“Italian? What are you going to do with that?”
by Whitney Stoker
When answering the question “what are you studying in college?” with “Italian,” an inevitable question follows: “What can you do with that?” I feel that this is a shared experience among most language majors, a few excluded. Luckily, I attended the alumni night on March 23rd organized by Susanna Ferlito and Lynn Argetsinger. Now, I can answer that question with a few excellent, real life stories as graciously told by a few alumni.
One alumna, Janis Amatuzio, agreed to allow me to publish some of her answers so that our Culture Shock readers could learn about her relationship with the Italian language and her career as a forensic pathologist. Janis graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1973, Medical school in 1977, and completed the Hennepin County pathology residence and fellowship at the HCME Office from 1978-1983. She retired from her most recent position as Chief Medical Examiner of the Anoka County system on January 31st, 2010.
Jessica Mumford, a French and Italian, Linguistics, and Global studies student here at the U, asked Janis to quickly trace her career path. Janis answered with a very early memory. She remembered telling her mother that when she grew up, she wanted to be a cowboy. Her mother responded that she couldn’t be a cowboy. She was a girl. To this, Janis replied that in that case, she would be a cowgirl. Thus began the “thinking outside the box,” as Janis put it.
Janis was one of the few women at the time to go to medical school and was the first woman to become a Chief Medical Examiner in the state of Minnesota. She is known as the “Compassionate Coroner” for the uncommon practice that she took up during her time as a medical examiner. Janis began calling family members of the deceased to explain the cause of death and answer any questions the family might have.
“During these intimate conversations, occasionally family members would share a comforting but extraordinary experience,” Janis said.
Because of the families sharing these experiences, Janis was able to write her books Forever Ours, Real Stories of Immortality and Living from a Forensic Pathologist (2002), a national best seller, and Beyond Knowing, Mysteries and Messages of Life and Death from a Forensic Pathologist, (2006).
Janis takes great pride in her accomplishments and considers studying Italian to be vital in giving her the courage to be able to achieve all that she did over the years. She said many times over the course of the event that embracing Italian gave her the ability to think outside the box much more than others at the time. While other pre-med students were majoring in biology or chemistry, Janis was actively learning about another culture and language that emphasized connections between people.
Thanks in part to Janis, the alumni event was most definitely a success. The night showed Italian students that a degree in Italian could be very useful. Using Italian can allow professionals to build prosperous and groundbreaking careers. The next time someone asks me what I am going to do with an Italian studies degree, I might share Janis’ story with him or her. Hopefully, it will thoroughly and completely answer that question for any other language majors they may encounter afterward.