European Union Policy Studies

Letter from the Executive Director

EUPS Executive Director Charles Blake

Dear EUPS Alumni and Friends,

First and foremost, on behalf of our entire team in Florence, thank you for your support and solidarity as our program has made adjustments over the past several weeks in response to the COVID-19 outbreak – just as individuals and organizations around the world have needed to make adjustments in response to this pandemic.

Many large organizations are tempted to toss around the word “community” casually. Personally, I found it jarring to receive a barrage of e-mails amid this pandemic from various corporations assuring me that they are thinking about me. Regardless of their intentions, I usually know zero individuals in those large corporations.

In contrast, within smaller organizations like graduate programs, a lived sense of community can emerge. Shared intentions, hard work, challenges overcome together, and moments of relaxation, all combine to forge personal relationships among students, alumni, faculty, and staff. When people in the community support each other, this lived sense of community deepens. I want to share in this message various reflections of how the EUPS community continues to be vital and inspirational.

It will surprise nobody reading this message that our staff has responded effectively to the COVID-19 outbreak. When JMU made a decision to suspend operations in Florence on February 28th, our staff quickly devised a schedule to support all of our students upon their return from spring break on February 29th and March 1st and to help them prepare to leave Florence unexpectedly. Staff worked in March to halt temporarily our operations in Palazzo Capponi and to establish a system for telecommuting and remote collaboration among the entire team. We have spent April working together to devise plans to comply with the physical distancing standards that will likely frame the resumption of operations in Florence during the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year.

During those same months of March and April, our faculty designed and implemented a conversion to online instruction during the second half of the Spring 2020 academic semester. This involved not just a change in the delivery of instruction within courses but also a re-engineering of some co-curricular activities. While all three academic trips already had been completed, Professors Caterina Paolucci, Silvia D’Amato, Adérito Vicente, and Helen Callaghan worked with colleagues at UNIFI to hold an online version of our annual Model EU simulation as well as an online spring research symposium. Faculty and staff also have worked productively with our allies in Europe and in the USA to provide telecommuting internship opportunities for this summer session.

Current students have shown resilience in the face of a series of changes and challenges. They left Italy just as quarantine conditions were emerging and since then have adjusted to the emergence of quarantine conditions in the United States. Through it all, they all have found ways to complete the spring semester successfully. They are now starting their summer internships; beginning the tasks tied to the completion of their program portfolios; and polishing their job search materials. I know that they look forward to talking further with alumni and other program allies in the coming weeks, just as prior cohorts have been helped by advice from the larger program community.

Finally, it was great to see so many program alumni gather on February 27th to reconnect with each other and with Chiara Martinelli in Washington, DC. Our program’s Alumni Board is developing some innovations in career development programming that will further expand our support for current students. It will also explore some new types of programming for our alumni network with some social events to complement our existing August reception and some career-oriented programming for alumni, as well.

As I write this message, the 2020-2021 cohort of future students is making plans to join the EUPS community. From my conversations with them, I am confident that their interests in various aspects of politics, policy, European affairs, and the world will make them valuable members of this community. Please join me in welcoming them in the weeks and months ahead.

Amid all of the adjustments made during the last two months, the program’s pursuit of excellence continues. I’ll cite three recent examples here. In March 2020, Class of 2019 graduate Katherine Hayes began her work as a Presidential Management Fellow at the Department of the Air Force within the U.S. Department of Defense. That same month, Chiara Martinelli was honored by JMU as this year’s Woman of Distinction among all JMU staff for her many contributions to the EUPS and Semester in Florence programs. In April, the EUPS program (and our outgoing director John Scherpereel) received the Provost’s Excellence in Academic Assessment for our program’s ongoing dedication to program monitoring and to data-driven decision making. On a more personal note, I want to thank John Scherpereel for all of his assistance throughout this leadership transition in our program. 

The strength of the EUPS community made me want to join the program faculty in 2016 and later motivated me to apply for the post of director last year. In this new role, I look forward to working with all of you (along with future students and new program allies) in the months and years to come. Please feel free to reach out to me whenever you have something you want to share for the good of this program – and for the good of the community that nurtures the EUPS program.

Distinti saluti,

Charles Blake

Back to Top

Published: Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Related Articles