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Rosanne Somerson Named 17th President

Rosanne Somerson Named 17th President

Four decades after first coming to campus as a student, this award-winning designer and academic leader is well poised to lead RISD.

Four decades after she first came to RISD, accomplished furniture designer and educator Rosanne Somerson 76 ID has become RISD’s top leader, accepting the position of president effective immediately. Her appointment comes after an extensive international search during which she has ably served as interim president since January 1, 2014.

“Rosanne Somerson is a gifted, inspiring and dedicated leader, and is the perfect fit for RISD,” notes Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter, who appointed a search committee of 11 members of the RISD community to lead the effort to identify the most appropriate new president. “Her experiences as a RISD student, faculty member, department head, provost and interim president provide a depth of knowledge and almost instinctive understanding of the institution that no other candidate could match. She has also demonstrated the collaborative leadership style and informed vision RISD needs to expand its role in advancing global innovation in the 21st century.”

Somerson's deep roots at RISD – which extend back to 1972 when she first came to campus as a freshman – have, indeed, served her well in transitioning through successively more demanding teaching and academic leadership responsibilities. Last winter she provided an almost seamless transition when she moved from her role as provost to interim president within weeks of former President John Maeda’s announcement that he was leaving for a new position in Silicon Valley.

In the past year, Somerson has gone on to guide RISD with confidence, focusing on advancing academic excellence, maximizing the efficacy of current operations and planning for emerging challenges and opportunities for higher education. She has championed continued work on a campus master plan, which has already led to significant upgrades in academic studios and classrooms, student housing and administrative spaces, and has also shown the ability for fundraising needed by most college presidents in the US.

Now, as she drops the word “interim” from her title, President Somerson says, “I am honored to lead this institution, to build on its strong 138-year legacy and advance ambitious plans for facilities, programs and global partnerships.” She adds that RISD’s “extraordinary community of faculty scholars and practitioners, students and alumni is making a positive impact in the world every day. I know firsthand the value of an art and design education, and am confident that RISD’s model of immersive, studio-based learning has greater global impact and is more important and vital than ever.”

– text by Liisa Silander / photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

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