Associate dean for educational affairs
College of Liberal Arts
Giovanna Summerfield is the associate dean for educational affairs in the College of Liberal Arts. She oversees the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities, Women's Studies, Africana Studies, the Languages Across the Curriculum program and all international initiatives in the college, and she is active in teaching and research. Summerfield fluently speaks three languages – English, French and German – and is versed in Latin, Spanish and Portuguese. She recently started learning Arabic. She says when she is not working, she loves to write, read, travel and take photos. She calls herself a bit of a cinema buff and says she loves to eat and is spoiled by a wonderful Sicilian mother and a brilliant American chef, her husband John. The couple has three children, Alessio, Ylenia and Sabrina and two dogs, Duchess and Izzie.
1. What brought you from Italy to the United States, and ultimately, Auburn?
I met my husband while we were both working for the U.S. Air Force in Comiso, Italy. We got married less than two years after that in Altus, Okla. We moved together to other U.S. military bases overseas and finally "landed" in Florida as civilians, where I finished my graduate studies. I was still working on my dissertation when I started teaching here.
2. Why do you think it is important to provide international opportunities for students and for students to take advantage of these opportunities?
I have been fascinated by other cultures and languages since childhood. Sicily, the beautiful island where I was born and raised, has always had a unique role as a junction between East and West. At the center of the Mediterranean region, it was a meeting point where civilizations transformed one another and gave life to the cultural developments that are the foundations of Western modernity. Sicilians are bilingual and heirs of many cultures. At 13, I attended a specialized high school, liceo linguistico, where a student learns at least three languages, literature, art, philosophy and the sciences. I wanted to travel and see the world's many aspects. When you are outside of your comfort zone you are able to see things differently, to learn about yourself while learning about others. Understanding other cultures, communicating in other languages, solving problems and working in teams, while developing and defining ourselves as individuals are also important skills appreciated by employers. As an educator, an administrator, a parent and mentor it is a mandate for me to offer these opportunities of reflection and growth. Welcoming back students from an international experience stimulated by all the things and people they have encountered along the way, eager to share them with me, is priceless. They tell me it has been "an amazing experience" or "the experience of a lifetime" and I believe them. I know how it feels.
3. In your own travels, what has been your favorite place to visit?
This is truly a difficult question to answer. So I will just say that one of the most interesting places I have visited was Sousse, Tunisia, maybe because of the camels, maybe because I could see the coast of Sicily from there (Sicily is only 105 miles off the coast of North Africa).
4. What led you to get involved with the international No Impact Project and bring No Impact Week to Auburn University?
I have always been an adamant supporter of slow food. Slow food is a way of life in Italy but it is also a movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986, a collective reaction against the establishment of the first McDonald's in Rome. The movement has since expanded globally. Some of my peers told me, in 2010, of a new book authored by Colin Beavan, "No Impact Man." I read it with interest. His quest and will-power conquered me, and I contacted him to discuss a possible visit to campus – which he did in 2010 for the inaugural No Impact Week. I learned of his No Impact Week and wanted to take the challenge to the Auburn community. It has been a great experience for us all thus far. It gives us the opportunity to stop and ponder the quality of our lives, the responsibilities that we have toward ourselves, our families and our world.
5. What aspects of your work do you consider to be the most fulfilling?
I love everything about my work. I know it sounds too good to be true, but really, when you get paid to do what you like best, how could one complain? I am always involved in exciting initiatives, working with faculty and students, inside and outside the classroom. Every day brings new adventures, new things to develop, explore, teach and learn, and that is what I love about my work.