KU professor emerita continues broadening horizons with Italian culture

Jan Kozma, professor emerita of Italian at Kansas University.

Jan Kozma is a self-described “stickler” when it comes to Italian grammar.

Yet when she reflects on her more than 37 years of teaching Italian, parts of speech and sentence diagrams don’t stand out as the most memorable. She’s proud of her stellar students who went on to earn doctoral degrees in the language but realizes that many more enriched their lives by applying Italian to international travel or other careers.

“You teach to broaden their horizons and to open a world to them,” Kozma said. “You could really change lives, and that’s been just wonderful.”

Kozma retired in August from Kansas University, where she taught since 1977 in the department of French and Italian.

In retirement she is continuing to share that horizon-broadening Italian culture with a different slice of the population through KU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, where she has lectured the 50-plus crowd for the past couple years.

“Each semester she’s been able to offer a new look at Italian culture, language, art, literature,” Osher director Jim Peters said. “The minute we release our course schedule and open registration, our courses fill right up. She’s become very popular for our participants.”

This spring Kozma’s three-lecture course for Osher will be titled “Appreciating Italian Opera.”

She’ll also offer a one-time lecture, sponsored by KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.

“Prosciutto, Mozzarella and Parmigiano: Building Blocks of Italian Cooking” will blend history, anecdotes and recipes for the ingredients. Participants are asked to RSVP with Brandon Woodard at brandon.woodard@ku.edu.

Kozma is a native Italian speaker and has traveled to the country throughout her life.

She grew up in Michigan in a small town with her mother and maternal grandparents, all Italian, and her father and paternal grandparents, who were Hungarian. She went on to study Italian at the University of Michigan.

Kozma’s research specialty is 19th and 20th century Italian novels and poetry; she has translated several novels and hopes to do more in retirement. In 1978 she started the Summer Language Institute in Florence, a summer study abroad program that continues today at KU.

Her Osher lectures are adapted from semesterlong culture and civilization classes she created for KU students. The courses cover Italy’s geography, history, Roman archaeology, opera, art history, cinema, literature and, finally, cuisine and wine.

Of course a class could be taught on those subjects for any country, Kozma said. Arguably, though, there are reasons people are so interested in hers.

“It’s just that the Italians have been doing it best,” Kozma said.