Last updateWed, 16 Sep 2020 2pm


Professor Spotlight on Maria Simonelli

default article imageThirty-eight years ago, Maria Simonelli, Ph.D., arrived in the United States for the first time from a small town in the mountains near Naples, Italy.

Her arrival to America began after an earthquake in Naples, but her journey to Monmouth as a lecturer of Italian and Latin, the Department Coordinator of the Italian Program, and the Advisor of the Italian Club took some time.

“I was teaching in Italy— Italian, Latin, and Classical Greek. I came here, and I didn’t teach right away because I didn’t feel comfortable with my accent. I tried so many things but the only thing I really loved was the classroom,” shared Simonelli.

“I was trying here and there, doing different things that didn’t mean much to me really. It was a good experience, though. I got to meet different people, I got to understand the dynamics of society here, and finally I went back to teaching,” she added.

Simonelli’s story of becoming a professor in America is a perfect example of finding what you were truly meant to do.

Gianna Petrone, a junior criminal justice student in Simonelli’s Elementary Italian class, said, “One of my favorite things about Dr. Simonelli is her enthusiasm for teaching. As a student in her class, it’s been a privilege to see her passion for the Italian language and culture.”

Simonelli’s understanding of the American culture was accompanied by her learning of the English language. “I learned how different it was. There’s so many differences in cultures, especially with school,” Simonelli said.

Her Italian students have the pleasure of listening to Simonelli’s many stories about her plunge into American culture. Some of Simonelli’s favorite stories of her first encounters with American culture include taking the literal meaning of the phrase “see you later” and misunderstanding the prevalence of the lasagna dish compared to Italy’s tradition of making it only once a year on Carnevale. There are stories she can look back at to see how far she really came in understanding the American culture and being able to share the Italian culture with her students.

As an Italian professor, Simonelli is always teaching her students the importance of learning a second language. “In Europe, it’s unconceivable to speak one language. Two, three, or more if you can,” she said about the topic.

“That’s the only way for you to understand the differences in everything. Culture and language go together. You cannot learn one without the other. It makes you a whole person, if you can understand language and culture.”

“It also makes you a critical thinker. You have to have the vocabulary, and that’s where everything comes together— the structure, the syntax, the grammar, everything comes together,” Simonelli continued.

Sabina Graziano, a junior computer science student, is very dedicated to the Italian language and culture. “[Dr. Simonelli] really wants her students to learn and truly understand the culture and how it affects the language. Learning a second language is super beneficial. It gives you a better grasp of the culture and the country,” Graziano said.

“Throughout the fall semester with Dr. Simonelli, I have learned the importance of studying a foreign language and I look forward to learning more about cultures throughout my time here at Monmouth University,” Petrone said. “The most valuable thing about learning a second language is the insight it gives you into another culture; this is extremely valuable when creating connections with others.”

Being from Italy and migrating to America, Simonelli is always teaching her classes about the differences of Italian and American culture, the most prominent being the differences in schooling.

Whether it’s the exclusion of the philosophy subject in American public schools, or the abundance of homework in Italian schools compared to American schools, Simonelli has boundless information to share about Italian culture in the eyes of an American.

Simonelli’s passion for teaching shines through every class she instructs. Her involvement with students stems from her warm, welcoming personality, and creates a wonderful learning environment that all of her students appreciate.

“When you teach you learn, too. I love to be in the classroom and talk to the students. The experience of teaching here and there is a great combination of things, because I have learned many different ways of teaching and it makes you really complete. We all learn in different ways, and every single student is different from one another. The experience of the students is always very enriching. Every class is enriching,” Simonelli said.

“She has made me grow as a better student and person,” concluded Graziano. “Whenever I’m stressed, she is always there to help me and make me feel better. She gave me a better outlook of the world and I’m grateful for her.”

Simonelli constantly leaves lasting impacts on her students in a way that is extremely rare. Her passion and enthusiasm for teaching will never burn out as she continues to inspire students across Monmouth University, spreading her knowledge of another country’s culture and language.

Contact Information

The Outlook
Jules L. Plangere Jr. Center for Communication
and Instructional Technology (CCIT)
Room 260, 2nd floor

The Outlook
Monmouth University
400 Cedar Ave, West Long Branch, New Jersey

Phone: (732) 571-3481 | Fax: (732) 263-5151