Giving in Tandem

Peterson-Neller Summer Scholarship enables summer study in Italy

Warren Miller ’90MBA

Blair Neller with Assistant Professor of Art History Kim Dennis and Rollins students in Rome.

While visiting Rome in the summer of 2008, Blair Neller met up with Assistant Professor of Art History Kim Dennis (far l) and Rollins students (l-r) Lauren Kelley ’09, Rachel Di Giovanni ’09, and Peterson-Neller Summer Scholarship recipient Amy Iarrobino ’11, who were studying in Trinity College’s summer program in Rome.

Blair Neller ’74 and Michael Peterson ’74 have a lot more in common than their class year. They both attended Rollins on scholarships. They played together on the tennis team. They worked during the summers to help earn their spending money. They went on to successful business careers (Neller, who lives in Winter Park, is a retired business executive and consultant and Peterson is head of Gabriel Group LLC, near St. Louis, Missouri). Both have served their alma mater as alumni board members and alumni trustees. And there’s something else they have in common: neither had the chance to study abroad as an undergraduate.

When the longtime friends were looking for a unique way to give back to Rollins, it didn’t take them long to hit on the idea of providing Rollins students with the opportunity they missed out on. Thus was born the Peterson-Neller Summer Scholarship.

Established in 2005, the scholarship was first awarded to students conducting summer research in Rollins’ Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Program. In 2007, while serving on the College’s board of trustees, Peterson heard a presentation on the Eternal City by Assistant Professor of Art History Kimberly Dennis, whose research is centered on Roman and Italian art. Peterson, whose mother is from Rome and who has visited the country of his roots several times (he still has relatives there), understood the impact that study in Italy could have on students. A follow-up conversation with Dennis led Peterson and Neller to redirect the scholarship awards to study in Italy. “This seemed the perfect way to help students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to travel abroad while supporting the College’s mission to educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership,” Neller said.

The Peterson-Neller Summer Scholarship provides funding to Rollins students for six weeks of international study. “This scholarship is a very significant benefit for Rollins students,” Dennis said. “It provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to some of our best students to study abroad and to continue academic work during the summer months. Currently, there is no other scholarship at the College for summer study abroad.”

Bethany Gray ’09HH was awarded a Peterson-Neller Summer Scholarship to study art history at the Trinity College (Connecticut) campus in Rome during the summer of 2008. “I’m a non-traditional student, with a husband, kids, and a mortgage,” said Gray. “I never would have been able to afford to study in Rome without the scholarship. In the program, we had access to amazing laboratories where they’re conserving art. For example, in the Vatican labs, they were working on paintings in one corner of a floor and wooden Egyptian mummy cases in another. And the conservators work in the midst of hundreds of visitors every day.”

For Peterson-Neller Summer Scholarship recipient Amy Iarrobino ’11, as it was for Peterson, visiting Rome was an opportunity to connect with her heritage. “My dad was born in Italy and speaks the language,” the pre-med biology major said. “I don’t have time to study culture during my pre-med program, so the summer program at Trinity was a way to round out my education with art classes.”

The Peterson-Neller Scholarship does not have to be used for study in any particular program or college in Italy. One scholarship recipient studied history at John Cabot University, an American liberal arts school in Rome. Notice of the merit-based award is sent to all rising juniors and seniors with a GPA of 3.5 or higher in any major. Applicants must make a case for how and why they will benefit—both academically and personally—from study in Italy.

For Gray, who has long dreamed of being a museum curator, the experience was transformational. After graduation, she began working two part-time positions, one as an administrator in Rollins’ Department of Art & Art History and another in collections management at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. The visit to Rome both inspired and reaffirmed her career goals, Gray said.

And that, according to Peterson, is exactly what Neller and he intended. “We’re delighted to hear about experiences like Bethany’s,” Peterson said. “This scholarship is a wonderful way to touch students’ lives.”