When Maria Malizia was six, her family moved from Virginia to State College, Pa., home to Penn State University. State College was a pleasant place to grow up in a big, loving family, she says.
She attended Penn State, and majored in dance because she’d always wanted to be a professional dancer. Driven by an equally passionate interest in the Italian language and Italian culture, she graduated with another major as well—Italian language and literature.
“My dad is Italian, and I loved our family food traditions and festivities. I wanted to explore my family’s background, and when I did, the experience was so meaningful,” she says.
Meanwhile, like many aspiring dancers, Malizia heard the siren call of New York. Degree in hand, she followed the call and settled in the Bronx.
Soon she was not only dancing professionally but teaching dance and building Forza Malizia, her own multicultural dance company. Based in East Harlem, the company draws heavily from Italian culture while incorporating a wide range of genres, from hip-hop to ballet. It has close ties to the surrounding community, and performs for students in local public schools.
A couple of years ago, Malizia decided to pursue a second career in the city’s schools—as a classroom teacher. She began by student-teaching Italian at Brooklyn Tech.
“When I decided to earn a master’s in education, I was split between dance and Italian, because watching students grow in both areas is awesome,” she says. After choosing Italian, she enrolled in Hunter’s graduate program in teaching Italian to middle- and high-school students.
“Hunter was the only school I applied to,” she says. “I wanted an affordable program, and I heard this was a great school.”
Once here, she found more than she’d ever hoped for. Besides enhancing her pedagogy and empowering her to better help students, she says, Hunter enabled her to apply for and win the Fulbright.
“I got an email from the Prestigious Scholarships office about this wonderful opportunity,” she recalls. “I said to myself, ‘I guess I’ll go for it!’”
Today Malizia is deeply grateful to her Prestigious Scholarships advisors, School of Ed professors and Italian professors for the support they offered throughout the arduous application process. “So many people were really willing to help,” she says.
After leaving for Italy early this fall, she’ll spend nine months teaching English at a high school or middle school. Her father’s family is from Naples, and she hopes to work either there or in Rome.
When the news of her Fulbright award came, she was preparing to start work at a charter school in Harlem. The school is unique in that Italian and Japanese are the two foreign-language options for a predominantly Dominican student body. Malizia hopes they’ll have a spot for her when she returns, and expects her students will benefit in many ways from the knowledge and experience she brings back from Italy.
“I’ll be more fluent in the language,” she says. “And I look forward to bringing my students authentic Italian materials like Italian newspapers, books, artifacts and pictures—to give them a real Italian experience here in New York.”