopes there can be collaborative efforts between YSU and LUC for study abroad opportunities.

She introduced Italian-American studies courses to the university and has spearheaded the push for an Italian-American studies center in the area, something that LUC recently formed on its campus.

“I think with the rich Italian community we have here in Youngstown, this is a good place to do something similar,” she said. “We want to make sure we still have a vibrant Italian program here at YSU, but also a center that preserves the heritage of the Italian-American community, the history here and also understanding the important relationship between Italy and the U.S.”

She said one of her roles at LUC is to promote other programs like this to thrive, so she plans to still be involved with YSU’s center.

There was a fundraising campaign in the community to start the center at LUC. YSU’s foreign language department hopes the same effort can bring this to Youngstown within the next few years.

Simonini has also taken students to the Cleveland Italian Film Festival, helped organize the operas on campus and is the editor of “Italian Americana Cultural and Historical Review,” one of the leading journals in Italian studies.

She credits many of these contributions to a very supportive department and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences as a whole.

“I’ve been given the freedom to shape this program in the way that I wanted it to be shaped …  We’ve got more [Italian] majors now than when I came in, our upper division classes have much higher enrollment than they had in previous years, so all in all things are going really good here.”

Although she is excited to start the new position in August, Simonini is slightly concerned about the fate of the Italian program after she leaves. She is the only full-time Italian professor at YSU and hopes that the university will find a good and experienced replacement.

“We are one of only two majors in Italian in the entire Ohio state system. It is us and [Ohio State University],” she said. “Many, if not the vast majority, of the teachers in the local school systems have gotten their degree from YSU.”

A visiting professor from northern Italy will temporarily teach upper division Italian courses until a new faculty member is hired. Sarkissian said the department will make a request for a new hire for the 2019-2020 academic year.

“In addition to teaching the Italian courses for us, he’s doing a history of Venice course in the history department in the fall. He will be giving some public lectures,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have gotten a distinguished professor from Italy.”

Still, Sarkissian said Simonini will be greatly missed by the university.

“In every way, she’s been valuable to us,” he said. “We’re all wishing Dr. Simonini well and we’re very happy for her, but she is going to be tough to replace.”