Jim Petzel, BA ’75, was unable to go to Rome as a student at UD. After graduation, he earned an M.A. in history and was pursuing his doctorate at TCU when he learned of a job opening for a history lecturer on the Rome campus. Petzel soon got the job and packed his bags for Rome.
“It was exciting living in Rome for the first time, teaching Western Civ and experiencing history and modern Europe with my students,” said Petzel. “We were learning together. We would study Rome in class, then we would hop on a bus and be in the heart of it at the Forum — talking about the glories of ancient civilization and then seeing it unfold before our eyes. To experience that as a group, together, was a transformative experience. It was the highlight of my life.”
At the time, the Rome Program was located at Hotel LaVilla on the outskirts of the city. Long-time travel agent Francesco Stoppini made arrangements for the students and owned the hotel; that year, he hired Petzel to work for him during the summers. For a full three years, Petzel had many long weekends when he would “take to the rails,” traveling around Europe with his Eurorail pass.
“Once, on a train in Norway, I thought, ‘You know, this is a pretty good life, traveling to all these European capitals. I enjoy this,’” said Petzel. “I came to realize that I enjoyed traveling as much as or more than teaching.”
This realization is what led Petzel to the travel industry, where he worked in student, foreign and cruise travel before delving into the marketing side of the business, where he served as VP of Marketing at Travel of America. He retired 11 years ago after a career that spanned well over three decades, and now spends his time in Mesa, Arizona, consulting and writing for the travel industry.
Desiring to give back to the UD community, Petzel provided in his will for scholarships for students to go to Rome — those who, like himself as a student, might not otherwise get to and who might not even consider it due to the financial strain it would put on their families. Petzel’s estate gift, The James Petzel Rome Semester Scholarship, will ensure that future students can participate in the life-changing experience of the Rome Program.
“I’m very grateful for the outstanding education I received at the University of Dallas as well as the fabulous opportunity to teach in the Rome Program,” said Petzel. “Our world today has grown smaller and, with technology, is more interconnected than when I lived in Rome in the ’80s. And so it may be even more important that students have the opportunity to go to Rome, to experience another culture firsthand. It broadens horizons tremendously, and I want to provide students with a global perspective. Whether you’re in Rome, Italy, or Irving, Texas, we’re all part of the human family.”
In the photo: On the way from Olympia to Nafplion, Greece, in October 1981. Photo courtesy of Jim Petzel.