URI faculty giving and still giving

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KINGSTON, R.I. –June 14, 2006—When James Prochaska of Wakefield, director of the University of Rhode Island’s Cancer Prevention Research Center and psychology professor, received the $25,000 Elizabeth Ann Fries Health Education Award funded by the Health Trac Foundation last winter, he donated $20,000 of it to the University to enhance graduate student training.

The internationally recognized professor is just one of a number of educators at the University who contribute to their students and their professions. But few people are aware that URI professors also fund scholarships, professorships, student awards and more. They donate while they are working and they donate after they retire.

Just in a recent six-month period, for example, a number of faculty members contributed more than $5,000 each, demonstrating that generosity is yet another lesson these educators impart. While some prefer to keep their philanthropy anonymous, others shared their thoughts in hope that their donations would inspire to give.

“Although the award given was to me, there are lots of people who have contributed to the important work we have done, including our graduate students,” says Prochaska whose landmark model of behavior change is recognized and employed around the world. “I also did it to point out that this is the worst funding time in health-related grants that I have seen in my career. Although the Center has been fortunate to receive four recent grants, I’m concerned about the future for these students who are the next generation of behavioral change researchers and psychologists. We have to do more,” the highly-regarded researcher says.

“The status of women in society is an issue of great concern, not only for women, but for everyone,” says Dorothy F. Donnelly of Providence, explaining why she felt strongly about donating $25,000 to establish an endowed scholarship in women’s studies. Income from the endowment will fund scholarships for undergraduates majoring in that discipline. “I wanted my gift to provide educational opportunities for students, advance the status of women in general, and strengthen URI’s nationally-recognized women’s studies program,” the English professor says.

Harold Knickle of Warwick has taught chemical engineering for 37 years, and when he served as associate dean, he helped create a freshman retention program. To show his lasting commitment, Knickle and his wife Sharon established The Knickle Family Freshman Scholarship, which is awarded at the end of the freshman academic year. He recently added $5,000 to the scholarship. “I want to encourage freshmen to stay in the program,” the engineer says.

Two students carrying out honors projects and a third postdoctoral fellow who recently graduated from URI were able to explore the genes of moths and butterflies, thanks to Marian Goldsmith, chair of biological sciences who funded their work with a $5,000 donation. “I welcome the chance to train students at all levels in my lab and introduce them to areas of research which are at the leading edge of biology today,” the Wakefield resident says.

When Debbie Brown, a nursing professor from Foster and her beau got married in 1996, they established the Godfrey Brown Leadership Award and asked their guests to donate to this fund in place of gifts. “We didn’t need stuff,” explains the nursing professor, “since it was the second time around for both of us.” The Godfrey Brown Leadership Award is given annually to a graduating senior. “I helped develop the senior leadership course when our undergraduate curriculum was revised. Our capstone course, Nursing 474, helps to develop leadership skills in seniors getting ready to enter the workforce,” she says. This year, Brown added $5,000 to the award. “I came upon an unexpected windfall and donated it,” she says.

Still giving…

When Stan Cobb retired last year, some of his family, friends, and colleagues donated funds for his use. “After some reflection, I decided that what I wanted most was to support our marine biology degree and the students involved in the program,” says Cobb who recently added $5,000 to an endowment. “Why? I guess the best answer is that I have spent 35 years teaching at URI and have been greatly enriched by my students—graduate and undergraduate. This is one way I can say thanks,” the Kingston resident says.

Nancy Potter’s grandmother, a Civil War widow, saved every penny she could to fund her future granddaughter’s education. Motivated by a $100 award she won at college, Potter continues to contribute to the Nancy Potter Scholarship, which was established by colleagues and friends when she retired in 1989. Recently she contributed $10,000 to the fund. “We must advocate for motivated and exciting students and try to support them. What they give to society is incalculable,” says the West Kingston resident.

“The older you get you think about the real values of education. Many believe it’s about the earning power,” says the professor emerita of English who turned 80 this June. “But education is much more than that, it provides you with a well-furnished mind and gives you the pleasure of contemplation.”

Richard Vangermeersch of Narragansett spent 38 years at the University—taking classes at the Providence “extension” in the late 50s, working as a teaching assistant for two years while earning his master’s degree and teaching accounting for the College of Business Administration for 33 years. “That’s something for someone who’s only 52,” says the retired professor known for his joviality.

When he retired in ’04, he sent up a “trial balloon” to see if he, his friends and colleagues could raise $250,000 to establish a named professorship in accounting. The balloon floated. So far, 220 people have donated to endowment, including Vangermeersch who recently threw an additional $32,000 into the pot. “Some other schools have dozens of professorships, which not only honor the person, but are prestigious for the college and the department. And it’s good for the University.”

Pictured above

URI professors (seated l-r) Stan Cobb and Richard Vangermeersch, (standing l-r) Dorothy Donnelly, Jim Prochaska, Harold Knickle, and Marian Goldsmith. URI Photo by Nora Lewis.