As I write this I am sitting in a 747 on my way to Japan, having completed my first ten days on campus as the President of the University of Rhode Island. It was a remarkable and completely enjoyable introduction to this superb university. I’d like to share with you some first impressions. The time on campus, and in the state, fully confirmed the impressions that Lynn and I formed during the search process: URI and Rhode Island are special places with a bright future. As you know, I am a scientist, and consequently my views and decisions are data-driven. So, it is fair to ask: why are you so optimistic about the future of URI and Rhode Island given the obvious difficulties and challenges? Simply put - the people. Over the course of my career I have become familiar with many universities and many communities. In my experience, the people of URI and Rhode Island are exceptional. I am delighted with the abilities and dedication of the leadership team, and the faculty, staff, and students of URI that I have met so far. Moreover, the alumni, supporters, and friends of URI are also impressive and encouraging. Everyone appears ready to embrace the future, willing, even eager, to facilitate change and to work cooperatively to build a better tomorrow. I am also very thankful for the warm and generous welcome that was extended to me by everyone I met.
One of the great advantages of URI is that it is a close-knit, caring community in an environment where relationships and personal connections are important. I will always be grateful for the hospitality and generosity of Judge Frank Caprio and Joyce Caprio, Tom and Cathy Ryan, Ed Quinlan and Lisa Pelosi, Al and Gerri Verrecchia, and Victor and Gussie Baxt. I very much appreciate the willingness of our South County representatives Sam Azzinaro, David Caprio, Ken Carter, Rod Driver, Brian Kennedy, Donald Lally, Jr., and Mike Rice to take time out of their busy schedules to meet with me and begin a dialog about how we can work together to enhance URI and its contributions to the state’s vitality. Thanks also to Senator Bill Walaska, Judge Bob Flanders, Jr., and Christine Smith for their enthusiastic interest in working with URI to enhance research and technology transfer at URI.
Last Tuesday evening provided another window on what the University of Rhode Island means to the state. The opening of the Kingston Chamber Music Festival was truly a special, and for me very memorable, occasion. The sense of community so apparent among everyone there, the joy and pride of the volunteers who make this outstanding series possible, and the talent and enthusiasm of the performers was inspiring and uplifting. The creation of moments like that is an important part of the mission of URI. In a world that is simultaneously more integrated (at one level) and factionalized (on another) the arts have a unique capability to bring us together, to illuminate our common humanity, and to create a lasting sense of joy and wonder about the good we can accomplish. The evening began with a delightful dinner at the University Club on campus (a tremendous asset to URI). Thank you, Dean Winnie Brownell, Dick and Ann Beaupre, Jim Hopkins, Susan Hammen-Winn, Enrico Garzilli, Ron Lee and Marie Bender Lee for the warmth of your welcome to the life of the arts at URI. To Rob and Lynn Manning, Ginny Kenney, and many others I met – thank you for your enthusiastic support of the arts at URI.
Finally, I would like to share my admiration for one of URI’s defining attributes – its willingness to honestly and constructively engage the issues our country and our world face concerning diversity. Indeed, this was an important part of the university’s attraction for Lynn and me. Two events stand out from my first days at URI. First, was the celebration of the completion of the summer workshop on peace and non-violence. The commitment of the participants to make a difference, to do good works among us, will extend URI’s impact across the globe for the good of humanity. Second was my meeting with the Equity Council, volunteers all, committed to building a more inclusive, a more welcoming, and a more vibrant community at URI. I believe this is important to providing all our students the kind of education that will help them fulfill their dreams.
There is just something special about coming to work at a place that has the word “Hope” emblazoned on its seal – but more about that in a subsequent post.