Approximately an hour from the Adriatic coast and three-and-a-half hours northeast of Rome, sits the picturesque, walled city of Urbino, Italy. Urbino rests on a hill, above the Italian countryside, looking much the same as it did during the Renaissance—if one can ignore the car parks marring the scenery. The city, home to famous artist Raphael, was the destination of choice for two engineering students who spent a semester studying abroad.
Raquel De La Garza and Christian Treviño, both mechanical engineering majors, went to Italy as part of a UTSA study abroad program designed to get students out of their comfort zones and into new environments.
The University Carlo Bo, of Urbino, the highlight of the trip for De La Garza, dates back to 1506. Designed by Giancarlo De Carlo, much of the architecture and buildings were preserved and kept in the same condition as they were in during the Renaissance. The stylized construction and ambiance gave an old-world feel to modern education standards.
“I was amazed by how they preserved this incredible structure,” said De La Garza. “Every window, balcony and door showed beautiful views, and the craftsmanship is perfectly illustrated by the fact that the building looks good, even after all these years.”
Like most people, engineers are multifaceted. It’s not all about math and fluid dynamics. The nonengineering-related material encouraged the students to see the world in a different light. According to Treviño, it gave them a chance to see how engineering could work in previously unthought of ways.
“Spending time away from my structured path of engineering, here at UTSA, allowed me the freedom to imagine, ‘What do I want to do with a degree in mechanical engineering?’ It gave me such a fresh outlook on engineering in general and how it is really handled in other parts of the world.”
“During this trip I viewed everything with an engineering approach even though I was not there as an engineer,” added De La Garza. “The Coliseum, the Pisa Tower, the arena at Verona, The Ponte Veccio, every single one of them is an amazing structure to study as an engineer.”
Qualifying for the program isn’t easy. Participants must be enrolled full-time (12-15 credit hours for undergraduates and 9-12 credit hours for grad students) and maintain a defined GPA (2.5 for undergrads, 3.0 for graduates) to qualify for the study abroad program. The participants were given opportunities to study a variety of topics from Italian history to journalism throughout the semester. The academic guidelines and courses are established to ensure students get the most out of studying abroad.
“I was part of a program for the College of Liberal and Fine Arts while I was abroad,” explained De La Garza. “Some of the classes offered during that time were Italian language, history, arts, cinema, and journalism. Since I will be getting a minor in Italian, when I am done with my Advanced Italian class this December, more opportunities will be created to work in countries outside of the United States. Overall, this experience to learn first-hand the history and language of Italy was priceless.”
Echoing her sentiment, Treviño said, “I learned to be Italian. I learned to drink, eat, dress, walk and talk like an Italian. I learned to live easy and free, to love, and I learned the importance of living with pure passion. I feel so incredibly inspired to chase all of my dreams, no matter how crazy they are.”
Like all good study abroad programs, the one to Urbino encouraged the students to visit places outside of the city. With such a diverse culture and landscape, the students were eager to see what else Italy and Europe had to offer.
“While in Venice, I was able to catch the pre-celebrations and first day of Carnevale,” recalled Treviño. “ I made a weekend trip down to Naples and was there to witness the chaos of the presidential elections in southern Italy. During our spring break we were even lucky enough to catch a Futbol Club Barcelona game at their home stadium. While in Rome, we stayed near the Vatican and walked with thousands to catch a glimpse of the new ‘Papa’ as he made his first address to Italy and the world.”
Whether they were studying Italian, mentally deconstructing ancient engineering, or traveling the countryside, De La Garza and Treviño acknowledge the trip to Urbino will have a life-long impact.
“The funny thing is that the experience is still ongoing for me. I was lucky enough to study and travel with some of the best individuals I have ever met,” explained Treviño. “The bonds that grew while living with these newfound friends are so incredibly strong. I love every single moment that I shared with them there and the ones we have shared since. Because of them I have the best memories. The places were beautiful, but they are amazing.”