Junior Samantha Lessen Awarded 2014 Monteverdi Prize

Author: Jonathan Warren

1 Samantha Lessen (left) in Rome, January 30, 2014.

Samantha Lessen, a junior in the College of Arts and Letters, has been awarded the second annual Monteverdi Prize through Notre Dame’s Program of Liberal Studies (PLS).

The Monteverdi Prize, a scholarship created by the Cioffi family for PLS juniors, will provide Lessen with funding to conduct research this summer for her senior thesis. As part of the prize, she will live at Monteverdi Tuscany, a hotel and center for the liberal arts in Italy, founded by PLS alumnus Michael Cioffi ’75. The scholarship also contributes $10,000 toward the recipient’s university student account for his or her senior year.

“In the Program of Liberal Studies, we are very happy with the terrific opportunity this award provides,” says PLS Professor and Chair Gretchen Reydams-Schils. “It allows a student to have a significant international experience during the summer between junior and senior year, while also working on an advanced undergraduate research project, namely the senior thesis.”

Lessen is a PLS and design double major who also studies Italian language and art history. She will spend the spring semester studying abroad in Rome, and then travel to Monteverdi for summer 2014. There, she plans to conduct research for her senior thesis on Dante and Renaissance art.

Senior Jack Yusko, the prize’s first winner, spent last summer at Monteverdi examining Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan as it relates to current Italian politics. As a scholar in residence, he also led seminars for guests.

Jack Yusko Jack Yusko (left) in Rome

“It wasn’t just that I got to be someplace beautiful where I could study and dedicate myself to my work, but I was constantly engaged,” Yusko says. “I got to teach these seminars, but I also attended art shows, concerts, seminars, dinners, and events throughout that really made me feel like I was a part of the community there and that I was contributing as well.”

Cioffi himself works directly with the Monteverdi Prize winner, and Yusko says he appreciated the chance to discuss his ideas, share progress, and get advice from someone who had also been a part of Notre Dame’s unique great books program.

Yusko, who had studied in Rome for the spring 2013 semester, says the prize was a great opportunity to continue his immersion into Italian life and politics.

“Being abroad allowed me to better understand the context of some of the things I had read, get a little better feel for the influences they still have today in these places and get a picture of the setting,” he says.

Now that he is back on campus, Yusko says he values his time in Monteverdi not only for the unique perspective he gained, but also for the relationships he formed. “This wasn’t just an opportunity for me to get work done, but to participate in this community that Cioffi has built.”

Reydams-Schils agrees, “The endowment is a great testimony to the fact that the intellectual community students develop during their time in the Program of Liberal Studies extends long after graduation.”

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