Mike Ferlazzo
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A Passion for Language Takes One Local Bucknell Student to Italy

LEWISBURG, Pa. (March 25, 2024) – On the surface, the many disciplines housed within the humanities, including literature, philosophy, foreign languages, history, and theatre, might seem disconnected. Speaking to student practitioners, however, begins to reveal the hidden glue that binds the field together.

“When I’m figuring out what I have to write about for class, I think there’s a similar process of noticing something interesting for some particular reason, and then taking that small detail and listening for the connections,” says Sarah Downey ’25.

Downey is a double major in Italian studies and political science with a minor in creative writing. “A humanities person at heart,” Downey’s time at Bucknell has given her a deeper understanding of both herself and the ways in which her many academic pursuits intersect.

Italian is a subject Downey first dabbled in with the help of Duolingo, an app she discovered while working for an Italian coffee shop in her hometown of Allentown, Pa. Upon meeting the Italian Studies faculty at Bucknell, she was encouraged to further her study of the language.

“It’s one of the most concrete things I can say I’ve learned here. Before I came in, I had barely any speaking ability, and now I really feel like I can understand when people talk to me. I can express myself,” says Downey, who will be further honing her language skills this summer in Genoa, Italy, where she’ll work as a teaching assistant in Deledda International School.

For Downey, the Italian language is only one of her many modes of expression.

As someone who has long been interested in social and environmental justice, Downey decided that political science would be an ideal double major. Her political theory class gave her the framework to understand and respond to the structural forces that shape modern life. Now, in her qualitative methods course taught by Professor Kelly Stedem, Downey uses what she’s learned to conduct her own research.

“You come up with a topic and then systematically go through all the steps of designing an experiment,” she explains. Her project produced insights about how socioeconomic diversity and extracurricular involvement impact students’ sense of belonging.

Downey’s minor in creative writing also serves as a method of inquiry and expression, helping connect what she has learned in her Italian and political science classes.

“I took a playwriting course my second semester of freshman year. I worked on a project about warring coffee shops and that was definitely influenced by what I was thinking about in political theory,” she says. In the play, Downey was able to reframe her own experience of working in a coffee shop through the lenses of politics and culture and, in doing so, explore the relationship between history and lived experience.

Now, as an executive intern in the Division of Marketing & Communications, Downey uses her writing skills to help bring issues of Bucknell Magazine to life. The creative and collaborative nature of producing the publication has further expanded her definition of what writing can be.

“I don’t think I knew what I was getting into, but once I was here, it was kind of a light switch,” she says. “It’s fun to sit in the room and hear everybody discuss stories, organize how the end product is going to look, and make it happen.”

If there’s one thing Downey knows, it’s that she wants to be a writer in some capacity, even if she’s not entirely sure what that will be. For now, writing serves as a reliable tool to help her navigate the sometimes enigmatic space between question and answer, the self and the world. It is in this space that the heart of the humanities beats.


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Sarah Downey