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Summer 2001

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An American’s heritage: Fulbright study includes family exploration

by Kathryn Gallien

     Emma Magay was a Filipino immigrant, Gennaro Ingenito was a first-generation Italian-American from Brooklyn, and their friends comprised a melting pot of ethnic and religious backgrounds. So when they married in 1974, they chose the chapel in the United Nations. And perhaps that foreshadowed a life of broad international horizons for the son born five years later.

For anthropology major Robert Ingenito ’01, his stay in the Philippines is not just field work but personal and family work as well.

     Robert Ingenito ’01 warmly remembers growing up amid the tastes and smells of both of his parents’ cultures. Now he is getting an even closer feel for one of them, courtesy of the federal Fulbright Program. A magna cum laude graduate this spring, he earned a Fulbright grant for a year at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where he is pursuing Filipino language and culture studies along with his research on the sociocultural dimensions of migration, natural disaster, and community resettlement. The research grows out of his senior anthropology thesis on the displacement and resettlement challenges faced by the Ayta people following the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

     Ingenito’s grant from the federal government’s premier international scholarship program covers virtually all costs of travel, study, and living, underwriting a first-rate opportunity for research and cultural immersion.

     For Ingenito, that cultural immersion is both exciting and poignant. His mother, who had come to the U.S. from the Philippines after earning her medical degree, died in 1998, during Robert’s sophomore year. Now he has the chance to explore part of his cultural heritage in his mother’s homeland.

     It was another prestigious grant that brought Ingenito to Skidmore in the first place. He had begun at age seven what he now describes as a lifelong passion for playing piano, and during high school at the Waldorf School of Garden City, N.Y., he studied classical piano performance at the Manhattan School of Music. One day a guidance counselor stopped him in the hall and showed him Skidmore’s Filene Music Scholarship brochure. Ingenito made an audition tape, was invited to a performance competition on campus, and won one of four scholarships, playing works by Prokofiev and Chopin.

     The Filene scholarship—which does not require awardees to major in music—and Skidmore’s interdisciplinary approach turned out to be a good fit for Ingenito. “I knew I wanted to do something with music but also pursue something else,” he says, and his Skidmore career turned out to be filled with plenty of “something else.”

     Right off the bat, “Liberal Studies 1 introduced me to the idea of connecting different disciplines, thinking in an interdisciplinary way.” Not long after declaring his music major in his sophomore year, he began to explore anthropology, and ended up majoring in that as well. He even added a minor in international affairs. “Putting all this together,” he says with a smile, “was fun and exciting. It’s been very fulfilling to see how international affairs and anthropology come together, and how music and anthropology come together.”

     Other things came together for Ingenito too: piano study and performance, a year abroad at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, and dancing with the Swing Fever ballroom dance club. But it was his work on behalf of another campus group that he found most meaningful. Following his mother’s death from cancer, he applied himself to strengthening the college’s grief support group. “I just needed a community to be a part of,” he says. Over the next few years the group grew from five to fifteen, meeting weekly with Schick Art Gallery assistant Maureen Jones ’92, who holds a master’s in social work and is a trained facilitator in grief counseling.

     “A lot of times,” says Ingenito, “students in the group expressed anger about their peers’ lack of understanding and compassion.” For most college students, he acknowledges, death is the last thing on their minds—which made the group all the more important for those few needing to cope with it. “I found great rewards in helping to get the group going again,” says Ingenito, whose courage and sensitivity in these efforts were recognized with a Skidmore Presidents’ Day Award.

     Ingenito expects to pursue anthropology in graduate school, with a focus on Southeast Asian studies. But as his Fulbright project hints, he is no ivory tower academic. Rather, he envisions a career of teaching and activism. “I want to marry the practical with the academic, to do research that has meaning to the people I’m studying.”

     This year, in his late mother’s homeland, Ingenito will be doing work that has great meaning not only to the people he is studying, but to himself and his family.

Kathryn Gallien is a part-time Scope writer and freelancer in Saratoga Springs.


© 2001 Skidmore College