Public Engagement

Student group collaborating outside Bayard Ewing Building

RISD has long emphasized the value of public engagement and social responsibility as driving forces behind the approach to education here. Students research and study important contemporary issues through their studio and liberal arts courses and are encouraged to create work that addresses the public good. Through research, service initiatives, projects and programs in the public realm, they often work directly with local communities in developing ideas and solutions to specific needs.​

In the studio and beyond

RISD continues to build on its tradition of fostering responsible innovation and ethical engagement by offering travel and on-site courses, lectures, symposia and partnered studios with nonprofit organizations; co-curricular public service and volunteer opportunities; and extracurricular pathways for community service, projects and partnerships.

In recent years, students and faculty have been particularly focused on projects dealing with environmental sustainability, climate change, health care, urban renewal/adaptive reuse and community-based art and design initiatives.

Each year incoming students get involved with community service projects through the Pre-Orientation Service Experience (POSE) and current students volunteer to work with local children on the annual Martin Luther King Day of Service—one of several in our MLK Series of events honoring the legacy of Dr. King.

Community service opportunities

To enable students to engage in meaningful community service and other civic-minded activities, the Center for Student Involvement offers a voluntary workshop series called RISD LEADS, along with programs such as Alternative Spring Break and the annual MLK Day of Service. Students may also apply for a Leadership and Community Engagement (LACE) Fellowship, a year-long service program that grants $1,200 in support of educational expenses for 300 hours of public service.

In addition, Rhode Island Campus Compact (RICC), an affiliate of a national organization founded in Rhode Island in 1985, is a statewide coalition of colleges and universities committed to teaching the values of civic engagement and public leadership. It actively promotes public and community service as vital components of a well-rounded college education.

Volunteering through Project Open Door

Through Project Open Door (POD) student volunteers provide local teenagers from low-income families with free after-school art classes and portfolio preparation to help them apply to college and prepare for creative careers. As a program housed in RISD’s department of Teaching + Learning in Art + Design, POD not only gives underserved teens access to a high-quality art education, it provides aspiring artist-educators and in-service teaching professionals with a rewarding teaching experience.

Teenagers from urban public schools come to RISD to learn about drawing and the fundamentals of design. Since 2006 more than 500 teenagers have participated in Project Open Door and all seniors in the program apply to college, with the vast majority going on to earn degrees.​

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The Center for Complexity

A hub for project-based innovation and engagement, the Center for Complexity supports artists and designers in applying creative problem solving to address some of the world's most critical and intractable challenges. Workshops, symposia and other forms of public engagement give students and faculty resources for generating vital new insights through multidisciplinary design thinking and practice.

Artists, designers, scholars, workers and policy experts are among those who the center brings together in addressing a wide range of issues, including global security, public health and structures of care, and design and public policy. Focus in these critical contemporary issues is further bolstered by RISD's longstanding commitment to studio-based learning and civic-minded creative practice.


Support for STEAM

RISD has long valued the symbiosis between the arts and sciences, weaving cross-disciplinary exploration into various studio practices. In 2010, the college began to champion the addition of art and design to the national agenda of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education and research to develop a comprehensive educational model that would better prepare future generations to compete in the 21st-century innovation economy.

STEAM has since gained momentum across the globe—including on Capitol Hill—and is now widely adopted by institutions, corporations and leaders. Even the Sesame Workshop updated its longstanding STEM curriculum to STEAM as a means of reinforcing the ongoing value of the arts and humanities.

Today STEAM can be seen in practice across RISD’s curriculum from, for example, the RISD/Brown Dual Degree program to research and experimentation in Co-Works and the Nature Lab to graduate degree programs such as Digital + Media and a partnership with Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island to the Computation, Technology and Culture concentration and in studios across disciplines, including a longstanding NASA studio in Industrial Design.

For more information, contact Jaime Marland, senior director of Public Relations.​

Opportunities at the RISD Museum

The RISD Museum offers a wide variety of opportunities for students to engage with the general public through meaningful educational programs. Many gain service learning experiences working behind the scenes with curators and assisting with programs geared towards children and families.

Dorner Prize competition 
Each year undergraduate and graduate students are invited to submit proposals to create site-specific installations in the museum. Students selected to participate receive a cash prize and implementation funds for their projects.

Museum Guild
Selected undergraduate and graduate students participate in an intensive program on object-based learning that prepares them to facilitate public tours, discussions and other programs related to the museum’s collection. 

THAD Museum Fellows 
Students pursuing a concentration in the Theory and History of Art and Design can apply for semester-long internships to work in a curatorial or education department and earn credit for the experience.

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