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Rhode Island Foundation honors 13 URI students studying foreign languages
By Lauren Paola / July 3, 2013 /   Loading Disqus...
The following is a University of Rhode Island news release: 
Michael Smith is off to Spain for a year to learn Spanish and work abroad, thanks to a former University of Rhode Island professor who had a passion for languages and the world.

The 22-year-old New Jersey resident is among the 13 URI students who received fellowships this year from the Rhode Island Foundation through the Beatrice S. Demers Fund to study foreign languages overseas.

“I’m ecstatic," says Smith, who is scheduled to leave for the Universisdad de Cantabria in northern Spain Sept. 1. “I can’t wait to get over there.”

It’s his first trip to Europe, but probably not his last. Smith is in URI’s five-year International Engineering Program (IEP), which offers a dual degree in an engineering field and a language. Smith is majoring in ocean engineering and, of course, Spanish.

“This is such a great opportunity and for me personally I’ve always been a big fan of the Spanish culture," he says. “Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, so learning it will be useful in my career.”

Demers spent her life teaching foreign languages, first to students in the Pawtucket schools and then to students at URI, where she taught for more than 30 years. She was fluent in French, German and Spanish and studied Chinese and Russian in her 70s.

After her death in 2007, she left $4 million to the Rhode Island Foundation to establish the fund. The Foundation recently announced the Demers fellows, all of whom are URI students.

Selected from a pool of 85 applicants, the students received a total of $143,575 in grant awards, ranging from $9,000 to $14,000.

The fund provides fellowships to Rhode Island residents and anyone who is a student at a Rhode Island college or university studying a foreign language. Preference is given to URI applicants. Fellowships cover the cost of tuition, fees, travel, housing and living expenses.

Applicants for the award were judged according to dedication to foreign language study; the likelihood that the proposed study program will promote foreign language fluency; and the diversity of languages studied and program types.

“The Demers fund is one of more than 150 scholarship funds that we manage and administer. Last year alone, we granted more than $1.4 million in scholarship assistance,” said Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.

The fellowships highlight URI’s commitment to global studies. The IEP program is enormously successful; graduates are sought after for fast-track management and leadership programs, international assignments, as well as graduate fellowships to top programs. Today, more URI students are fluent in languages other than English, thanks, in part, to the dual degree programs, also in business, pharmacy, textiles and education.

“We are delighted to see that all of the awardees this year for the Beatrice Demers Fellowships are again URI applicants," says Winifred E. Brownell, Dean of Arts and Sciences at URI. “Since the launch of this program in 2011, $530,000 has been awarded to URI-affiliated applicants for advanced study abroad of world languages. Beatrice Demers had a love for and understood the transformative nature of world language study and global education, and we are proud to see today’s talented students and faculty members keeping her vision alive. The awards from the Rhode Island Foundation provide critical support for these honorees to continue their study of world languages as they prepare to contribute to the global community.”

Anthony Ragusa, 25, who grew up in Attleboro, Mass., and now lives in Providence, is heading off to Germany in the fall. He’s also enrolled in the IEP program, studying ocean engineering too. His language of choice, however, is German.

“It should be really exciting," says Ragusa. “A lot of the offshore engineering companies in the world are German, so by speaking the language it should give me a foot in the door."

Ragusa, like Smith, plans to take language and engineering classes in the first semester and work as an intern the second semester. Ragusa is hoping to land an internship with TenneT, a German management company that oversees offshore engineering projects.

“Studying abroad like this provides opportunities to get places that are usually inaccessible,’’ says Ragusa. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m glad the Demers scholarship helped me achieve it."

Nicholas Zonfrillo, 21, of Narragansett, is making his third trip to Germany. Another IEP student, he’s studying chemical engineering and German. The best way to learn a language, he says, is to live in the country.

“Immersion is essential to developing fluency," he says. “I’m very grateful to the Demers fund and the Rhode Island Foundation."

The Demers award also made an overseas trip possible for Kevin Drumm, 21, of East Greenwich. Now he doesn’t have to obtain costly student loans to study in Spain. He’s also thrilled to take mechanical engineering classes in Spanish.

Jessica Magill, 21, of South Kingstown, left for China July 29 to study at Zhejiang University. It’s her fourth trip to China, so it should come as no surprise that she is fluent in Chinese.

“Jessica took the required two semesters of a language at URI, not knowing that Chinese would be something she loved," says her mother, Sharon Magill. “You wouldn’t think a small school would have such a great language program. It’s a wonderful opportunity."

Magill says her daughter will study Mandarin Chinese and intern in the second semester at a local business, still to be determined. Her experience abroad is crucial, Magill says, for success in her major: Chinese and supply chain management.

Does she miss her? “Of course," says Magill. "She’s been gone only a few days and we’ve already ‘face timed’ twice."

The Demers fellowship recipients are:
  • Jonathan Aguire, of Warwick, German, Braunschweig University of Technology
  • Dana Demers, of Cranston, Spanish, TECNUN-University of Navarra
  • Kevin Drumm, of East Greenwich, Spanish, TECNUN-University of Navarra
  • Umutoni Gatali, of South Africa, Spanish, TECNUN-University of Navarra
  • Eli Lamothe, of Warwick, German, Teschnische Universitat Braunschweig
  • Jessica Magill, of South Kingstown, Mandarin Chinese, Zhejiang University
  • Jennifer Parisi, of Cranston, Mandarin Chinese, East China Normal University
  • Anthony Ragusa, of Attleboro, Mass., German, Teschnische Universitat Braunschweig
  • Eric Reels, of West Warwick, Mandarin Chinese, Nanjing University
  • Michael Smith, of Lanoka Harbor, NJ, Spanish, Universisdad de Cantabria in northern Spain
  • Preston Steele, of Chelmsford, Mass., Spanish, Universidad de Zaragoza
  • Sarah Wood, of Springfield, Chinese, Zhejiang University
  • Nicholas Zonfrillo, of Narragansett, German, Teschnische Universitat Braunschweig.
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