Italian Rap Sensation Gets His Start at UT [Watch]

Antonella Olson had a problem. Her Beginning Italian students had bombed their first exam of the fall semester.

“The grades were very low,” says Olson, a distinguished senior lecturer in UT’s Department of French and Italian. “I thought, these kids spend all day on Facebook and YouTube. I need to speak their language.”

Olson’s daughter, Romina Olson, is a professional photographer who co-owns a video production company with Sergio Carvajal, BS ’08. So Antonella enlisted them to create a funny educational video, “Sweet Study Tips.” Could humor help Antonella’s students master new vocabulary?

When the mean score shot up by 12 points on the second exam, Antonella figured she was doing something right. She decided a video contest would motivate students even more.

Olson challenged students in all six sections of Beginning Italian to film video skits. The grand prize: Bonus points on the final exam, an Italian book, and the chance to star in a video inspired by their skit and written, directed, and shot professionally by Romina and Sergio. Students voted for their favorites, and Erik Menera’s goofy rapping earned him first place.

Menera’s Pesce Grande (“big fish”) persona raps about feeling like a little fish lost in a big campus until Italian class boosts his cool factor.

The best thing about the video, Antonella Olson says, is that it strengthened UT’s connection with Austin’s Italian-American community.

“Three local Italian businesses—Cotone, Andiamo, and Lucky Puccia’s—sponsored the video and helped us out,” says Olson. “Now they want to partner with us on other projects. I couldn’t ask for more.”


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