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Italian Immersion Day Connects Students and Provides Cultural Experience

UT student participates in art workshop during Italian Immersion Day

by Jessica Foshee

Last year Renée D’Elia-Zunino, distinguished lecturer and faculty advisor for the Italian Club at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was awarded a Global Catalyst Programming Grant for Italian Immersion Day. The grant allowed over 65 students to participate in Italian Immersion Day free of charge. 

Italian Immersion Day provided students access to many activities to help them learn more about Italian culture. Students learned how to make recipes for Italian dishes including tiramisù, asparagus and mushroom pasta and other Italian cuisines. They also enjoyed a yoga session and participated in art workshops and a treasure hunt. 

Previously, students interested in participating in Italian Immersion Day were required to pay a fee to attend the event. With the help of the programming grant, more students were able to engage in Italian Immersion Day and experience another culture without ever leaving Rocky Top. D’Elia-Zunino explains that, “an event like an immersion day, when funded in this way, is an incredible success [because] the outcome for the students is that they can celebrate a moment of exploration and discovery.” 

UT students learn how to make Italian cuisines during Italian Immersion Day

Many students do not have the financial capabilities to travel and study abroad to Italy, so Italian Immersion Day and the programming grant provide students with an opportunity to experience Italian culture directly from the UT campus. The event provided students a fulfilling day to develop the necessary skills to become citizens of an increasingly global society. 

“More students after the pandemic feel lonely, solitary and like they don’t fit in,” says D’Elia-Zunino. “When I hear my students tell me that the Italian club is a home away from home, that means that we’re doing something good here because we are valuing each individual student, and we are giving them the opportunity to be who they want to be and express themselves through our culture.” 

The Italian program consists of a tight-knit unit of seven people, including D’Elia-Zunino, Flavia Brizio-Skov, Annachiara Mariani Francesca Follone, Daniela Cambie, Jason Collins and Sal Di Maria, who are all completely invested in their students’ success and are all focused on a common goal of “providing the best education and tools we can for our students to be successful foreign language learners.”

When Provost John Zomchick presented D’Elia-Zunino and her colleagues, Brizio-Skov and Mariani, the Global Catalyst Teaching and Service Award, he emphasized that they “share a strong commitment to engagement that has increased enrollment in the Italian Program amid national declines in modern languages.”

D’Elia-Zunino plans to send a proposal for another Global Catalyst Programming Grant for Italian Immersion Day in fall 2023, this time allowing up to 350 students to participate in the event. 

Others are encouraged to apply for Global Catalyst Grants which include opportunities to submit proposals for programming, faculty research, and student international travel. More information can be found at Proposals are due no later than November 11 at 5:00 p.m. EST. 


Jason Moody (865-974-5752,