Category Archives: Italianist Spotlight

Penn State Italian Student Society (ISS)- Mini Series

Chapter 3: La Danza Maratona 2017

After 46 hours of no standing and no sleeping, I had the chance to sit down with the ISS THON 2017 dancers, Nicole Iannou and Anthony DeFerrari, to discuss their experiences throughout the weekend!

Nicole and Anthony during the first hours of THON 2017.


In preparation for THON, Nicole went to the gym around 3 days a week. She continued with her normal lifting routine but added cardio in as a warm-up or cool down. She also ate healthier with little to no snacking and drank tons of water every day. The two weeks leading up to THON she got on average of 8 hours of sleep each night and keeping ahead on homework. Anthony’s routine was similar, he adjusted his nutrition and workout routine. A few weeks prior to THON, he stopped taking in caffeine, and cut out sugars from desserts, etc. He ran more, two miles a day after lifting; and, on Fridays and Saturdays, he ran four miles.

Dancing in THON

Nicole said it was truly amazing and inspiring to dance in THON. The kids were so fun to play with and the atmosphere was unbelievable. Looking around the BJC and seeing everyone come together to support the kids meant a lot. There was so much love and support from everyone. Anyone could dance 46 hours in THON but not everyone could be a fighter like those kids. For Anthony, dancing in THON was by far the best experience he’s had as a student at Penn State: I am still at a loss of words to fully describe his sentiment, regarding dancing.


Nicole’s favorite part about THON was making new friends. She met another group of dancers and all weekend they hung out playing with kids and playing games. We danced together and had a great time. It felt like we were friends for years. Also making friends with her DRCM made it fun. They were able to dance and make each other laugh and overall have a great time. Anthony’s favorite part during THON this year was hearing the resilience from some of the Four Diamonds families. These stories attested to the imperative mission, and success, of THON.

ISS members spending time on the floor at THON 2017.

Penn State Italian Student Society (ISS)- Mini Series

Chapter 2: Sua Bambina, Aleah

Penn State Italian Student Society’s THON chair, Julianna and the rest of the club was so excited to tell me more about their Four Diamonds family. They were paired with their THON child, Aleah, in 2013. The spunky, now fifteen-year-old absolutely loves horses. Every year, the club incorporates her affection for the beautiful animals into their theme for THON. This year their shirts read, “Kicking Cancer and Riding Free”, because Aleah is an avid horseback rider and came up with the slogan herself.

The club with Aleah in the stands at THON 2013, their first THON together.

They do all sorts of activities with Aleah, outside of THON weekend too. Aleah keeps in contact with the group, they text and call each other often. The club plans events to do together all the time such as going ice skating at Pegula Ice Rink, attending Penn State basketball games, taking trips to the Berkey Creamery, and enjoying a nice Italian meal. Aleah’s younger brother’s birthday falls during THON weekend this year, and exciting birthday party plans are in the works. “They are such a wonderful family and we are so glad to be paired with them. We always have a good time together and we love being able to give back to them,” says Julianna. The club are looking forward to spending the weekend with Aleah and the rest of her family.

THON starts tonight at 6 o’clock. Tune into the live stream here. Learn more about Anthony Deferrari and Nicole Ioannou’s experiences at THON 2017, representing the Italian Student Society on the floor for 46 hours in Chapter 3: La Danza Maratona 2017.

Some pictures of club members through the years with Aleah, her brother Ivan, mother Michelle, and her father Ben.



Penn State Italian Student Society (ISS)- Mini Series

Chapter 1: Igniting Hope Within

Penn State’s Italian Student Society is preparing for their favorite weekend happening in just TWO days. THON is a student-run philanthropy committed to enhancing the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer. Its mission is to provide emotional and financial support, spread awareness and ensure funding for critical research – all in pursuit of a cure. Yearlong fundraising efforts culminate in a 46-hour Dance Marathon, which is happening this weekend! Live stream the weekend here!

I got the chance to sit down with the Italian Student Society’s THON chair, Julianna Azzizzo, and learn more about their fundraising efforts for THON 2017. The club was founded in 2007 and has been actively participating in THON since 2011. They are a small organization with about 35 active members who are a mix of Italian majors and minors, Italian descent and students who just want to learn more about the Italian culture. Last year ISS raised $10,000 for the kids, this year they are hoping to beat their total.

Italian Student Society members at THON 2016, last year.

Their fundraising efforts for THON 2017 started in September. The club participated in “canning weekends” where students stood outside of storefronts, on sidewalks and at other locations holding specially marked cans and signs, encouraging passers-by to donate money to THON.  They also host a pasta dinner at the Dorito Church downtown every year. Unlimited pasta with homemade sauce, garlic bread and dessert are served for just a $5 entry fee. This is an event that’s unique to the club. Thonvelopes are also mailed to potential donors. This is the most successful and efficient way to get donations from friends and family while also raising awareness for THON. This year the Italian Student Society also hosted a “Holiday Cash Raffle”. Tickets were $5 each and gave participants the chance to win the grand prize of $500. This was an extremely successful fundraising technique for the club this year, raising over $1,000 for THON. Learn more about the Italian Student Society’s Four Diamonds Family and THON child, Aleah, in Chapter 2: Sua Bambina, Aleah.

Julianna and other Italian Student Society members participating in canning to raise money for THON.

Italianist Spotlight: International Student Cici Dong

Cici Dong is a sophomore at Penn State majoring in Supply Chain Management and double minoring in Italian and International Business. She has been studying Italian for a little over a year now. Access more info on Cici’s time abroad at: Reggio Calabria 2016

Cici and the rest of the Reggio program enjoying their last dinner in Italy.

Cici and the Reggio program enjoying their last dinner in Italy.

Why did you choose to take Italian?

It was totally a random choice that I signed up for an Italian class in my first semester. However, I learned so much after the first semester, and I enjoyed the learning experience and decided to take a minor in Italian so I could learn more about the country on a deeper level. More importantly, I came to Penn to Penn State with no idea what I would do, but now I know that Italian goes hand-in-hand with my major and directs me to do international business work in the future.

What is it like being an international student at Penn State studying another language?

As an international student from China, it is a challenge to convert three languages in my mind and make sure I don’t mix up the English and Italian words. For me, learning a third language can help differentiate myself from my peers. I have a broader global perspective and am more open-minded.

Tell me a little bit about your time spent in Reggio, Calabria this summer.

In summer 2016, I studied abroad in Reggio, Calabria, which was Penn State six-week program. Through this program, I gained so much experience. Not only did I improve my Italian significantly, but I also had an amazing cultural experience and got the opportunity to meet some terrific people. We spent time traveling throughout Italy and the culture course I took was well blended into the whole journey, so I did not get tired of taking classes at all. I have also strengthened my connections with the Italian department’s faculty. The Italian department at Penn State is a relatively small department so students are taken care of during the program as well as after we return.

Do you have any advice for students considering majors/minors in the Italian language?

My advice for students considering majors or minors in the Italian language is to expose yourselves to an Italian environment. Enjoy the language, culture, food, etc. Studying abroad is definitely good option for these students as well. Also, don’t be shy! Students should feel comfortable practicing their language skills and not fear being judged.

Italianist Spotlight: Alumnus Brian Tholl

I recently caught up with former Penn State Italian student Brian Tholl in Hartford, CT at the Northeast Modern Language Association’s annual conference. He is currently a graduate student in Italian at Rutgers University.


Brian and colleague Eleanora Sartoni at the 2016 NeMLA convention.

What is your research about?

My research concerns confino – the forced peripheral exile of Italians during Mussolini’s fascist regime. I hope to explore the relationship between imprisonment and southern Italy.

What is your favorite thing about Italian culture?

My favorite thing about Italian culture is that it encompasses so many different things and is hard to define. We often think of the country’s past, including its tremendous accomplishments in literature, art, and and architecture, to name a few, but equally as important is the local culture of the country, which varies greatly from region to region. There’s always something new to learn about the culture!

How has your perspective regarding the language changed as you shifted from being a student to a teacher?

I think as a student I was always trying to make the language fit into a neat, little box. However, Italian is a living, breathing language and cannot always be organized using a specific set of rules. My classes encompass far more than memorization, and I like to convey this idea to my students. I think it allows them to be curious and engage with the language in different ways. They start to question why you say certain things in one way in Italian, and begin to wonder what this means for a speaker of the language.

What is the best advice that you could give to students studying Italian at Penn State?
Learning a language is such a tough, but rewarding experience. It requires work, but you don’t need to treat it like a job. Try to have fun with the language and interact with it as much as possible. Listen to Italian music, watch Italian films, go to Tavola Italiana, or grab a coffee with your professors and chat in Italian. There are approximately 67 million speakers of Italian in the world – you never know who you’ll meet or what kind of opportunities you’ll find because of your ability to speak the language. Forza!
Interview by jrwagner

Italianist Spotlight: Anna Centrella NIAF on Campus Fellow (4 of 4)

After two tightly scheduled days, I asked Anna to reflect on her experience as a NIAF on Campus fellow at the Washington D.C. annual gala weekend.

From my own perspective as a faculty participant in NIAF on Campus, I think that both Anna and I walk away with strong ideas to strengthen the Penn State Italian program and student community. The discussions that we had with other Italian program faculty and students were invaluable and will pave the way for future relationships. It was also great to see how an organization like NIAF, that supports students with scholarship and travel opportunities, might better serve a younger generation.

If you are interested in learning about this program and would consider participating in the future email me, Johanna Rossi Wagner, at


Italianist Spotlight: Anna Centrella NIAF on Campus Fellow (3 of 4)

The NIAF on Campus fellows spent Saturday morning in a discussion about Columbus Day at the Italian American Leadership Council Forum. The discussion was heated, but there was a clear interest in what the younger generation thought about the holiday.

Anna and the fellows were interviewed by Italics, Italian programming by CUNY Television, and i-Italy TV which will be aired at a later date.



Italianist Spotlight: Anna Centrella NIAF on Campus Fellow (2 of 4)

The first day of events scheduled for the National Italian American Foundation’s NAIF on Campus program was a discussion about the current state of Italian organizations on campuses across the United States. I asked Anna what she took away from the discussion:

We discussed three aspects in particular: Internships, mentoring and networking and hopefully we can see how we can work together with NIAF to create more opportunities like this, but also keep Italian heritage central to this.

In the following posts Anna will discuss some of the projects at Penn State that she anticipates working on as a fellow this year and ways in which the community of NIAF fellows can collaborate.


Anna with other fellows at the  NIAF 40th Anniversary Gala Events



Italianist Spotlight: Anna Centrella, 2015-2016 NIAF on Campus Fellow (1 of 4)

Penn State sophomore Anna Centrella was recently named a NIAF on Campus Fellow. The National Italian American Foundation, an organization that has been supporting Italian American culture since 1975, launched the program to engage young leaders in the Italian American community. Anna, a double Finance and Italian major, is among the first fifteen fellows and has been invited to participate in the foundation’s 40th Anniversary Gala in Washington D.C. She’ll be sending updates and photos about the weekend events and her role as a fellow.

What do you expect going into the events this weekend?

I not sure what to expect, but I am really looking forward to meeting other Italian Americans, mostly other students, but also faculty members… and trying to figure out how we can make the Italian American identity a lot stronger on campus and get more people involved.




Italianist Spotlight: Eric Pirollo

Each semester we aim to showcase students, faculty and alumni of the Italian program in the Italianist Spotlight. For our inaugural Spotlight we’ve asked senior Eric Pirollo about his experiences in the program.

Eric is pursuing a double major in Economics and History and an Italian minor. He was the very first dancer sponsored by the Italian Student Society to participate in Penn State’s Dance marathon in support of the Four Diamonds Fund.


Eric representing the Italian Student Society at Penn State’s THON

What made you want to pursue an Italian minor?

I knew I wanted to study the language and that I wanted to go abroad to Italy. It didn’t make sense to not do those things and not have a minor. I wanted to study the language because growing up having dinners at my grandparents [originally from Lazio near Gaeta] made me curious to know what they were saying at the dinner table when they would switch to Italian.

Did you study abroad in Italy?

I went on the faculty lead summer trip to Reggio Calabria. I thought that a faculty lead trip would be better for me. I felt that the atmosphere was different because the faculty knows a lot more about the area and took us on all these excursions. We went to Agrigento in Sicily and I really liked that because of the Greek History. I found that being a History Major I was drawn to it. The temples were just incredible. The students all lived together in the apartments and we would just all go out and explore Reggio together. We met some students from the Italian university near by and we played soccer, saw places that we would never have known about and we would also go to the beach a lot.

I improved my Italian 119%. I learned more Italian in those six weeks than I could have ever imagined. Being in Southern Italy, no one really spoke English and so we were really forced to learn the language for basic communication and survival. At the beginning I was afraid. The first week in Sicily it was like walking on eggshells. But I kinda tried to be bolder and have the confidence. Looking back, you have to know you are going to mess up and that’s part of the experience and a part of learning. The faster you get over that, the better your experience will be and the faster the learning will be.

When did you become involved with the Italian Student Society (ISS)?

My first semester – coming in I wanted to join some sort of Italian organization on campus. My first semester in Italian 001, we were told about this “Tavola” [informal conversation hour run by the ISS] and one of my classmates went with me. I really enjoyed Tavola and I thought it was a great way to supplement my learning of the language. I came back a couple times and eventually I went to other club events and became part of the family.

When I first joined I didn’t really want to be involved with the Executive Board. I just wanted to be a member. As I progressed and matured in college, I found myself wanting to have a leadership position and give my input on club activities. I became the IM sports coordinator my junior year. One of the aspects of the club that I enjoyed most was the THON involvement. I went on some canning trips and by sophomore year I spent most of my time with ISS in the stands for THON weekend. That was something that really made me feel closer to the members of the club.

So when we continued [with THON] my junior year and we raised enough money to have dancers, I jumped at the chance to be considered one of the first-ever dancers for ISS. It was such an honor to be able to represent the organization in THON in such a huge way.

What is next for you and Italian?

In terms of speaking the language, [I’ll continue] probably with my relatives and communicate with them and other Italian family members. I hope to return to Italy and be able to communicate there and speak the language with my relatives there or be a slightly more informed tourist. Learning a language in general is what really shaped me and not only does it expose you to a new culture but I think it opens you a little bit. You can’t directly translate so as a student there are different ways to express things. It broadens your horizons.

Interview by Alessandra Cioffi, Italian Social Media Intern