A group of students in front of the Castel Sant’Angelo

Penn State Fayette class studies abroad in Rome

Eleven students visit historical and religious sites to better understand the role of religion in society.

Eleven students from Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus traveled to Rome, Italy, in March for a study abroad experience in support of a special topics course.

The course, “The Communication of the Word and the Psychology of Religious Belief,” was developed and team-taught by Aris Karagiorgakis, assistant teaching professor of psychology, and Jenna Lo Castro, assistant teaching professor of corporate communication.

The eight-day trip was intensive and immersive with tours of historical and religious sites, including the Pantheon, Castel Sant’ Angelo, Colosseum, Catacombs of St. Callixtus, Great Synagogue and Jewish Museum, Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Pompeii archaeological site, and more. Students also participated in a cooking class and faculty-led activities.

“The guiding question of the course is: Why do people believe in religion, in God?” said Lo Castro. “The study abroad component allowed us to see how relics — something people can feel and see — become motives for believing,” said Lo Castro. “We hope to develop more opportunities for Fayette students to travel internationally. We’ve seen that travel can be a transformative experience for a person.”

Students at the Colosseum.

Students at the Colosseum. Back row, left to right: Westley Nixon, Peggy Miltenberger, Miranda Shepler, Hunter Cottrell, Aris Karagiorgakis, Samantha Long, and Dominic Marghella. Front row, left to right: Stanley Moussignac, Casey Hite, Jenna Lo Castro, Andrea Suter, Haleigh Lindsay, and Julie Weir.

Credit: Penn State

“I don’t think the faculty could have prepared us any better to experience what we did in Rome,” said Peggy Miltenberger, a senior project supply chain management student from Addison.

“I’ve been to 11 countries, but this was by far my favorite experience,” said Westley Nixon, a veteran and freshman nursing student from Uniontown. “We saw some of the world’s richest history, which helped make so many connections in my mind.”

“It was a game-changer to get outside of Fayette County and away from what I know,” said Dominic Marghella, a freshman business student from Uniontown, who is among the first in his family to travel back to Italy in three generations. “I want to share this experience with my family, who made it possible. I feel responsible for re-learning our culture.”

“To put money down on this experience was a risk, a level of vulnerability for our students,” said Karagiorgakis. “It says a lot about the character of our students to take that leap outside of their comfort zones.”

Karagiorgakis now serves as the Commonwealth Campus representative for Education Abroad, connecting Penn State Fayette faculty to institutional resources.

“A study abroad experience will change students forever,” he said. “They’ll never see the world the same again once they’ve experienced what is outside of their proximity.”

Miltenberger, Nixon and Marghella will discuss their experiences and share insights from the trip at the next installment of Geek Speak at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, in BioMed 101. The event is free and open to the public.