Adios: URI students win grants to study foreign languages overseas

Rhode Island Foundation administers fund

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KINGSTON, R.I., June 8, 2016—Micah Kittel will board a plane in the next few weeks and fly 5,000 miles to his new home for the next year: Chile.

He can thank one person for making the journey possible: Beatrice S. Demers, a former University of Rhode Island professor who had a love for languages and the world.

Kittel, 23, of Portsmouth, is one of 17 URI students who won grants from the Beatrice S. Demers Foreign Language Fellows fund to travel overseas.

Demers spent her life teaching foreign languages, first to students in the Pawtucket schools and then to students at URI, where she taught for more than 30 years.

After her death, she left $4 million to the Rhode Island Foundation to establish and administer the fund.

This year, the URI students are sharing $238,545 to study in Germany, France, Chile, China, Japan and Jordan. The fellowships cover the cost of tuition, fees, travel, housing and living expenses.

Micah Kittel
Micah Kittel, of Portsmouth, a student in the Spanish International Engineering Program at the University of Rhode Island who won a Beatrice S. Demers award to study in Chile next year. Photo courtesy of Micah Kittel.

Kittel says he wouldn’t have been able to go overseas without his award. He’s in his fourth year of URI’s five-year International Engineering Program, which combines engineering with a language.

“To be frank, without the Demers scholarship I wouldn’t be going to Chile,” says Kittel, who is concentrating in ocean engineering and Spanish. “I’m beyond grateful. It has made my trip financially feasible. I’m extremely excited.”

Kittel and the other applicants were judged on their dedication to foreign language study; the likelihood that the program will promote language fluency; and the variety of languages and programs.

The Demers fund is open to all Rhode Island residents, not just students. Non-resident students who attend a Rhode Island college or university are also eligible. Preference is given to URI applicants.

Kittel is already a world traveler thanks to his parents, who “emphasized experiences instead of things” and encouraged their five children to be “citizens of the world.”

The family lived in Portugal for a year when Kittel was in fifth grade and in Costa Rica for three years when he was in high school. To get there, Kittel and his father drove a pickup truck 15 days across the United States and Central America.

“It was the trip of a lifetime that provided me with unique and tangible insights into the Hispanic culture,” he says, “as well as an unforgettable experience with my father.”

Living in Costa Rica he came to appreciate the Spanish language and culture. In Chile, he’ll study at La Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, taking language and engineering courses with Chilean students.

“That’s the beauty of the program,” he says. “I’ll be taking classes alongside native Chilean speakers. That’s the best way to learn the language.”

After graduating in 2018, he hopes to return to Chile, or another Spanish-speaking country, to work.

“That’s where I see myself spending my life and being the happiest,” he says. “The URI program has been the perfect preparation for me. I am confident the IEP will provide me with the tools to make that dream a reality.”

Mackenzie Mitchell, 20, of Coventry, a biomedical engineering student in the German International Engineering Program, will study at Technische Universität in Braunschweig for six months. After that, she hopes to work on sensors for another six months at Siemens Healthcare.

“I’m so thankful,” she says. “Money is always a struggle when it comes to school. I pay my own way. I was just so relieved to get this scholarship.”

Ethan McClure, of Wakefield, has been studying in Japan since October. The electrical engineering and mathematics major first lived in Tokyo, where he was a research student at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Now he’s living in Kyoto working at Shimadzu Corp., one of the leading scientific instrument makers in the world.

“I was honored to receive the Demers,” he says. “My time here in Japan has been incredibly interesting academically and culturally. The entire experience has been life-altering.”

“That’s the beauty of the program,” he says. “I’ll be taking classes alongside native Chilean speakers. That’s the best way to learn the language.”

The other Demers recipients are: Jean-Francois Brehany of Holden, Mass. (German); Andrew Brown of Brookline, N.H. (German); Ibrahim Brown of Colchester, Conn.; (German); Michaela Connell of Cumberland (French); Jose DaSilva of Providence (Spanish); Christopher Fraraccio of Ledgewood, N.J. (German); Matthew Freeman of Scituate, R.I. (Chinese); John Kahrs of Scituate, Mass. (French); Joseph Korzeb (Arabic); Kayla Lombardi of Saunderstown (German); Katherine O’Brien (Italian); Michael Palmer of Cranston (German); and Thomas Schubert of Concord, Mass. (German).

“Beatrice Demers believed in the transformative power of studying a language abroad in the country where it is spoken,” says Winifred E. Brownell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at URI. “She was a visionary who has provided phenomenal opportunities to our students and will do so in perpetuity. I knew Beatrice and am aware that she lived very modestly and invested wisely so that she could provide this leadership gift that substantially benefits URI students in their quest to become effective global professionals.”