Expanding Students' Global Horizons

Art history professor Alexandra Carpino has dedicated an impressive amount of her time at Northern Arizona University to expanding her students’ horizons. For many years, she guided spring tours to Italy. Now, Carpino promotes the NAU in Siena program, a partnership between Northern Arizona University and the Siena School of Liberal Arts in Italy, which allows students to spend a semester or summer abroad and gain unique, hands-on experiences such as art restoration. As Chair of the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies, she is also working to increase the course offerings and internship opportunities available to undergraduate students. Carpino emphasizes that hands-on experiences make a significant difference in the way students learn.

“When students are in the classroom, sometimes they are passive learners – they just sit there and are not motivated to ask questions or to really think critically about what they’re learning,” says Carpino. “When they’re doing something that’s experiential, they don’t have that option. If we can give students a variety of international opportunities, then these will impact the way they perform in other classes when they come back. They’ll realize they have something unique to share, and that they gained the kind of experiences they couldn’t get from reading a book.”

Global values

Carpino believes the NAU in Siena program – which kicked off in 2009 – captures a lot of the ideals of experiential learning. Students have the opportunity to learn about their major field, she says, but they also gain valuable experience by participating in traditional Tuscan activities such as grape harvesting and pasta making. It is important to her, too, that the program remains true to many of the values that make Northern Arizona University distinct.

“It is great to be able to promote programs that encourage students to [expand their horizons] in a safe environment, especially in a place like Siena, which is small and very intimate,” Carpino says. “[The Siena school] also has the same kinds of things that we value at NAU, such as hands-on learning.”

The power of art

Carpino is also passionate about art education for children. To that end, she serves on the Board of Directors of the Flagstaff-based Masterpiece Art Program, which is a long-standing organization that seeks to bring art appreciation and art history into local elementary school classrooms. According to Carpino, it is critically important – especially at a time when education resources have greatly diminished – to continue introducing great art to children.

“Art is one of the most important forms of expression that we have,” says Carpino. “For students, art is something that allows them to think outside of the box, to be creative, and to use skills that are very different from testing, basic reading, or mathematics memorization. Art really allows [children] to explore something very physical with their hands, and by doing that, they just learn so much.”

Carpino will continue to encourage students of all ages to believe in the formative power of art. After all, she has seen the positive impact that both international travel and great art can have on students.

“I once took a group of students to Florence and Rome over spring break, and some of them started crying in front of works of art that they had studied because they were so moved by what they were seeing,” she says. “Those trips really made me realize that these are important opportunities for students, and that it is my obligation to provide them with a variety of ways to explore the world.”

If you’re interested in a global education, learn more about study abroad programs.