Schroeder takes love for American Studies abroad

After retiring from Ursinus this semester, the English professor will spend  the spring in Rome teaching graduate courses in American Studies

Sarah Hojsak


The third floor of Olin Hall, home to the English department, is bustling on a crisp Tuesday afternoon. While the fall weather has been drawing many people outside, Dr. Patricia Schroeder is hard at work during her last semester at Ursinus. After calling Ursinus home for many years, the longtime English professor and UC alumna is planning her retirement, but not before spending a semester in one of her favorite places: Italy.

Schroeder, who is also the coordinator of the American Studies program at Ursinus, is a two-time Fulbright Scholar and will be teaching graduate courses in American Studies abroad at Roma Tre and Sapienza universities in Rome in the spring of 2017.

In 2010, Schroeder taught as a Fulbright at the University of Catania in Sicily. She has also spent two semesters in Florence, teaching students in the Ursinus study abroad program. A photograph of the Sicilian landscape graces her computer desktop screen, an everyday reminder of what awaits her in the spring.

Schroeder’s love for Italy runs deep. Growing up in an Italian-American family, she always dreamed about visiting the country. She and her husband spent a year taking Italian lessons before planning a three-week trip to Italy for their 25th wedding anniversary. “We got hooked and have been back every year since,” Schroeder said.

The highly selective Fulbright program is an honor bestowed upon few. The international exchange program, which Schroeder will be participating in, is designed to bolster international relationships and increase mutual understanding between U.S. citizens and the people of other countries. The program offers only 500 teaching and research grants each year. Recipients are chosen based on academic merit and leadership capabilities.

As a professor and scholar of American Studies, Schroeder shares her love of Italian culture with a love of American blues culture. She specializes in cultural studies of the influence of blues music on American literature; her research focusing on legendary blues musician Robert Johnson and his place in American culture. In Rome, Schroeder will teach an interdisciplinary course titled “Race Matters in American Literature, Music and Culture” to Ph.D. students.

While Schroeder is used to traveling and teaching in Italy, living and working in the larger city of Rome will be a new experience for her. “It’s a little intimidating, I’ve never lived in such a big city…but I think I can manage,” the Schwenksville native said.

“Si, parlo Italiano!” Schroeder said, confirming her ability to speak what she described as “enough Italian to get around.”

“I love languages; of course, I’m an English teacher,” she said.

Schroeder’s departure from the Ursinus English department is bittersweet. She graduated magna cum laude from Ursinus in 1974, before earning her master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Dr. Rebecca Jaroff, chair of the English department and Schroder’s close personal friend, describes her as the “Little Miss Sunshine” of the English department.

“As a colleague, as a human being, and as a friend, she’s a very giving, kind, compassionate person, who’s always very cheerful,” Jaroff explained, describing Schroeder’s ever-positive attitude.

“That, we will miss greatly,” Jaroff said.

In describing what initially drew her to English, Schroeder said with a laugh, simply, “I like to read books and talk about them.” She mentioned William Faulkner’s “Light in August” as one of her all-time favorite books, and one she teaches frequently.

Throughout her career, her interests have broadened to include not only American literature and drama, but the more culturally-based discipline of American Studies. “That really rejuvenated me in my thinking about literature,” Schroeder said.

While Schroeder’s presence in the English department will be missed, her colleagues look forward to seeing what she does in the future. Jaroff described Schroeder as a role model and a “shining beacon in the distance.”

“Patti is an extremely supportive colleague and very generous … [we] share a real passion for teaching, student-centered learning, and how to get students to love literature,” Jaroff explained.

“Whatever it is that she finds to do [in her retirement], it will be interesting and fun,” Jaroff said.

Schroeder’s students agree that she is the kind of professor that makes a lasting impact.

“She really pushes you to do your best work and to get the most out of [class] discussion,” student Fiona Copland said.

American Studies major Skye Gailing added that Schroeder has taught her “how to be a college student” over the last two years.

“She taught me how to write properly and speak eloquently when discussing scholarly texts … she’s helped me gain interdisciplinary perspectives,” Gailing, who is also one of Schroeder’s advisees, said. “[I] will miss her bunches.”

In her spare time, Schroeder enjoys bicycling, going to the theater, and seeing live music, and looks forward to having more opportunities to do so after returning from Italy. While Schroeder said she would like to have “less stress” in her retirement, she eschews the common notion that retirement is for relaxing, and plans to further her passions for English and American Studies. She also plans to continue to take courses in Italian to improve her fluency and prepare for many more future visits to the country that has become her second home.

With reporting by Catherine Urbanski

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