R.I. Foundation honors 19 from URI as Inaugural class of Demers fellows

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 21, 2011 – Longtime University of Rhode Island professor Beatrice Demers loved foreign languages, and dedicated her life to educating others about different cultures.

Even after her death, Demers made sure her passion for the languages lived on. When she died in 2007, she left $4 million for The Rhode Island Foundation to establish the Beatrice S. Demers Fund.

On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Foundation announced the first class of Demers fellows, which included 18 students and one faculty member, all from URI. Chosen from a pool of 164 applicants, the fellows received a combined $187,000 in grant awards, each ranging from $1,000 to $25,000.

URI junior Kaylen Duarte – one of four recipients who will apply the grant toward the URI Chinese Language Flagship Partner Program – first heard about the fellowship program a year ago, when her mother saw a mention of it in the Providence Journal.

“My mom came running up to my room yelling, “Did you see this? You have to apply!” said Duarte, of Warwick.

Her mother’s advice was heeded, and Duarte was tabbed as part of the inaugural class. Also a journalism major, Duarte will spend her entire senior year in China, studying in all Chinese-speaking classes in the fall semester, and then interning with a Chinese media outlet in the spring.

“They say you can’t truly be fluent unless you study in a culture for an entire year, and this will allow me to do just that,” Duarte said. “When I finish the Flagship Program, I will be as fluent as the average Chinese college graduate.”

Marjorie Johnson finished her double major in French and philosophy last year, and has been teaching courses at URI this year. She will study for the next two years in Paris at L’école des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.

“I have to say, ‘Thank you,’ to Prof. Demers and the Rhode Island Foundation,” Johnson said. “This program is allowing so many of us to do incredible things.

“This is a perfect opportunity not only to speak French, but to live French.”

The 2011 fellows will pursue studies in French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Xhosa (one of the official languages of South Africa.)

“As a community foundation, our work is built around the interests and passions of our donors. Beatrice Demers cared deeply about the power of learning other languages as a way of understanding the world,” said Owen Heleen, vice president for grant programs at The Rhode Island Foundation. “The pool of applicants to the Fellowship program demonstrated this same dedication and passion for learning other languages and cultures. The quality of their work is a very positive sign for Rhode Island’s future in a competitive world economy.”

Applicants were judged according to dedication to foreign language study; likelihood the proposed program of study will promote a high level of foreign language fluency; and promoting diversity of languages studied, program types and individuals receiving fellowships. Preference is given to applicants from URI. Fellowships can cover the costs of tuition, fees, travel, housing, and living expenses.

“We are fortunate to see so many members of the URI academic community honored by the Rhode Island Foundation,” said Winifred E. Brownell, dean of URI’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Beatrice Demers had a love for and understood the transformative nature of foreign language study and global education, and we are proud to see today’s talented students and faculty members keeping her vision alive. The awards from the Rhode Island Foundation provide critical support for these honorees to continue their study of foreign languages as they prepare to contribute to the global community.”

Receiving fellowships were Duarte, Johnson, Narvan Hilliard (Chinese), Patrick Slavin (Chinese), Hui Chen (Chinese), Ryan Scullin (Japanese), Tess Scavuzzo-Duggan (French), Cynthia Perez (Chinese), Aylssa Zisk (Chinese), Christine Ryan (Spanish), Christopher Andraka (Chinese), Daniel Belbey (German), Andy Rithiphong (Chinese), Ethan Ash (Chinese), Kayla Belanger (French), Megan Banner (Xhosa), Silay Doak (Chinese), Elizabeth Morais (Chinese, URI student/CCRI faculty) and Blaire Gagnon (Spanish, URI faculty).