Rise to the Challenge
Alaa Eid ’17 was looking for ways to get involved with the community when she joined the Student Alumni Association as a sophomore at URI. “SAA seemed like a good way to touch upon everything happening at URI,” says Eid, a biomedical engineering major. “I loved the community service aspect of events like the Nearly Naked Mile and nursing home visits.”
So when she stumbled upon RISE International, an organization that focuses on bringing opportunities for education to children in the remote regions of Angola, its mission instantly hit home. “Since we’re students, I liked the idea of helping support education for others.”
After reaching out to RISE, Eid was surprised to find that, while there were a number of elementary and high schools involved in efforts to raise money for the organization, there were no other higher ed institutions. With her fellow SAA community outreach branch members Ian Kanterman and Jenna Cote, Eid organized a series of RISE fundraisers, including a holiday photo booth and Pie for Rise, where SAA members took pies to the face for $1 each. Over the past school year, SAA was able to raise $336 for the organization, the cost of sending one child to school. “In our first year, our goal was to help get the word out,” says Eid. This year, Eid and fellow SAA members have set a goal to raise $900.
While Eid loves the work SAA does within the URI and local community, she feels that their support for RISE adds an important element to their work. “It’s easy to get focused on what’s happening in our own lives and forget what’s going on around the world,” she says. “I liked the idea of helping people even when you can’t directly see the impact.”
Pictured: SAA community outreach branch members Ian Kanterman, Jenna Cote, and Alaa Eid
“I failed cutting in kindergarten,” jokes Emily Pisano ’14. Although she knew early on she wasn’t cut out for design, she never doubted her future was in fashion. As co-owner of Tesoro Design, she oversees business and marketing for the Pennsylvania-based leather goods company, which specializes in handcrafted wallets, clutches, purses, and bags. She also puts her love of magazines and writing to work as co-creator of gleek, a funny and insightful style blog, where she shares behind-the-scenes insights and curates style inspiration along with Tesoro founder Brit Reed. A textiles/merchandising/design major and French minor while at URI, Pisano has a knack for bringing her passions together. “I was always the person who would show up in fire red ballet flats and printed floral pants,” she recalls. “You can pull off anything, as long as you have confidence. And lipstick.”
She talked with us about her work.
When did you become interested in fashion?
Ever since I can remember. When I was little, my mom would sometimes put me in clothes and then wonder why I was in a bad mood all day––it was because I hated my outfit and wanted to dress myself! I’ve always been shy, so for me, fashion is a way to communicate.
Tell us about Tesoro.
Brit and I met working in a vintage clothing store after college. She had gone to school for fashion design at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), and she was designing bags on the side by custom order only. She does beautiful work, and I was happy to hop on board to support her. Last year, we found an angel investor and had the chance to leave our jobs and pursue Tesoro full-time. We launched the website in February 2016.
How did you find an angel investor?
There was a woman who used to come into the store, and we became friendly with her. She introduced us to her husband. He’s a successful entrepreneur, and his way of giving back is to find other young entrepreneurs to support. He called us one day to come over for a meeting and offered us this opportunity. I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it. It took me about a month to process it.
Your products are made in America. Why is that important to you?
In one of my classes at URI, we learned about global sourcing and how that process affects people. There are companies who don’t realize there are children working in their factories; it gets really hard to manage when you send things abroad. It’s expensive to stay in America, but that just made me want to work harder to find a way to do it. We try to source as much leather as possible from the States; years down the road, we want to be completely sustainable.
As a fashionista, why did you choose URI?
I had always wanted to go to school in the city, but none of them offered the study abroad experience that URI did. The fashion program and French program at URI pairs so nicely. I spent my junior year in Paris. There is no way to describe living among those buildings or walking outside and seeing the Eiffel Tower.
What is your advice for people pursuing a career in the fashion industry?
Don’t be scared––go for it! Hard work will get noticed.
Sarah Ferry '11 (first row, second from left) with the Westerly High School marching band. Also pictured, percussion instructor and URI student Mark McPhillips (bottom left) and color guard instructor and URI alum Abigail Cornell '11 (bottom right).
When Sarah Ferry ’11 was hired to teach music at Westerly High School, there were less than 20 students in the school’s marching and concert bands combined. Less than two years after she took the baton, enrollment quadrupled—just one reason School Band and Orchestra magazine named her on its national list of “50 Directors Who Make a Difference” earlier this year. What attracts so many students to her classes? She shared one surprising secret behind her success.
What do you enjoy about your job?
It’s nice to give kids an opportunity to do something without a cell phone in their hands, especially an activity where they are all contributing to a larger product. It’s very rewarding.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Overall enrollment. When I first started, marching band had 12 students and concert band had seven. Now, there are almost 80 students, including the dance line and color guard.
Why do you think you’ve been able to attract so many new students?
My standards are high. I hold kids accountable, which was difficult for them at first, but they realized how rewarding it is to achieve at a high level.
How do you motivate the students to work hard?
I believe the students are capable of just about anything. Just because I teach high school doesn’t mean I am trying to get them to play at a high school level. I want them to be the best they can be. I think people in general are capable of much more than they’re asked to do.
What is their favorite music to play?
I’ll play different pieces and get their feedback to see what they react to emotionally. They actually love romantic Russian music; for example, Tchaikovsky, whose compositions are very challenging to master technically and musically. We also do popular music, like a tribute to Michael Jackson, that’s relatable and entertaining for our football audiences.
What advice would you give aspiring musicians?
The advice I learned from my URI music professors—not to turn down any opportunity to work or perform. You’ll be surprised what you can get out of it.
Watch the video link above to see Sarah's students in action!
Jason E. Smith ’10 isn’t sure what first intrigued him about ancient cultures and creation myths, but he remembers watching Hercules with his grandfather as a kid. “I think it’s my first memory of being interested in mythology,” he says. The gorgeous manifestation of his lifelong fascination is now on display at Newport Art Museum in his first solo exhibition, “Outer Myths.
We talked with him about his work and his advice for artists.
Tell us about “Outer Myths."
It’s the culmination of my body of work since I finished school––sixteen pieces, inspired by mythology and creation stories from cultures around the world. [I worked in] pointillism, using oil and acrylic paint markers on Dura-Lar (acetate crossed with mylar). I like it for its reflective properties; you can layer it, pass through it, create shadows.
I wanted something that would pop to the eye. I love the detail of it.
When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
It’s something I always wanted, but it took me a long time to commit. I just didn’t like the idea of being a starving artist. But I got a scholarship at URI and decided to be serious about it. It seems like it was destiny.
What inspires you about creation stories and mythology?
I have always had an interest in things that are hidden or mysterious. In my next theme of work, I want to [explore] lost races, ancient times, things history books don’t cover. I notice there’s a timeline where there was a suppression, where things happened to change history or what the public knows. I want to understand why.
What’s it like to have your first solo exhibition?
It’s pretty cool. I’m very grateful for the experience, especially since I’m just five years out of college.
It's inspiring to see that kind of success. What’s your advice to other artists who are starting out?
I think you have to be hard on yourself, always pushing yourself. Sometimes I look at another person’s work and see how they could take it a step further. You have to do something outside the box.
"Outer Myths" is on display at Newport Art Museum until May 15 in the Wright Gallery.
Read more about Jason’s work.
Pictured: There were Giants in the earth in those days (Africa), oil and acrylic on Dura-Lar, 27"x21," 2015.
Robinson “Wally” Fulweiler M.S. ’03, Ph.D. ’07 can tell you about double-edged swords. “You can’t have life without nitrogen—no me or you or blue whales,” she says. “But like anything, too much causes a series of negative consequences."
Fulweiler has devoted much of the past 15 years to studying those consequences, specifically how our use of nitrogen—in fertilizers, for example, or from sewage and septic runoff—can cause harmful conditions, such as toxic algae blooms or ocean dead zones. “Our coastal ecosystems are important because they provide services we care about,” she says. “They filter nutrients, and they provide habitats for important organisms, especially fish, which means we also rely on them for economic, nutritional, and recreational benefits."
Fulweiler was honored as a “Rising Star” at the URI Distinguished Achievement Awards in November in recognition of her work, which has played a vital role in better understanding human impact on oceans—and how we can protect against further damage. “I’m an optimist,” she says. “Messages of despair don’t help anybody. We have a lot of work to do and serious issues ahead, but I have no doubt we can do it."
She answered our five questions:
1. How did you become interested in this work?
I grew up in Rhode Island and spent most of my summers either in or on the water. But it actually took me until the summer before my senior year of college before I realized this was what I wanted to do. I was hired to work in [late URI Oceanography Professor] Scott Nixon’s lab the summer before my senior year. Within a month, I fell in love with marine research.
2. What have been some of the most important findings in your research so far?
Overall, I think the key findings of our research are that we have seen how human activities on both local and global scales can drastically impact coastal ecosystems in remarkable and often unpredictable ways. Such results really challenge how we plan and manage for the future.
3. Many people feel the problems of climate change are too huge for individuals to make a difference. Do you think people can make a real difference in their daily lives?
I absolutely think people’s everyday actions make a real world difference. If we demand alternate energy sources or consume less meat, we will help drive the economy toward those options. It has to start somewhere – so why not with you? We also need to expand our actions: pick up litter on the beach, write a letter to your senator, vote – please vote. I think we forget how powerful each of us can be. It's like that quote about the mosquito from the Dalai Lama XIV: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito."
4. What is most challenging about your work?
Time management and funding. There’s so much I want to do, and juggling it all is a constant battle. As for funding, that is always a challenge but it’s been particularly tough over the last few years. Basic and applied sciences are keys to our future and I am hopeful that our government will prioritize science funding in the future.
5. What do you enjoy most about your work?
There’s not much I don’t like about my work. The best part of my job is working with smart, talented, motivated students. It’s an amazing thing to play a role in a student becoming a scientist and expert in their field. Then there is the actual discovery of something - a pattern in the data, a story not told before, a mystery uncovered. That’s a wonderful, deeply satisfying, and addictive moment.
Fulweiler is an associate professor at Boston University. You can read more about her work at www.fulweilerlab.com.
Photo credit: Melody Komyerov
From Pond to PBS
When Perry Raso ’02, M.S. ’07 was digging clams as a kid in South Kingstown, he never dreamed he would someday help establish Rhode Island as an oyster capital. Now, the owner of the seven-acre Matunuck Oyster Farm is a key advocate for sustainable aquaculture and a pioneer of the pond-to-plate movement, epitomized by his organic vegetable farm and hugely popular Matunuck Oyster Bar restaurant. On Wednesday, November 25, he’ll be featured on the nationally syndicated PBS show “Start Up,” which highlights inspirational entrepreneurs around the country.
He talked to us about the show, hard work, and a life-changing message on the sidewalk.
1. What will we see on the show?
The show is mostly about the process of starting up a business. I started out as a shellfisherman and studied aquaculture and fisheries technology in school. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I got an educational grant to teach people about aquaculture. I started a farm, went to graduate school, and when I finished, I was selling enough oysters that I was able to invest in a little clam shack restaurant. I hadn’t planned to own a restaurant, but I needed the commercial docks. The restaurant expanded rapidly. We started with about 20 or 30 employees, and now we are over 200, between the oyster farm, organic vegetable farm and restaurant.
2. What can aspiring entrepreneurs learn from your success?
You have to put a lot of time into whatever your goal is. You’ve got to start somewhere; you’re never going to start out where you want to end up. And sometimes, where you wind up isn’t even where your original goal was. I didn’t expect to be where I am today or have the success I’ve achieved—the business of oyster farming is a slow and steady business, and the restaurant industry is highly volatile. Owning a restaurant was never something I thought I wanted, but it turned out that being able to serve and be in contact with the customers, having all these connections with other farmers, business owners, and purveyors, and then working with my employees—chefs, servers, busboys—expanded my understanding of business in general.
3. What else has contributed to your success?
The professors I had at URI, the time they put into me, and the fisheries program made all the difference for me. My professors made me understand the amount of work that I was going to need to put into it. By no means was it all fun—some of what I was learning at school was very difficult and wasn’t even something I was interested in—but I got the support I needed.
4. How did you end up at URI?
I started out as a wrestler in college, and for my first two years, I went to University of Northern Colorado. I loved the mountains, but I’m from South Kingstown and I missed the ocean and having that connection to the water. So, I came back to Rhode Island, where I could study marine science and was able to pay for tuition by digging shellfish.
5. You’ve been an advocate for sustainable aquaculture all over the world. Can you talk about the work you’ve done abroad?
One of the biggest changes in my life was traveling to Africa when I was a student. I was literally walking down the sidewalk, and it was written in chalk in front of the Multicultural Center that you could apply for a Feinstein scholarship to Cape Verde. I applied and went to Cape Verde that summer and studied the potential for aquaculture there. It made me realize how different life is in other parts of the world. I decided I wanted to keep working in developing countries. Since then, I’ve done projects in Tanzania, Ethiopia and China, working with fishermen to help them market and process their fish better, or working with oyster farmers to help them understand better techniques of harvesting and storing. But usually I learn more than I teach. I love doing it.
“Start Up” will air November 25 at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. WSBE TV is on Channel 36.2 over the air and 806 on Cox, 478 on Verizon, and 89 on Full Channel. For additional viewing information, go to the WSBE website, ripbs.org.
In August 2015, Dr. Sheyna Gifford M.S. ’06 joined five NASA crew members to live in a dome atop Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii for a yearlong simulated mission to Mars. Gifford is serving as the crew’s chief medical officer (plus, crew safety officer and journalist).
We asked her five questions about life on another planet.
1. How did you become involved with the Mars simulation?
I've been working towards a mission to Mars since I was 18. When I wasn't studying astrophysics, I was involved with a project to help design spacesuits for Mars, participating in a cosmological survey or building a supercomputer to crunch data for the astronomy department. To help pay for school, I also worked on building a satellite, HESSI, which still flies. Shortly after it was completed, my astrophysics adviser and my father both suffered strokes. In the wake of those events, I became a neuroscientist and went to medical school. Bringing the medicine and biotechnology I learned back to NASA was a way to close the loop.
2. What is your typical day like?
After I wake up, I usually do a little yoga, drink a cup of tea, have breakfast and check email. Around mid-morning, we sometimes have to get in our spacesuits and do an EVA (extra vehicular activity) outside the dome. Often, we have experiments to run. All told, we work about 12 hours a day.
3. What have been some of the greatest challenges in your experience so far?
On Mars, even the most mundane tasks require a lot of planning. I'll give you an example: breakfast. If you want toast and yogurt for breakfast tomorrow, you need to start the bread rising and the yogurt culturing the morning before. That's the amount of thought and effort that the smallest meal of the day takes. Another significant challenge is spacesuits. The process of prepping them, donning them, moving around in them, doffing them, cleaning them, and hanging them up again takes up a lot of the day.
4. What has been most enjoyable about life on simulated Mars so far?
I most like the companionship, the opportunity to test my mettle as a physician and a researcher, and being involved with a NASA Mars Mission. We are doing some truly excellent science up here: learning how to grow plants using recycled water; making our own plant fertilizer from food scraps; finding novel ways to generate power; and keeping ourselves healthy with limited types of food and space to exercise.
5. What are some unexpected ways you foresee life on Mars being socially or culturally different from life on Earth?
On simulated Mars, we dedicate an intense amount of time and energy to conserving water and power, to cultivating and growing food, and to conducting experiments. Early colony life on Mars will center around having enough air, water, and nutrition to survive. After living in a culture focused on those activities, it will likely be very challenging to live in or on a world that revolves around consumption. Imagine a person accustomed to checking the solar panel output before they so much as make coffee or flip a light switch being dropped into Time Square. That person isn't going to see beauty. She or he is going to see excess, or, at least, flagrant misdirection of resources.
That will likely be Earth from the point of view of Mars: a place that provides the things Martians need to survive, but a place that in and of itself pays little attention to its own survival.
You can read more about Gifford’s work and the Mars simulation at hi-seas.org and on her blog, livefrommars.life.
Move-In Day 1967
In the fall of 1967, twin sisters Jeanne and Sue Bursley of Barrington, RI, moved into Barlow Residence Hall at URI—with a little help from their parents.
We caught up with Jeanne Bursley Grimes '71, who now lives in Portsmouth, RI, and sent her this archival photo and asked her to tell us a little about it. The picture brought back a flood of memories:
"That's me, crouching down by the luggage, and my sister, Sue standing up with our parents.
I remember that old clock radio: In my junior year, I was a contestant in the Miss America pageant (Jeanne was Miss Rhode Island 1969), and the local radio deejay Salty Brine (morning deejay on WPRO-AM and host of the Channel 12 show Salty's Shack) would play a wake-up song for me every day: the Monkee's Daydream Believer.
That's an iron at the bottom of the photo—we actually brought an iron with us. Who brings an iron to school any more?! Everything we wore had to be perfectly pressed.
The two tall boxes next to the radio are Underwood typewriters. My father had bought us each a typewriter so we could do our work. That's a very special memory. I remember exactly where we bought them—on Warren Avenue in East Providence. You go through life and there are certain things that you hang on to; my typewriter was one of the most difficult things I ever had to part with.
Moving into the dorm was pretty exciting. There were three girls to a room, and I think Sue and I were across the hall from each other. The boys from the fraternities came around that first evening to welcome us in their "special" way...
For this week's incoming class, I'll say this: Be open to meeting new friends and learning about them, and be very observant about things going on around you at all times. That's what I always tell my children."
Field of Dreams
This summer, Katrina Meehan '10
launched Field of Artisans
, a summer arts market that has been making pop-up weekend appearances at various locations around Rhode Island (this Fourth of July Weekend you'll find the market at Old Mountain Field
in South Kingstown: Saturday from 1–6 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m.–4 p.m.). Field of Artisans is the culmination of Katrina's dream to create a public space to collaborate with talented area artists.
We asked Katrina five questions about her fun new venture. 1. What was the inspiration for Field of Artisans?
I'm originally from South Kingstown, but I've been living in NYC for the past five years. n NYC, I started making my own jewelry. There are many outlets in the city for people who want make a living from their artwork. Wanting to move back to southern Rhode Island, I was in search of a way to consistently sell, network with creative people, and gain exposure. Finding nothing in the area that was completely art-based and consistent on a weekly basis, I decided to create Field of Artisans, a place that fosters and encourages collaboration, new ideas, and creative networking. 2. How did your idea make the transition from dream to reality?
After creating the concept of Field of Artisans, I started connecting with creative people whose work I admire. I started building this wonderful, motivated, and artistic network of people who are passionate to grow the art scene—not only in Rhode Island, but in New England as well. We have vendors from all over New England, but also a healthy sampling of URI alumni selling all types of work, from graffiti to collage, photography, henna, prints, and beyond. 3. Tell us what a first-time visitor to one of the markets could expect to see.
Every time you visit Field of Artisans you'll feel like a first-time visitor. We have some vendors who are consistently selling with us each weekend, and we also have spots that are consistently rotating with new talent. At any given market, you may come across a musician, live painting, a yoga class, or a collaboration between two vendors who have just met. 4. You majored in Fashion Merchandising at URI. Is there one thing you learned at URI that has really stuck with you?
I remember having Kate Brierley of the Newport boutique Isoude come speak to one of my classes. She explained that a successful fashion career requires a solid and open understanding of art and culture, both past and current. I couldn't agree more! 5. What goes through your head when you walk through the market and see it filled with happy artisans and shoppers?
I can't wait to see which artists end up working together. I want Field of Artisans to facilitate the most unexpected and unique partnerships. Collaborate to Elevate!
On the Road Again
Pat and Joan Cronin ’91 and their four children will be making their television debut this Wednesday at 10 p.m. when they star in an episode of Going-RV on the Great American Country Channel (the episode will have repeat airdates—check here for full listings information).
We checked in with Pat and Joan to find out about the experience, and to ask them what they love about their RV life.
1. Give us your best TV Guide-style description of Going-RV for alums who aren’t familiar with it.
Joan: It’s a show about couples and families who are looking for a new RV to fit their travel needs. You watch the family from the process of looking for an RV right through to taking it on the first vacation.
2. How and why did the Cronin family get selected to be on the show?
Joan: Pat found a casting call on a Facebook page and asked me if I thought it would be fun. Truthfully, he did most of the leg work and surprised me when he said that they were interested in us. I was completely shocked when he told me we’d been chosen! When the crew was here to film, they told us we were selected because we were one of the few applicants from New England, and they loved the idea that we had four kids.
Pat: Here's an excerpt of the application I initially sent: "I recently read on Facebook that you are interested in finding families that recently purchased a new RV. My family just purchased a 2014 Fleetwood Bounder 34b motor home. We began RV-ing about six years ago after much pushing from me. We purchased a used travel trailer and loved it—we even pulled it from Rhode Island to Disney our first year. We upgraded to a new travel trailer a year later and recently bought a new Class A after again much pushing from me. This will make those longer trip to Myrtle Beach, Florida, and other areas much more comfortable for our family of six. It goes without saying that I love camping and my boys do, too. My wife says that I talk about nothing else... LOL."
3. You spent two-and-a-half days being followed by a TV crew — what was that like?
Joan: It was a blast! We had a ton of laughs with the crew, who made the experience so much fun. They were awesome with our kids and very understanding when one (or more!) were, shall we say, less than cooperative. They referred to us as “the talent,” which we all found completely amusing. You definitely learn a lot about what goes into making a TV show! Lots of down time, lots of takes of the same thing, with slight variations. It really was one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of experiences!
Pat: Consistency in the weather and what we wore seemed to be the most crucial things, because the filming was not done in the order that you see on the show. We had to shift the schedule one day when the forecast was for rain and we hadn’t finished filming a particular exterior scene. So the next day we had to finish that scene. It was important that the weather and our appearances remained the same throughout, and that we remembered exactly what we wore each day (and no clothes with logos—not even a URI sweatshirt!
4. Give us a little history of how you and your family got hooked on RVs.
Pat: I RV-ed growing up and enjoyed it very much. My family did short and long trips, and some summers we even spent a month at a time at a local campground where my father would commute back to Providence for work. I made good friends and built a ton of childhood memories that I wanted for my kids. I also selfishly missed the campfires and adventures that RV-ing provides.
Joan: Unlike Pat, I was a very reluctant camper (meaning: I really had no desire to camp). Pat finally convinced me to give it a try, with the promise that it would be a great way for us to travel affordably—and frequently—with four kids. I would kind of be lying if I said I loved it from day one. Over the years, though, I can say that I have come around. We have done some really awesome trips, and our kids have seen spots that we probably wouldn’t have seen if we weren't traveling this way. And now, with a motor home instead of a pull trailer, the experience is so much better. No kids crammed in the back seat occasionally (okay, more than occasionally) fighting, the ability to take the occasional nap while traveling and not feel like a pretzel, and so many other reasons make me feel like we really made the right move.
5. What’s your best advice for any alums who might be thinking about taking their own RV road trip?
Pat: For me, I don’t mind driving—and I love to seeing the country and not just flying from point A to point B. It’s also a cost savings to us with a family of six. Campgrounds are significantly cheaper than hotel rooms, and we bring our own food. If we are going on a long trip, I try to pick out some interesting places to stop to break up the ride. But even the weekend getaways are relaxing. It’s like having a summer home on wheels. Unlike the travel trailer, which was pulled by a large SUV, the motor home allows the entire family to be in the RV while traveling. Kids can sleep, watch movies in their bunks, make a sandwich, and no more “Dad can you stop I have to go to the bathroom”.
Joan: I am lucky, because Pat does all of the planning when it comes to our vacations in the RV. I would say, though, from watching him, do your research on the campsites. Make sure they have what you are looking for—whether it’s a great pool, ocean front, or other amenity. I know Pat visits a lot of blogs and websites. People who love camping love talking about it and sharing advice, so you can get great tips and info online. And I would say, do it! At least once, take an RV trip and experience a very different way of traveling and seeing America.