January 30, 2007

E.U. Commission Awards Cornell $100,000 Grant

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Recent archaeological findings may well disprove the popular belief that Odysseus, the king of Ithaka, husband of Penelope and protagonist of Homer’s epic poem, was actually from Ithaka.

According to Gail Holst-Warhaft, the director of the Mediterranean Initiative at Cornell’s Institute for European Studies (IES), the remains of Odysseus’ palace are now being found in the area of Elios Proni, a town that lies on the adjacent island of Cephallonia.

“The thesis is that originally the two islands were joined and that this area has sunk. They were joined by a narrow strip of land where Elios Proni is [today],” said Holst-Warhaft.

After thorough consideration, this historical and cultural site was chosen for the town twinning arrangement with Ithaca, N.Y. “Town Twinning: Ithaca, N.Y. and Elios Proni, Greece Unite!” will become a focal point of IES’ “Getting to Know Europe” local outreach project.

According to the press release posted on IES’ website, “the twinning will highlight similarities in the tourism, hospitality, small-scale business and wine-making sectors, while also serving as a foundation for future interactions between the local governments of the two cities.”

This town twinning arrangement is possible because of a $100,000 grant awarded to the IES by the European Union Commission in honor of the E.U.’s 50th anniversary.

A more subtle reason for including Elios Proni in a twinning agreement is somewhat anecdotal. About eight years ago, Holst-Warhaft was completing an English translation of a prominent 20th century Greek poet and writer Nikos Kavvadias. She was also looking for money to fund the Modern Greek program at Cornell. When the Cephallonian community of New York found out about the translation, they assured Holst-Warhaft that the island of Cephallonia would provide the program with the necessary funding.

A year later, Yerasimos Metaxas, the mayor of the island, came to Cornell and handed a $100,000 to then-president Hunter R. Rawlings III.

“This is for modern Greek at Cornell,” he said.

Closely linked to the twinning venture, IES plans to conduct “The E.U. and U” business seminars, which will aim to educate local businesses and small value-added enterprises about opportunities to do business with the countries of the E.U.

Catherine Perkins, an administrative assistant in IES, said that the planned seminars were well received by Ithaca’s Chamber of Commerce. She added that there are already a number of local enterprises that do business with Greece. In addition to bringing in these entrepreneurs to speak at the seminars, the IES will use teleconferencing technology to communicate with experts in Cephallonia, emphasizing tourism and the wine-making industry.

According to Perkins, Cephallonia is a leader in white wine production. The island’s celebrated wine is available for sale in Ithaca.

Perkins further suggested that the IES will work specially with the students at The Johnson Graduate School of Management.

“Whether it’s providing speakers or research material, [The Johnson School] is one of Cornell’s great strengths and we really should be building on that,” she said.

Business professionals, educators, and community leaders with an interest in Cephallonia will be selected to embark on a ten-day mayoral visit and educational tour of Cephallonia, where they will visit Ithaca’s new ‘sister city’ of Elios Proni, meet local government officials and other community leaders and tour regional businesses.

Additionally, a part of the E.U. grant will be used to fund IES’ comprehensive K-12 outreach program, which is designed to inspire local students to understand and appreciate the European Union. The “E.U. Curriculum Grant Contest” is one of the noteworthy initiatives.
IES will encourage teachers from Upstate New York schools to develop curriculum materials focusing on the politics, the history and the culture of the European Union. Selected educators will be awarded $1,125 to implement the most promising programs.

IES had already received one such proposal from a teacher at an elementary school. It has to do with the music and, according to Perkins, “it’s really really interesting.”

“The [proposals] from middle schools and lower tend to be about more general topics that can be taught cross-curriculum. They might be looking at a language or a culture; they won’t be going into specific E.U. details,” said Perkins.

Furthermore, the youngest students will have a chance to experience the rich culture of the European Union without leaving their classrooms. A traveling “treasure chest,” which includes educational materials about Europe’s art, music, history and even archaeological artifacts is readily available for use by elementary and middle school teachers.

The “Europe Day Poster Contest” will let youngsters explore their artistic talents while drawing upon the theme of the recently unveiled European Anniversary logo, “Together.”

Winners will be announced during the Europe Day 2007 celebration on May 9th, which will take place on the Ithaca Commons. Cephallonia tour participants will also be revealed on that day.
Much like the businessmen and the educators, local students will interact electronically with their counterparts, Cephallonia’s children, by sharing their experiences and finding out what it’s like to live in Greece.

In conjunction with Cornell Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Music Ensembles, the Cornell Hellenic Student Association will help foster excitement by conducting workshops on topics ranging from Greek music and dance to Greek democracy and alphabet.
Even though a number of “Getting to Know Europe” projects are in their early stages of development, IES’ initiative to make good use of the grant has been well-received by the Cornell community.

David Wippman, vice provost for International Relations, said that the grant will “provide an excellent opportunity to advance the outreach and international mission of Cornell University by enlightening local residents about the important work of the E.U., the rich cultural history of Europe and the abundant U.S.-E.U. business and investment opportunities.”