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Donors Rally to Support RISD Students

Donors Rally to Support RISD Students

2021–22 ranks among RISD’s top five years for fundraising and sets a new record for volunteering and other forms of community involvement.

deep shadows on RISD Beach

photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

The RISD community showed its strength during the 2021–22 fiscal year (which ended on June 30), with donors rallying to better support students, promote accessibility and equity of opportunity, and deliver on its commitment to social justice by giving generously to financial aid, including by establishing new scholarships and new fellowships.

This has an immediate impact on students like Husna Swaleh Abubakar MFA 24 GD, who will pursue an MFA in Graphic Design with full tuition covered through the newly established LoveFrom, Presidential Fellowship, one of three new fellowships added to the prestigious program this past year. Originally from Mombasa, Kenya, Abubakar plans to investigate ideas of Swahili identity, exploring pre-colonization and modern Swahili culture through print design, typography and Arabic lettering, photography, film and textiles. 

portrait of Abubakar Husna
Husna Swaleh Abubakar MFA 24 GD is one of seven new Presidential Fellows welcomed into the RISD community this fall.

Abubakar chose RISD, she says, because it “felt the most inclusive and would best support the direction I was going in with my graphic design development. It just felt like the right fit for me.”

Abubakar says her fellowship does more than simply allow her to enroll at RISD. “Being offered the fellowship has impacted me on a much deeper level than just being supported to attend school,” she explains. “I will be the first to receive a master’s in my family, and attaining a high level of education will change the trajectory of my lineage. It sounds dramatic, but it truly has changed everything for me and how I see my future moving forward after RISD.”

three-student selfie at Tech Trek event
Muhammad Haroon Waseem MID 23, JuYeon (Joanne) Lee 23 TX and Ivy Chen BRDD 24 FAV explore San Francisco during Tech Trek 22.

Philanthropy enabled RISD to increase its financial aid budget by 14 percent and to increase the cost of attendance by just 2.5 percent, the lowest increase since 1975.

“We want the world’s most promising creatives to find a home at RISD, and we want to amplify and honor their potential,” says President Crystal Williams. “Financial aid is a critical way we can support talented students and help them develop as artists, designers and thinkers. I am heartened by the action our RISD community has taken to uplift students through generous giving.”

“We want the world’s most promising creatives to find a home at RISD, and we want to amplify and honor their potential.”

President Crystal Williams

Beyond tuition support, donors strengthened programs that expand student access to personal and professional development, global experiences and funding for materials. One example is the launch of RISD Limited Editions, which benefits the Student Opportunity Fund via sales of limited-edition prints by alumni artists including RISD Trustee Shepard Fairey 92 IL/21 HD and Cindy Ji Hye Kim 13 IL. 

limited-edition print by Cindy Kim
RISD Limited Editions benefits the Student Opportunity Fund through the sale of alum-created prints like Mott Haven, March 2020 by Cindy Ji Hye Kim 13 IL.

Another example is the new Tech Trek program. Lead gifts from parents and alumni provided 20 students with a weeklong immersive experience exploring the tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area. The ​program blended on-site company visits, product demonstrations, panels with alumni and networking opportunities, all designed to help students better understand how their work at RISD can translate into careers in technology. Additional treks to expose students to other industries are being planned in the coming year. 

Additionally, a bequest established a new postgraduate opportunity at the RISD Museum: the Helen Cusick-Kenny Curatorial Fellowship in the Costume and Textiles Department funds a three-year fellowship combining hands-on experience caring for an important museum collection with teaching object-based classes.

group shot during Tech Trek 2022
The first annual Tech Trek allowed 20 RISD students to explore the tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area. photo by Kate Sawicki

Volunteerism at RISD has grown tremendously, with a record number of 2,904 alumni, families and friends participating in a variety of programs. This number has tripled in size since 2020 and grown tenfold since 2019, and it represents a deepening of ties among our creative family all over the globe.
There are now 38 alumni clubs, with groups in Canada, France and Italy joining the fold, and the number of affinity groups doubled to more than 20, including groups bringing together Asian alumni, Black alumni, queer alumni and more. More than 3,100 alumni and students are part of the RISD Network, an online mentoring and networking platform.

people dancing at Commencement & Reunion weekend
RISD alums and students came together in June for the first combined Commencement & Reunion Weekend in recent memory. photo by Matt Watson 09 FAV

In June 2022, RISD celebrated a combined Commencement and Reunion Weekend for the first time in recent memory, welcoming a record number of participants back to campus through the help of reunion class volunteers. Among the nearly 1,400 participants—a fourfold increase over the best-attended versions of these events in prior years—were 769 alumni from classes ranging from 1960–2021 and 225 students from the Class of 2020, who returned to RISD to celebrate Commencement in person after the pandemic necessitated a virtual ceremony in 2020. 
Overall, 2,694 individual donors supported RISD’s philanthropic priorities, giving $3.5 million to the RISD Fund and RISD Museum Annual Fund.
With $13.74 million in cash raised, fiscal year 2022 was RISD’s fifth-best fundraising year, continuing a streak in which the last four years are among the top five best fundraising years in the institution’s history. 

Learn more about giving to RISD.

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