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Bringing it all together

Hometown: Oneonta, N.Y.
Major: Political Science

Gianluca Avanzato is a language lover, a thinker, a peace activist. He’s also a big advocate of Minerva Programs, having stepped into a leadership role in his Minerva House his first year at Union. As coordinator of Golub House, one of seven student-run Minervas on campus, he explains some of the workings of Minervas and also talks about his other passions. 

What kinds of special events have you sponsored through your Minerva House?

I created a Hindi/Urdu language table my first year. Anyone who’s interested can come to Golub House at lunchtime and practice the language with other students. I’ve also worked hard, along with many others, to put on our annual Oktoberfest, one of my favorite activities. There’s always a large crowd of diverse faces, interesting presentations by Professor Hans Mueller (Classics) and Professor Michele Ricci Bell (German) – and good food.

What about ongoing activities?

I really enjoy getting together with a regular crowd of people each week at Milkshake Mondays and Sunday night dinners.

How important are events like these to campus life?

Minervas offer a comfortable, inclusive and dynamic space for students to relax, work and interact with each other and faculty. They’re great places to actualize thoughts and aspirations. There are so many different creative events that are accessible to the entire campus community.

Do the Minerva Houses work closely with other student organizations?

Yes. Many of the campus clubs often seek out Minervas to provide space, funding and student help. Minervas are glad to assist and to integrate clubs into their events. Golub House’s May Day is a perfect example. Considering the relevance of May Day to German culture and history, Golub reached out to German Club, which then provided some cultural food for the event. In the fall, Golub joined with Union’s Chabad chapter to commemorate Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. A local Holocaust educator shared her and her family's story of survival in Poland.

What are the academic components of Minervas?

Some First-Year Preceptorials are taught in Minervas, which enforces the goal of being places of learning and growth from the very beginning of our students’ college careers. Talks from professors and special guests take place in the houses, and student-led events promote learning through information and hands-on activities. Past guests have included Neil and Jane Golub, inspiring local philanthropists after whom our house is named; Janet Stephens, a recognized expert in ancient Roman hairstyling who recreates the styles using replicas of ancient tools; and Professors Andrew Feffer and Joseph Garcia, who spoke on community organizing and activism.

What do the Minerva Mentors do?

Every incoming student is assigned a mentor, who helps supplement the official advising system by sharing information about courses, academic requirements and what it takes to be successful at Union. Essentially, the mentors help first-year students make the transition to Union. I’m excited that next year I’ll be a Minerva Mentor.

What about your own studies?

Another student, Rachel Clarey, and I recently received a Critical Language Scholarship. It’s a summer overseas immersion program funded by the U.S. Department of State. I’ll be studying Urdu in Lucknow, India. And last summer, Sharmeen Azher and I won a national Kathryn Wasserman Davis Projects for Peace award for our proposal to create a writing-intensive program for Schenectady High juniors and seniors. We wanted to show how writing can be a form of personal empowerment and community activism for youth. We used it as a pilot program that attracted many Union professors and students as mentors.

How would you describe your relationships with your professors?

I’m privileged to have good relationships with most. Professor Erika Nelson Mukherjee (German) has been a wonderfully inspiring presence, giving me books and ideas to think about. Michele Angrist, Lori Marso and Professor Cigdem Cidam in the Political Science Department have helped me expand my thinking and understanding of politics. I always enjoy being on the third floor of Lamont House, where I have wonderful and insightful conversations with Classics Professors Stacie Raucci, Tommaso Gazzarri and Hans Mueller. I also spend a great deal of time in the Writing Center, where I work regularly with Director Joe Johnson to enhance the Writing Center and to pursue my own writing interests.

What are your future career plans?

Right now, my plan is to study political theory in graduate school. My goal is to become a professor – to work with students, continue researching and be in an academic environment. At the same time, I’m open to any opportunities that come my way as long as I can combine my work passions with my desire to create meaningful and important change.

Why did you choose Union?

Union offered several fields of study that interested me, particularly a wide range of modern and classical languages. Upon visiting, I was impressed by how friendly and welcoming everyone was. I liked the small size and the availability of the professors. And being about an hour from my home in Oneonta, N.Y., made the location ideal. Overall, I felt that Union was the place I could best pursue my interests. I was right, and I’m truly grateful to be a student here.

Take a seat at Dinner with a Professor:

Click play (above) or view on VIMEO