Thanks to an anonymous gift of $10 million—the largest amount ever earmarked for financial aid—and a second significant gift, RISD is launching a new fellowship program to support graduate study.
Starting with fall 2020 admissions, accepted graduate students selected for the Society of Presidential Fellows will attend RISD tuition-free for the duration of their studies. These outstanding students from around the world will also benefit from professional development opportunities.
“It’s wonderful to be able to establish this first-of-its-kind fellowship program at RISD thanks to the incredibly generous support of two donors,” notes President Rosanne Somerson. “We’re intent on dramatically enhancing our competitiveness in recruiting and retaining the top tier of prospective graduate students and with this fellowship we can now increase access to this education, bringing unique and critical new voices into our community.”
The new Society of Presidential Fellows opportunity represents a significant step towards addressing two priorities articulated in RISD’s 2020–27 strategic plan: enhancing advanced inquiry through graduate study and increasing access to these programs.
In addition to receiving full fellowships for the duration of their studies, students will connect with thought leaders in art and design through special events and with alumni through dedicated mentors.
Inspired by the initial gift of $10 million, alumna Hillary Blumberg 92 FAV added to the fellowship endowment with the largest contribution ever from a RISD graduate in support of financial aid. “As I know firsthand, the RISD experience is second to none for fledgling artists and those pursuing the creative professions,” she says. “Yet the simple fact remains that... a RISD education is beyond the financial means of many.”
The new funding for the SPF program builds on RISD’s unprecedented fundraising success during the 2018/19 fiscal year, which closed on June 30 with a total of $30.6 million raised.
These increases in philanthropic support reflect a commitment spelled out in the strategic plan to expand RISD’s fundraising capacity to increase financial aid. Like many other private colleges, RISD is also working to build a more sustainable, less tuition-driven financial model for covering operating expenses.
With the rising cost of higher education, these priorities have become increasingly urgent at RISD and elsewhere.
“For many years our faculty has worked very hard to build an immersive program that is inclusive and diverse, and allows our graduate students to participate in a vigorous dialogue with community leaders, visiting artists, faculty and each other,” says Professor and former Painting Department Head Dennis Congdon 75 PT.
Until now these “efforts to build a pool of applicants to create this big-tent forum have always been stymied by a lack of sufficient funds,” Congdon continues. But the Society of Presidential Fellows program “is like the sun breaking through dark clouds. This new fellowship supports everything we’ve been working on and recognizes the urgency of this progressive mission.”
—Liisa Silander / photos by David O’Connor