By FUA Student Emily Shan
Professor Mario B. Mignone is a Distinguished Service Professor at SUNY Stony Brook and collaborates with sQuola for the annual joint fall conference hosted by Stony Brook and FUA. After the student panel, I spoke with him again to learn more about his experiences.
At the age of 20, being the oldest of eight children, he left his home country of Italy with his mother to move to America. Without many options for jobs because of his lack of English and work experience, he accepted a job working at a factory soon after his arrival. On top of working 56 hours a week, he was also going to school. Professor Mignone had to overcome many obstacles to get to where he is today, but he never shied away from the challenge. After earning his Ph.D., he found a job at Stony Brook University in New York as an Associate Professor and has continued to grow with the university.
Over the years Professor Mignone has accomplished various achievements, including founding and directing the Center for Italian Studies. He has led thousands of students on trips abroad with the hope that they'll become involved and broaden their own horizons with the experience. Unfortunately for Mignone as a student in college, he wasn't able to participate in these out-of the classroom experiences because of his professional commitments. However, he continues to advocate and encourage students to explore and challenge themselves as much as they can.
Let's begin with the reason why you are here today.
I am here, as you can see, with this program at Florence University of the Arts, three years ago. We came to visit students. But I thought that if we organized a conference between Stony Brook and FUA, the two institutions would put some energy together and offer the students here, and also the faculties of the two institutions, an opportunity to present their research and scholarly findings. After all, it's a forum – a forum to present new ideas. I certainly believe in the use of conferences because it is a lively forum; it doesn't have to be seen in a negative way. The idea is to throw out ideas and to get reactions. Usually undergraduate students rarely participate in these kinds of forums.
Is that why you decided that students should be involved this year?
Why do you believe that it's important for students to be involved?
In a way, I was handicapped when I graduated, because I missed that portion (being on campus), which is extremely important. The learning process should not take place exclusively in the classroom. Students must understand that – the university offers much more than that. There are many lectures and conferences on campus, but students see those things as something distant. Well, in my course of Modern Italy, I require them to go to an event on campus for extra credit; I do not accept any other organization. It has to be a cultural event on campus. It could be a film screening, a lecture, a show – any cultural event. Students must understand that the experience of their four years in college is much more than just going to class and reading a book or an article. We have an expression in Italian, sgobbone (hunchback), used to describe the student who just sits and reads. The sgobbone does not have much respect in Italian culture.
What do you think is the most important aspect for students who study abroad?
If they come over here, and they make their main objective to do work in class and do the readings, then they missed the purpose of being abroad. The idea is that is just a small part of the experience. When you go out, many times your mindset is challenged. You're here to learn how to react to the challenge – not with reject, but with an analytical mind. Ask, "Why do these people do this?"
Is that how you felt when you first went to America?
Yes. There were certain things I just could not understand that were so critical. I questioned a lot of things. One of the things that bothered me a lot was the fire escapes in the front of the buildings. Once I understood the problem of fire in America, I understood why, but I could not understand why it had to be in the front of the building, which ruined the aesthetic of the building. But you are challenged when you go out, and you need to respond to that challenge.
Would you say that your family influenced you in any way in choosing what you wanted to do?
My father and my mother certainly could not tell me what to do because they did not have much of an education. But we are a family of eight children: three became doctors, one a dentist, two became university professors, and two became teachers. My parents did not have an education, but they made sure that their children received the highest level of education. They did not tell me what field to go into, but they set the environment.
What kind of environment did they set?
Home for us provided a sense of security. I know that when I was going home, I was going back to an environment where I found nourishment, security, and stability. And that is a lot. There are certain things you cannot buy with money. My mother especially, was there the whole
time. She gave us support because we had to overcome a lot of obstacles. My mother had a lot of faith, so I think in her case, that was her biggest strength.
Is there anyone else who has given you that kind of support?
Well, let me tell you. I was at the Golden Key National Honor Society as the keynote speaker. I introduced myself and then told the students that I was able to achieve all those things. But, I was only able to do it because of my family, especially my wife of 43 years; especially during the first few years of our marriage. I was focused on my profession, but my wife tolerated me and focused on our children.
Would you say that family is something important to you?
Absolutely. In my book when we talk about success in our lives, professional success is important, but I also include family. I did what I did professionally, but I also did not miss sight of what should be number one. Yes, I like to take care of my students, pay attention to them, provide all assistance and guidance they need, but also for my children.
Professor Mignone has certainly accomplished much throughout the years. Even so, he continues to provide insight and guidance to his students and even his children, pushing them to challenge themselves and to see things from in a different light. By doing so, he is constantly accomplishing his personal goal of encouraging others to experience different things in life.
By Autson autson.com