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UMKC Professor Inspires Student to Finish College and Keep Learning

Massimiliano Vitiello’s interesting history class was the turning point for Jordon Fanciullo
Massimiliano Vitiello and Jordon Fanciullo stand in the Nelson-Museum of Art surrounded by Roman artifacts

The heart of UMKC is our campus community. With small class sizes and lots of opportunities, it’s easy to develop student mentorship teams. And these rich relationships—our Dynamic Duos—are some of our best success stories.

Jordon Fanciullo came to UMKC as a transfer with two demoralizing college experiences behind her. A first-generation college student, she commuted 30 minutes from home in Lee’s Summit and worked to pay for costs not covered by scholarships. She was beginning to think that higher education was beyond her abilities.

But a history professor in a night class that she didn’t even want to be in flipped her perception of herself.

 “He fostered an environment of concern and care that made it so I did more than survive; I have thrived at UMKC.” -Jordon Fanciullo

Jordon Fanciullo sits at Miller Nichols Library in between shelves of books

“After every test I turned in, after every paper I wrote, he would tell me, ‘You’re really good at history, have you ever thought about being a historian? You have some serious potential in this,’ ” Fanciullo says.

“Dr. Massimiliano Vitiello saw something in me that I didn’t see,” Fanciullo says. “He fostered an environment of concern and care that made it so I did more than survive; I have thrived at UMKC.”

With Vitiello’s mentorship, Fanciullo graduated Magna Cum Laude in May 2019 as an Honor Scholar.

Vitiello is a UMKC 2018 Honoree for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers, Scholars, and Artists for his work with Fanciullo and other students.

Massimiliano Vitiello and Jordon Fanciullo stand inside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

“Jordon developed a strong sense of confidence,” Vitiello says. “She is absolutely growing as a young scholar with great potential and great intellectual curiosity.”

Vitiello, an associate professor who specializes in ancient history and late antiquity, holds a Royall Distinguished Professorship within the College of Arts and Sciences.

The night class Fanciullo took with him was European History to 1600. Vitiello’s love of ancient history ignited a fire in Fanciullo.

“When somebody’s passionate about what they’re teaching it’s easy for you to get passionate about it,” Fanciullo says.

She switched majors from criminal justice to history and languages and literatures and dug into the study of antiquity. Vitiello helped her win a SEARCH grant to do undergraduate research, which took her to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Fanciullo’s research won a Prize of Distinction at the UMKC Symposium of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship.

“Mentoring students has been extremely satisfying for me because I have seen my students go on to develop their work in interesting ways, as Jordon has.” -Massimiliano Vitiello

Massamiliano Vitiello stands at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

“I love being able to share my love of history with my students,” Vitiello says.

 “It is wonderful to see students grow and develop their own thoughts and interpretations as a result of the combination of their passion and research.

“Mentoring students has been extremely satisfying for me because I have seen my students go on to develop their work in interesting ways, as Jordon has,” he says.

Fanciullo attributes her success to the confidence Vitiello instilled in her.

“He would stay after class, respond to email after email, and calm every self-deprecating worry,” she says. “He’s done so much for me. He has set me up for success.”

Vitiello didn’t know Fanciullo’s struggles as a first-generation and transfer student. Until she nominated him for the mentor award, he had no idea how important his mentorship was to her.

But he could see her change before his eyes.

“It has been a privilege to witness her finding her path and developing her confidence with her work,” he says.

“When somebody’s passionate about what they’re teaching, it’s easy for you to get passionate about it.” -Jordon Fanciullo

 Massimiliano Vitiello and Jordon Fanciullo stand at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.