STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 05/02/2013

Picking up the Thread

by John Dixon Mirisola '11

John Skillen with students in OrvietoTrendy education can be brittle. It can break and rearrange beneath every step of modern progress. The real challenge, says Director of European Programs John Skillen, is to establish an educational model that can be applied over time. When he founded Gordon IN Orvieto in 1998, Skillen hoped the program’s unique approach to learning in situ—rooted in context—would stand his own test.

And in fact, 15 years later, the program continues to offer an uncommon opportunity to set down roots. Students—mostly artists, writers and aesthetes—spend their months in Orvieto immersed in a different world. They worship in the Duomo even as they research its 14th-century façade design or sketch its Gothic windows. Unplugged from the whir of American college life, they become more than spectators of a bygone culture; they become heirs to the ongoing tradition.

Virgil wrote with Homer on his desk. Dante wrote with Virgil on his desk. Joyce wrote with the prior three all jostling for position in his spectacles.

“Innovation can only occur when we respond to what’s come before us,” says Skillen. “We are trying to reconnect a post-history generation to fabrics that have unraveled”—not in an attempt to recreate what’s already been, but so they might pick up the thread and weave something powerfully new.

John Dixon Mirisola is a communications specialist in the Office of College Communications at Gordon.