Submitted by Salvatore Federico
June 10, 2021
Class of 2021: When the teacher becomes the student
After Dr. Salvatore Federico, PhD, crosses the virtual stage to mark his graduation with a degree in Greek and Roman Studies, the first thing he will need to do is get some shut-eye.
A professor in both the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, and the Centre for Bioengineering Research and Education, at the Schulich School of Engineering, he embarked on the journey to further his own education in fall 2010.
“My initial goals were to learn some Greek and refresh my Latin,” he says. “But I got much more, learning to look into the Indo-European roots of words, and now I see the connections between the different languages.”
He says that background allows him to show his students that understanding why a concept is termed in a certain way helps them understand and remember the concept itself.
Inspiring a future professor
Federico admits the reason he wanted to chase this post-secondary dream is a “long story.”
It goes back to his childhood days in Italy, where, after finishing junior high school, his top two choices to further his education were “liceo scientifico” and “liceo classico.”
“The former offered a lot of mathematics, physics, philosophy and Latin,” he explains. “The latter offered a lot of Latin, Greek and philosophy.”
While he always loved the Greco-Roman world, he didn’t want to sacrifice math and physics, so he chose liceo scientifico and subsequently embarked on his engineering journey.
When Federico arrived in Calgary for the first time in 2000, he met Dr. Marcelo Epstein, whom he calls “a walking encyclopedia in mechanics and a true Renaissance man,” who had obtained his degree in classics from the University of Calgary.
“Marcelo has always been an infinite source of inspiration for me,” he says. “So, for spirit of emulation, I decided to get a taste of Ancient Greek by taking a few courses. I was so enthusiastic of those first courses that I decided to take a full degree.”
The best of intentions
What started as a labour of love turned into a delicate balance between being a professor and a student.
“My plan was initially to take two or three courses a year,” Federicosays. “I was able to do this by being very diligent in taking notes in class and — well — by diminishing my daily hours of sleep.”
Sleep would become more elusive in 2012, when Federico and his wife, Hanae, welcomed their first child, Leo. Three years later, their youngest son Luca was born.
“I was still able to manage the situation when Leo was born,” Federico admits. “But after Luca was born, I couldn’t make it anymore.”
He took a hiatus from his degree aspirations until January 2020.
Finishing what he started
Over the last couple of years, Federico has completed the four final courses he needed to graduate, while also managing work and family time.
“The learning itself has been an incredibly rewarding experience,” he says. “More importantly, I’m immensely grateful to my family for letting me divert some of my time towards my studies.”
“Salvatore is a real character,” Bertolin says with a smile. “He was stubborn, loud and opinionated. I really liked having him in class, although some of the younger students may have been a bit intimidated.”
She says Federico wrote “wonderful essays” and was — unsurprisingly — “leaps and bounds ahead of other students” because of his maturity and intelligence.
Aside from sleep, Federico plans to informally take more courses in a few years, like French, mathematics and physics. He also has a passion for music and for playing guitar, which he hopes to take a little more seriously.
“Perhaps the next degree will be the Yamaha diploma in modern guitar,” he says with a laugh. “But please don’t tell my wife.”