Photograph by
James Bareham, The Verge

Alessandra Potenza, who was raised in Rome, learned English during a study-abroad program when she was a 16-year-old high school student. “I was assigned to a family in the middle of nowhere in Kansas and went to an all-American high school,” she recalls. “But when I came back to Italy to finish Italian high school, I realized I was losing a lot of the English I had learned, so I decided to go to an American college instead.”

Alessandra elected to go to the American University of Rome because she wanted to continue to improve her English speaking and writing skills. “AUR was the perfect fit because I could still be in an American college but not away from home which allowed me to stay close to my family,” she explains. “It also cost much less than a university in the United States. I couldn’t have afforded to go to school in the U.S. and I didn’t want to take out student loans. It was a perfect fit.”

While at AUR, Alessandra took several creative writing classes with Professor Elizabeth Geoghegan. “These classes really provided me with the time and space to develop artistically and improve my writing in English,” says Alessandra, who graduated from AUR in 2011. Not only was Professor Geoghegan a life-changing teacher, but she also served as a mentor to the young student who majored in communications (and minored in creative writing). “Professor Geoghegan taught me to let myself go and be creative and also to get inspiration from the city around me,” recalls Alessandra, who has maintained a friendship with the professor ever since. “I grew up in Rome and never thought of it as an inspiring city that could be fodder for creative writing.”

Alessandra also maintains friendships with many students she met while attending AUR. “What I loved about AUR was all the international students who studied there,” she says. “I had friends from all over the world, and through them I was able to experience the points of view of different cultures and religions. It was also fun to hear other people talk about Rome and get a new perspective on a city I knew inside out.”

Maurizia Garzia in the Office of the President also served as a mentor for the young student. “Maurizia helped me get four internships at various Italian publications, including National Geographic and Vatican Radio,” she recalls. These experiences were invaluable for Alessandra’s application to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, from which she received a Master’s Degree in Journalism in 2012. 

Today, Alessandra lives in New York City where she is a science reporter and editor at The Verge, a news website that covers tech, science and culture. “I owe my journalism career to AUR,” she says. “AUR is just a microcosm of the world. Study here and you’ll be better prepared to live and work in the world of tomorrow.”

Article by Faith Carrie Coolidge