Bon voyage: URI students win grants to study foreign languages overseas

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Fellowships named for former URI professor Beatrice S. Demers

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 16, 2014 – Mon Dieu! Natalie Tacy has been studying French since middle school, but has never set foot in the Gallic country. That’s about to change.

In three weeks, the University of Rhode Island senior will travel to France to study through the fall semester, thanks to a fellowship started by a former URI professor who loved languages.

Tacy is the winner of a grant from the Beatrice S. Demers Fund to study in southern France, north of Paris and, finally, at a university in Rennes in the country’s Brittany region.

“I’m thrilled,” says Tacy, of West Warwick, who is majoring in French and minoring in business. “It’s something I’ve been working toward for a long time. This is huge for me.”

Financial constraints have limited Tacy’s French-related travels to nearby Quebec. At the Institut d’Études Politiques in Rennes, she’ll take courses in sociology and international relations, as well as in the French language and culture.

“It’s such a beautiful language,” she says. “The French like to express their feelings and emotions – and they do it in their language.”

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. She was fluent in French, German and Spanish and studied Chinese and Russian in her 70s.

After her death in 2007, she left $4 million to the Rhode Island Foundation to establish the fund. The Foundation recently announced that 15 of the 18 Demers fellows are from URI. The URI students shared a total of $166,054 to study in France, Germany, Chile, China, Spain and Rwanda.

The fund provides fellowships to Rhode Island residents and anyone who is a student at a Rhode Island college or university studying a foreign language. Fellowships cover the cost of tuition, fees, travel, housing and living expenses.

Another winner, Brian Ramos, of North Providence, will spend a year at the International Space University in France and then travel to Rwanda for 11 weeks next summer, where he’ll learn the local language, Kinyarwanda. He’s pursuing his master’s degree in electrical engineering at URI, and he says knowing a foreign language is crucial in today’s global market.

“Africa has always been a place I wanted to go to,” he says. “As an engineer, I’d like to apply my skills to make the world a better place and help out others in a third world country.”

Lucas Hanson, a URI senior from New York City, is heading to the Technische Universitat Braunschweig in Germany for an academic year abroad. It will be his third trip to the country.

He started learning German in high school and continued at URI, where he is enrolled in the five-year international engineering program, or I.E.P., studying mechanical engineering and German. The program offers a dual degree in an engineering field and a language.

“German is a mathematical language,” he says. “It’s very straightforward. It’s a very proper language. It was easy for me to learn.”

Applicants were judged for their dedication to studying foreign languages; the likelihood that the proposed study program will promote foreign language fluency; and the diversity of languages studied and program types.

The other winners are: Norman R. Blanchard, (Spanish); Ian G. Calise, of East Providence, (German); Arielle M. De Souza, of Brooklyn, (French); Michael Ferrari, of Westport Point, Mass., (Mandarin); Alexander Giannakos (German); Amanda E. Junkins, of South Portland, Maine, (French); Paul J. Kintz, (German); Jillian Scott, of Wakefield, (French); Nelson A. Shepard (Spanish); Spencer D. Soucy, of Woonsocket, (French); Joseph P. Sullivan, of Warwick, (German); and Elizabeth A. Wynn, of Abington, Mass., (German).

Photos above: top, Natalie Tacy, of West Warwick; middle, Brian Ramos, of North Providence; and bottom, Lucas Hanson, of New York City, students at the University of Rhode Island who won Beatrice S. Demers fellowships to study a foreign language overseas. Photos courtesy of Natalie Tacy, Lucas Hanson and Brian Ramos.