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Rhode Island School of Design Launches Society of Presidential Fellows with Record-breaking Financial Aid Gifts to Advance Graduate Education

This first-of-its-kind fellowship program at RISD enables the college to recruit and support the most outstanding creative thinkers and makers worldwide by providing full-tuition fellowships to selected graduate students

PROVIDENCE, RI - Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is pleased to announce the launch of the Society of Presidential Fellows, which will provide full tuition and professional development opportunities to selected graduate students for the duration of their studies. Developed to recruit the most outstanding students worldwide and to support their efforts in pursuing an advanced degree at RISD, this program is made possible by a catalyst gift of $10 million and an additional gift from an alumna, marking the two largest gifts in support of financial aid in the college’s history.

“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 RISD President Rosanne Somerson. “RISD’s rigorous form of graduate education produces the world’s greatest creative thinkers, leaders and makers. 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. These exceptional students will work with faculty on research and creative projects, elevate the educational experience for all students and enhance the reputation of RISD’s graduate programs.”

An extraordinary anonymous gift of $10 million—the largest amount given for financial aid at RISD to date—was the catalyst for establishing this new fellowship program. The record gift was made with the hope of inspiring others to help build the program and one alumna immediately stepped up to the challenge: Hillary Blumberg (92 FAV) generously contributed the largest known gift for financial aid made by a graduate of the institution. Her gift permanently endows a graduate fellowship while providing separate funding to kickstart the broader program’s launch.

“As I know firsthand, the RISD experience is second to none for fledgling artists and those pursuing the creative professions,” shares Hillary Blumberg. “Yet the simple fact remains that however strong its reality and reputation, a RISD education is beyond the financial means of many. I share President Somerson’s vision for attracting and developing the world’s most promising grad students via full fellowships and innovative programming.”

The Society of Presidential Fellows exemplifies RISD’s focus on both enhancing advanced inquiry through its graduate programs and increasing access to these programs as articulated in the college’s new strategic plan, NEXT: RISD 2020–2027. In addition to receiving full-tuition 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. All students admitted to RISD’s graduate programs will be considered for the fellowship, with the first cohort identified beginning with the class entering in fall 2020.

“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 Department Head Dennis Congdon. “But our efforts to build a pool of applicants to create this big-tent forum have always been stymied by a lack of sufficient funds. The launch of the Society of Presidential Fellows 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.”

The record-setting gifts enabling the launch of the Society of Presidential Fellows build 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, and reflect the college’s commitment to continuing to build its fundraising capacity to better support its students and create a more sustainable financial model for the institution.

About Rhode Island School of Design
RISD’s mission, through its college and museum, is to educate students and the public in the creation and appreciation of works of art and design, to discover and transmit knowledge and to make lasting contributions to a global society through critical thinking, scholarship and innovation. The college’s strategic plan NEXT: RISD 2020-2027 sets an ambitious vision for educating students for the future and bringing creative practices to bear on the creation of just societies, a sustainable planet and new ways of making and knowing. RISD’s immersive model of art and design education, which emphasizes critical making through studio-based learning and robust study in the liberal arts, prepares students to intervene in the critical challenges of our time. Working with exceptional faculty and in extraordinary specialized facilities, 2,500 students from 69 countries engage in 42 full-time bachelor's and master's degree programs. RISD's 30,000 alumni worldwide testify to the impact of this model of education, exemplifying the vital role artists and designers play in today’s society. Founded in 1877, RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”) and the RISD Museum help make Providence, RI among the most culturally active and creative cities in the region. Find more information at risd.edu.