Code in Rome with Cal Poly’s Software Engineering Program 

Students pose in front of fountain in Rome
Students in the Cal Poly in Rome: Software Engineering program visit Piazza Navona and Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. Participants live near Rome’s historic city center during the fall quarter while they complete core engineering courses and learn Italian.

Anna Makarewicz’s passion for travel sparked a search for study abroad programs as soon as she arrived at Cal Poly in 2020 to study computer science.  

When her search yielded a software engineering program in Rome, she knew she’d found her match.   

Three years later, Makarewicz and 19 of her classmates boarded a plane bound for Italy’s capital, ready to learn from program organizer and computer science Professor Davide Falessi, who loves to share the rich history, culture and traditions of his birthplace.    

Students pose in front of the Vatican dome
Cal Poly students, including Anna Makarewicz (front row, third from left) join Professor Davide Falessi, center, for an outing in Rome as part of the software engineering Global Program. In the background is St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

“Learn by Doing is taken to a whole new level here,” said Makarewicz from her shared apartment in Rome, explaining how students are assigned real-world tasks as they study software engineering and elementary Italian. “I’m sad for it to end because it’s been an amazing experience.” 

Cal Poly in Rome: Software Engineering is offered during the fall quarter to software engineering, computer science and computer engineering undergraduate students.  

Participants live near Rome’s historic city center while they complete core engineering courses. Outside the classroom, students take guided tours through the city and field trips to Florence and Pisa, experiencing the local food scene along the way.  

“Every day after class, our group got gelato and walked back to the apartments,” Makarewicz said of the culinary highlight. “Even when it was in the mid-60s, we still walked back with a gelato.” 

Those small moments added up to big memories for Makarewicz who is returning home with friendships, advanced software engineering skills and a deep appreciation for a more relaxed lifestyle.    

“I will come away having learned the value of slowing down, living in the moment and enjoying the little things,” she said.  

Students visit the Colosseum in Rome
Cal Poly students studying software engineering in Rome take trips through the city and across Italy during their fall quarter abroad. One of their stops is to the Colosseum – the largest ancient amphitheater ever built.

Changing lives     

Falessi just bid farewell to his third cohort of students after doubling the number of participants he had the first year. 

Cal Poly in Rome: Software Engineering is a specialized program led by a Cal Poly professor within the university’s Global Programs. The unique series is available exclusively to students enrolled at the university but in a city other than San Luis Obispo. The program starts in mid-September as a standard fall quarter, with financial aid available.  

The application period for the fall 2024 session just opened and will close on March 1.  

“For most of my students, it’s their first trip outside the U.S. By learning about a different culture, they can begin to make choices about their own way of living,” he said. “I know I’m changing lives for the better.”  

Falessi makes his home in Rome and counts it a privilege to introduce future engineers to a city at the crossroads of history and innovation.  

“Since I grew up here, I can explain the culture in a way they can understand,” said Falessi, adding he relishes playing tour guide during the 10-week program. “Students don’t know other ways of thinking until they are immersed in another culture and see a different way of making art, sleeping, eating and working.”  

He noted software engineering requires technical prowess but, also, soft skills that can be honed by studying abroad.  

“I get to build relationships with the students as we travel to Florence, share lunch and talk about life,” he said. “And the students get to create connections with each other as they live and study together in a new country.”  

Professor teaches students in a classroom located in Rome
Computer science Professor Davide Falessi teaches software engineering principles to a group of Cal Poly students studying abroad in Rome.

Learn by Doing, Italian-style 

Falessi cares about each of his students and finds joy in hosting them, according to Makarewicz.  

“He’s just as excited to learn as we are,” she said, noting he couldn’t wait to show them Caravaggio’s “Head of Medusa” at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. She counted the Florence and Pisa field trips among the program highlights.  

Falessi treats the classroom like industry, she said, expecting deliverables from teams working to create software applications like the travel planning app under development by Makarewicz and her teammates.  

Learn by Doing also translated to Makarewicz’s Italian class, as one assignment required students to request sandwich-making ingredients from a grocer in Italian, then communicate to the class what they had bought. For their final project, they had to record themselves ordering food.  

“I will keep speaking Italian,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful language.” 

Students visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Professor Davide Falessi, far left, takes a group of Cal Poly engineering students to parts of Italy, including Pisa, during the software engineering program in Rome. A must-stop destination for students is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

She’ll also continue nurturing her love for European soccer – the sport she grew up watching on Sunday mornings while sharing waffles with her dad, a fan since his childhood in Poland.  

She attended a game shortly after arriving in Rome and couldn’t contain her excitement. 

“Diehard fans were packed into the stadium, and you can just feel the sense of pride,” she said. “When my parents visited for a week, I took them to a game, and my mom asked, ‘Who would go to a soccer game at 9 p.m. on a Thursday?’ I replied, ‘65,000 people!’” 

Makarewicz will return to Cal Poly for the winter quarter before graduating in December 2024, armed with an even longer list of global destinations she intends to explore.  

In the meantime, she hopes to live vicariously through the next cohort studying software engineering in Rome.  

“I recommend that every computer science and computer engineering major attend an information session to see what the program is about,” she said. “You’re in really good hands with Professor Falessi.” 

For more on the program and upcoming information sessions, visit the Cal Poly International Center here

By Emily Slater