The Charger Blog

University’s Tuscany Campus Fosters Supportive Environment that Enables First-Year Students to Thrive

Each year a group of students begins their time as Chargers abroad at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy. Faculty and staff there offer a variety of important resources to help new students adjust to college life and feel a sense of support, belonging, and community from day one.

October 20, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Valentina Seffer, Ph.D., speaks to first-year students.
Valentina Seffer, Ph.D., speaks to first-year students during a first-year experience session.

For Lexi Januszewski ’26, her first semester as a Charger has been particularly memorable. She started her college career abroad, spending the semester in Italy.

Januszewski is part of a group of first-year students spending their initial college semester at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy. Because adjusting to college life can be challenging for all students, there’s extra support to help first-year students in Italy succeed and feel supported. They attend first-year experience sessions, in which they receive guidance and information from staff and fellow students.

“I’d attended workshops like this in high school, but these are more helpful and more practical,” said Januszewski, a marine biology major. “They teach us how to study.”

‘I’m glad to be that supportive person’
Kayleigh Therriault ’23 leads a first-year experience session.
Kayleigh Therriault ’23 leads a first-year experience session.

Januszewski and her fellow first-year students recently attended a workshop to help them prepare for their midterm exams. One of their fellow students, Kayleigh Therriault ’23, a peer success mentor, led the session. In a discussion about learning styles, she engaged first-year students in a conversation about how to study more effectively by employing ways that work for their unique learning styles. They discussed strategies for remembering information, staying focused, and avoiding burnout.

As a peer success mentor, Therriault works closely with Valentina Seffer, Ph.D., Prato Campus assistant dean and academic coordinator. A resource for her peers, Therriault has an open-door policy and offers weekly office hours for her classmates.

“As a first-year student, I didn’t transition abroad, and it was still challenging,” said Therriault, an interior design major. “It’s particularly challenging for them post-COVID and starting college abroad. I want to help them, and I’m glad to be that supportive person for them.”

‘Better results’

Organized in collaboration with the University’s Center for Student Success, first-year experience sessions help new students learn about the many resources available to them at the University while learning tips to help them succeed in the classroom. Lynn DeRobertis, associate director of the Center for Student Success, joined the midterm preparation session virtually, connecting students with the many resources they have available to them.

“There’s a lot of support for us here,” said Adrienne Esposito ’26, a criminal justice major. “Everyone here is very warm and friendly.”

Dr. Seffer discussed the importance of tutoring and the options available to students at the University. She also tied their discussion about learning and studying to their experience abroad.

“If you study with someone, it can help you have better results,” she said. “At the University, most classes include experiential learning because we learn by doing, such as in the cooking classes you might take here in Prato or in your internships.”

Left to right: Nyle Hopping ’26, Lexi Januszewski ’26, and Brennig Johnson ’26.
Left to right: Nyle Hopping ’26, Lexi Januszewski ’26, and Brennig Johnson ’26.
‘Challenging, but definitely worth it’

Other sessions this semester have covered everything from time management to using myCharger. The discussions enable students to build skills that will provide an important foundation throughout their college career.

For Brennig Johnson ’26, studying abroad during his first semester was important. Besides helping him realize his dream of traveling, he’s looking forward to the opportunities his experience will continue to create for him later in his college career and beyond. A music and sound recording major, he hopes to take part in the University’s study away program in Nashville, and he believes his experiences in Prato will help prepare him for that.

“Having a fellow first-year student as a roommate in Italy has connected me with someone who, like me, is also new to college,” he said. “Workshops such as the midterm preparation session are important, and being around other first-year students has been helpful. Being in Italy has been great, and a large percentage of people who study abroad use that on their resumes.”

First-year students continue to attend sessions that will offer timely support as they continue through their first semester at the University. Before they leave Italy, they will attend a session that will help prepare them for re-entry. Januszewski, the marine biology major, says she’s grateful for the supportive environment she’s had while abroad.

“The faculty and staff in Italy are super helpful,” she said. “I’ve gone to them for a number of different reasons, and they’ve been the best resource. I would recommend coming to Italy as a first-year student. It is challenging, but definitely worth it.”

First-year students learn about preparing for midterms.
First-year students learn about preparing for midterms.