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Kurt Kilanowski G’14 on Drew’s Arts & Letters Program

“I can’t say enough about the program and what it has done for me—in the classroom, at home, and throughout my life”

January 2024 – A love of Venice and learning brought Kurt Kilanowski G’14 to Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies to earn his Doctor of Letters.

Through Drew’s interdisciplinary graduate Arts & Letters program, he was able to pursue his scholarly passion for Venice, and found a new path of enlightenment along the way—the study of art and Isabella Stewart Gardner, an American art collector and philanthropist.

Kilanowski credits Affiliate Professor Liana Piehler for expanding his horizons and unearthing his interest in Isabella Stewart Gardner. “Liana has such a tremendous love of learning. She opened me up to a greater reading list.”

Through Piehler, Kilanowski was afforded the opportunity to conduct research in the archives at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Here, he was able to view rare and historical artifacts such as first edition Dante Alighieri books from the fifteenth century and letters from author Nathaniel Hawthorne. The experience inspired his dissertation, entitled “The Spirit of Place: Art and Spirituality in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.” 

Kilanowski, a Catholic, defended his dissertation on St. Joseph’s Day, a day he chose so he could celebrate each year with a St. Joseph’s cake, now nearly a ten-year tradition.

He said the greatest gift of his Drew education has been the opportunity to set an example for his two daughters, the youngest named after Isabella Stewart Gardner. “I took on a female figure as someone who was influential—it really opened up my mind to different viewpoints.”

His fellow classmates had a huge impact on Kilanowski by fostering a deep appreciation for other artists. “The folks in the room were so passionate about learning, it became infectious,” he said. “The greatest thing I took from the Caspersen School was meeting people from all walks of life with everyone coming together with a love of learning. It was a common bond that we all shared.”

“The marriage of theology, art, history, and Venice was fantastic,” he said. “The program exceeded my expectations in every way, shape, and form.” 

As a high school English teacher, Kilanowski melds his experience at Drew into his own classroom. He models his teaching of Shakespeare after a memorable Shakespeare course he took at Drew, encouraging students to create their own Shakespeare productions. “I’m using sources and ideas from my time at Drew.”

“I’m grateful,” said Kilanowski of his time at Drew. “I can’t say enough about the program and what it has done for me—in the classroom, at home, and throughout my life.”

Kilanowski is currently working on a children’s novel series, and eventually, he would like to explore returning to Drew, this time as an educator. “I see that as my next phase of life,” he said.

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