Kent State Stark Student’s World is Bigger and Brighter Following Summer in Italy
Fifteen years ago, Bert Crawford could not have imagined spending a summer in Florence, Italy. Now a senior biology major at Kent State University at Stark, Crawford spent his early years in and out of Cleveland-area foster homes. With a difficult past and an uncertain future, his view of the world was bleak, at best.
That changed when he became part of a supportive Canton family. Today, his world seems brighter than ever — and bigger, thanks to five weeks at the Kent State Florence Summer Institute.
“I believe everyone has turning points in their life that can help them gain a better perspective,” says Crawford. “Going to Italy was one of mine. It began a new chapter in my life.”
Crawford was one of 14 Kent State Stark students to attend the Florence Summer Institute in 2015. The summer program, launched in 2014, is an abbreviated version of the full-semester, education-abroad option that Kent State has been offering in Florence for more than 40 years.
Students attend classes in the Palazzo dei Cerchi, a renovated 13th-century palace, and the Palazzo Bartolini Baldelli, just steps from the historic Basilica of Santa Croce, burial site of Galileo and Michelangelo. Kent State faculty members teach in various subject areas and incorporate city walks, museum visits and field trips.
Each summer, students can select two courses and earn up to seven credits. All courses are taught in English and meet Monday through Thursday, leaving long weekends for exploring the region.
“Where do I begin?” says Crawford about his summer experience. “I went to Rome and saw the Colosseum. I went to Cinque Terre, Sienna and Milan. The entire trip was amazing — from the way Italians dressed to their gelato. I met with so many different people from different parts of the world.”
Crawford and other Kent State students lived together in apartments throughout the heart of Florence. It was an invaluable trip, he says, but one he almost did not take.
“Like most people, I was thinking it would be too expensive,” Crawford says. “My friend, Ashley, just kept encouraging me to go. At the last minute, I changed my mind and went. Little did I know it would be one of the best decisions of my life.”
While the trip costs $3,500 plus tuition, many students received financial assistance. Crawford received a $500 scholarship from Kent State Stark, as did all Kent State Stark students who attended. He also received a $500 scholarship from the College of Arts and Sciences, which gave scholarships to every arts and sciences major taking one of the college’s courses in Florence.
Crawford took a biology course in evolution, as well as “The City of Florence: Achieving Balance Between Architecture and Ecology.”
The College of Arts and Sciences offered scholarships to stir up interest in its courses at Kent State Florence, but also to give students incentive to travel.
“Studying abroad opens up new ideas,” says James Blank, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Students get to see the world in a way they never would if they stayed home. It is part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ mission to work across our eight-campus system to make this opportunity available for all of our students.”
Kristin Stasiowski, director of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Office of International Programs and Education Abroad, hires student ambassadors on Regional Campuses, including Kent State Stark, to promote education-abroad opportunities to their peers.
“We want to demonstrate that there are people from their community who have had successful, meaningful experiences abroad in spite of financial difficulties, work and family obligations or other common challenges,” Stasiowski says.
“When you’re away from your home or family, it gives you time to explore more about yourself,” Crawford says. “I’ve become more confident as a person and student. Being there helped broaden my perspective on different cultures. This will be very helpful with my life journey of bringing the best out of people.”
Crawford looks forward to returning to Italy someday — possibly to work and volunteer during medical school. He hopes to become an oncologist. He also looks forward to telling more people about his Florence experience, particularly inner-city kids. He is currently working to become approved as a mentor for teens in the foster system.
“I am a living example of how you can bounce back from anything,” Crawford says. “I hope my story, including my trip to Florence, can help inspire others to turn away from the streets or anything that is not helping them live to their fullest potential.”