A graduate student of History at the College of Staten Island (CSI), Peter Scasny, has received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) award to Italy for the 2018–2019 academic year, a highly competitive and coveted academic prize.
“Peter’s award is terrifically exciting for everyone at the College and we warmly congratulate him,” said College President William J. Fritz. “It not only reflects his talents and hard work but also the College’s commitment to student success. We’re sure his success will inspire many others.”
Since 1946, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program has facilitated the international exchange of young scholars and professionals in order to promote mutual cooperation and understanding. The State Department program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects, as well as English Teaching Assistant positions. During their grant period, Fulbrighters work, live, and share daily experiences with the host country’s people, as well as learn from them.
“When I read the e-mail notifying me that I had won the award, I almost had a heart attack,” Scasny said. “It was such a wonderful surprise. I feel like the Fulbright grant is recognition of my hard work and perseverance.”
“A Fulbright to Italy is incredibly competitive,” said Michele Callahan, who oversees CSI’s Office of Scholarship and Fellowship Opportunities. “It’s very gratifying to see a student win an award, which demonstrates their leadership and commitment to their career fields.”
Scasny plans to volunteer to serve the Italian community of persons with disabilities during his grant period in addition to providing assistance to local English teachers.
Scasny’s Fulbright award is also testament to his extensive work in Italian language and literature.
“Even in his beginning Italian classes, Peter stood out as an exceptional student,” said Gerry Milligan, Associate Professor of Italian and Director of the College’s Honors Programs. “He demonstrated not only persistence but a true intellectual curiosity, and it’s very satisfying to see that be recognized with this award. He deserves it.”
For Scasny, the award will continue a long interest and fascination with Italy born not only of family heritage – his mother’s roots tie him to the country – but also of life-altering study abroad experiences in Florence.
During his freshman year at Curtis High School, an accident left Scasny physically disabled. However, thanks to the New York City Board of Education’s Home Instruction Schools program—which sends professional teachers to the homes or other locations of students with disabilities—he was able to continue his studies.
He then returned to Curtis for his senior year, and graduated on time. But his life was not back to normal.
“After I graduated, I was not sure what I was going to do and I was, frankly, depressed,” he recalled. “But I knew I couldn’t just sit at home.”
He decided to enroll at CSI, yet his initial experience of the College was not positive. He was registered for 12 credits, yet his ability to function was limited, and physical therapy required most of his energy.
“I knew it was too much and I wasn’t ready for a full load,” he said. He was not aware that studying part-time was an option, and so he dropped all of his classes.
But he then learned of the College’s Office of Student Accessibility, and Teddi Beekman—an academic adviser advisor in that office—provided him with the support he needed, and re-enrolled him, part-time, the following semester. This is just one example of the many ways in which the College promotes student achievement.
“The College really is geared towards student success,” said Scasny. He advises students to seek out that support: “Don’t let difficulties or hardships limit you – think big and seek help if you need it.”
Once he was in classes, his academic career took off, and he eventually majored in History.
“I was always interested in history, but I didn’t really develop a passion for it until I got here,” he said. He credited the History Department faculty with awakening this passion. “The faculty of the History Department is fantastic,” he said. “The faculty members know their stuff and they’re interesting. They’re extremely productive academically. They really involve the students.”
During his second semester of Italian classes, Prof. Milligan told Scasny that he should study abroad in Italy.
“I was limited by my own self-image as a disabled person,” Scasny recalled, and “I told him, ‘I can’t do that, I’m handicapped and don’t have the money.’”
Milligan replied that students with more severe disabilities had studied abroad, and that full scholarships were available through CSI. Scasny applied for a scholarship to study in Florence, just to see if he would receive one, and he was indeed awarded one.
“Once I got the scholarship, I was like, ‘OK, I guess I gotta go,’” he recalled.
His experience in Florence was life-changing.
“I loved it. I learned how to live on my own and be independent… I learned how to socialize as an adult… It was so liberating. I think it was the best experience of my life.”
The semester did present difficulties, Scasny noted.
“It was really challenging – physically and mentally,” he said. But he said that his prior experiences had prepared him to meet the challenges.
“No matter what happened, it never seemed that bad compared to what I have gone through in the past,” he explained. Scasny enjoyed this semester so much that he applied and received a scholarship for another semester in Florence the following year.
He returned home, graduated in June 2016, and enrolled in CSI’s MA program in History. He also works as a tutor in the College’s Office for Academic Support, and as a teaching assistant in the Department of History. He has also presented at academic conferences at CSI, NYU, and the NYPL. He plans to pursue a PhD in history and teach at the college level.
The Fulbright Program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually, and currently operates in over more than 160 countries. CUNY students have won 151 Fulbright Awards over the past 10 ten years, including two students of CSI’s Verrazano Honors program in 2017. The next national deadline for Fulbright applications is Oct. 9.