As coordinator of Golub House, one of seven student-run Minerva Houses, Gianluca Avanzato created a Hindi/Urdu language table his first year on campus.
“Anyone with an interest could come to Golub at lunchtime and practice the language with other students,” he says. “I also worked hard, along with many others, to put on our annual Oktoberfest. It always attracts a large crowd of diverse faces, interesting presentations by classics and German professors, and good food.”
With their wide-ranging and imaginative cultural, social and academic programs, the Minervas, Gianluca says, “offer a comfortable, inclusive and dynamic space for students to 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.”
Gianluca stepped into a leadership role in his Minerva House his first year at Union. Here, he explains some of the workings of Minervas and his Union experience.
In addition to special events, what ongoing activities are sponsored through your Minerva House?
I really enjoyed getting together with a regular crowd of people each week at Milkshake Mondays and Sunday night dinners.
Do the Minerva Houses work closely with other student organizations?
Yes. Many of campus clubs seek out Minervas to provide space, funding and student help. Minervas are glad to assist and to integrate clubs into their events. For instance, Golub House and the German Club worked together on a May Day event, and 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. Guests have included Neil and Jane Golub, inspiring local philanthropists after whom the 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.
What were some of the highlights of your studies at Union?
Another student, Rachel Clarey, and I received a Critical Language Scholarship. It’s a summer overseas immersion program funded by the U.S. Department of State. I studied Urdu in Lucknow, India. And 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.
What was your favorite class?
Roman Satire with Prof. Angela Commito. In this class, we translated and discussed Petronius’ Satyricon, a text from Ancient Rome (most likely) during the time of the Emperor Nero. Both the class and the text were full of surprises, and I greatly enjoyed my experience. For my final, she allowed me to pursue my interest of poetry by translating some parts of the text creatively into poems.
How did you keep busy apart from your studies and Minerva involvement?
I was a member of Interfaith Union and also a fellow at the Writing Center.
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 for my Union education.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
Make time to do deep, fulfilling things that aren’t related to grades or resume-building. Take walks, talk to people, read books; sing and dance! Go to different religious services, sit somewhere new. Take time to just be. It may seem counterintuitive, especially when informed by stress and the strict expectations of our hurried society, but setting aside time to do something fulfilling will make you more motivated, productive and “successful,” however you choose to define that word.
What does life after Union look like?
I’m currently on a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Berlin, Germany. Next year, I intend to pursue a Ph.D. After that, 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.