Triplets will graduate from the University of Rhode Island this weekend. Well, not exactly, but they do share the same genes. The routine will go something like this: Mia Heissan, 46, a URI lecturer in math, will get her doctorate in math on Saturday. On Sunday, she will award undergraduate diplomas to her two children, Anna and Chip Slaybaugh.
Andrew Burnap, a South Kingstown resident who will graduate from URI this spring with a bachelor's in fine arts in acting, was one of 16 students selected from a pool of about 1,300 for Yale's intensive three-year master's in fine arts program, which some consider the most prestigious in the country. He's also the first actor at URI to attend the Yale program. Only 22, he's already a legend at URI, where he sings, dances and acts with equal ease in both dramatic and comedic roles, although he calls himself "an actor who sings."
As a marine in Iraq, University of Rhode Island senior Staci Renee Smith had come under fire, recoiled at the charred remains of blown-up trucks and watched in horror as artillery rounds secretly packed in a car trunk were detonated. But nothing was worse than the crash that nearly took her life. When she woke up, an oral surgeon from the U.S. military was hovering over her offering comforting words. She was so grateful to that doctor, she plans to become what he is. Smith will attend a California dental school in the fall and, if all goes as planned, continue studying another five to seven years to be an oral surgeon. "I was inspired by what he did for me," she says. "I wanted to take something horrible and turn it into something good."
The Coastal Resources Center at the Graduate School of Oceanography has put Ghana firmly on the map for many at URI with the center's ongoing fisheries and integrated coastal management project Hɛn Mpoano (Our Coast) in the fast-growing West African nation. In turn, the CRC has put Rhode Island firmly on the map for new graduates Justice Camillus Mensah, 28, and Adiza Ama Owusu, 26. The friends, who graduated Sunday with M.S. degrees from the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, had been teaching assistants at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana when they learned the CRC was sponsoring two students to attend graduate school at URI.
Brendan Grealish spent a year of his University of Rhode Island education studying and interning in Germany. After graduation, he is preparing to return to Germany to work for a leading automotive engineering company. Grealish enrolled at URI to study industrial engineering, but it was the University's International Engineering Program that really caught his eye. The program required that he major in both engineering and a foreign language, and spend a year abroad. "I had taken Spanish in high school, but I had seen those Volkswagen commercials and knew the reputation of German engineering, so I picked German," said Grealish, a resident of North Attleboro. "It was the right choice."
Emmanuel Logan lost his mother on a spring day nearly two decades ago. He watched in horror as the rebels dragged Sarah from her house in Liberia for speaking out against the recruitment of child soldiers to fight in the country's civil war. When he learned six months later that his mother was murdered in prison, his life changed in an instant. He had dreamed of becoming a doctor, but now set his sights on advocating for social justice. This spring, the 32-year-old Providence resident will graduate with a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies with a major in Business Institutions from the University of Rhode Island's Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education. He hopes to study public policy at graduate school in the fall.
Alissa McKechnie said she chose to study mechanical engineering at the University of Rhode Island because she likes to tinker with things, and because she wanted to prove wrong a high school teacher who said she couldn't do it. She certainly succeeded in that effort. The East Hampstead, N.H., native will graduate from URI on May 19 with not only a bachelor's degree in engineering but with a degree in Chinese, too. She also spent a year living, studying and working in China through the URI International Engineering Program, an experience that she finds has set her apart from the glut of others in the job market.
Joshua Kelly unexpectedly found himself on a ship in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea on his very first week as a student at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography. "Talk about being thrown into the fire," said the native of North Reading, Mass. "But it was a blast!" Just weeks after graduation this month, Kelly will begin an internship with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration studying rafts of pumice rocks floating in the Pacific Ocean.
From the moment her little sister was born, Trystan Del Tufo was learning to become a nurse. "My little sister was born with a serious congenital heart defect requiring three open heart surgeries," said the former Exeter resident and recent University of Rhode Island graduate. "I really admired the way the nurses took care of her, and I really liked the science of it, learning about what was going on with her heart and how I could help." Her sister is healthy and thriving and Del Tufo, who earned her bachelor's degree in nursing in December 2012, is now a nurse at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Nine years after a debilitating stroke, Matthew McFadden graduates with Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Rhode Island's Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Continuing Education in Providence. His major is health services administration and that's no surprise since his goal is to work in a health-related field, giving back to those who helped him in his long and sometimes painful recovery. He'd like to work at a physical therapy clinic or a health care agency. "There was never a doubt in my mind that I would get a degree," says McFadden. "The Providence campus was a great choice for me. I had to build up slowly. First one class, then two classes, then three. This semester, I'm taking five."
When music composition major Zach Friedland graduates from the University of Rhode Island on May 19, he'll be playing with the commencement band as it performs High Altitudes; Think Big We Do, the recessional that he composed. "The fun part for me is it's about everybody celebrating that day and I get to be a piece of what people will see and hear and remember," said the 23-year-old from Richmond, R.I., who's accumulated a lengthy list of accomplishments during his time in Kingston.
When she was a little girl, Olivia Khoshatefeh would create a makeshift stage in the basement of her house and perform for family and friends. She was a Spice Girl. "Everyone who came over had to sit down and watch me," said Khoshatefeh. "I even served popcorn." Next fall, she'll step into an even bigger role when she starts a rigorous three-year master's in fine arts program at the prestigious Brown University/Trinity Repertory Consortium.
Through his major and a class in energy economics, Christopher Caisse delved into issues of sustainability, energy efficiency and renewable energy. And that led to his appointment as a URI Energy Fellow, a program that provides undergraduate students with funding to conduct hands-on energy-related research on real-world problems. With a grant from the EPA's Climate Showcase Communities program, he was part of a team of students that helped officials in four Rhode Island communities assess their municipal energy use and develop ways to use less.
Dan Belbey was so busy at the start of the academic year with work and an 18-credit course load that he almost didn't apply for the Fulbright Scholarship that potentially had the power to return him to a country he loved and earn an advanced business degree. An International Business Program (IBP) senior, he examined the required paperwork and asked Honors Program Assistant Director Kathleen Maher if she thought it was worth the effort. Maher's encouragement led Belbey to land the prestigious award. The Fulbright will fund two of the three semesters needed for a Masters of Arts in Business Administration and Logistics at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences in Germany.
Growing up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Providence, Dianna Bonilla saw firsthand how poverty can destroy families. But instead of fleeing that life, the 22-year-old senior at the University of Rhode Island has decided to embrace it by helping those less fortunate. After graduating this spring with a bachelor's degree in human development and family studies, she hopes to work in a homeless shelter in Boston. "It's something I feel passionate about," says Bonilla. "I think everyone needs a boost of confidence and support."
Ivan Brooks has sung in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Providence, and he is marketing his 'Chasing the Dream' casual clothing line to young people across the country. His tune, Nice Girl, reached number 16 on Beatport, and Underground Music named him the 2008 Rhythm and Blues Artist of the Year. In addition, he is working on his second single. But the Providence resident who left his home in Liberia when he was 11 to escape civil war, said earning his bachelor's degree at the University of Rhode Island May 19 will be one of his greatest accomplishments.
Many college students don't get the opportunity to enter the professional world until after their degree is in hand. However, two University of Rhode Island students will walk across the commencement stage Sunday with plenty of experience in their chosen fields. Seniors Victoria Antonelli of South Kingstown, R.I., and Danielle Sanda of Warwick, R.I., have completed multiple internships during their time at URI to help prepare them for their future careers, most recently in URI's department of Marketing and Communications.
Matthew Hayes has a message to share with his peers. He worries that many college students are so programmed to go to school, get a job and make a living that they forget to find and follow their passion. That's what he'll he talk about when he addresses his classmates at the undergraduate commencement ceremonies on May 19. The accounting major said he became interested in becoming an entrepreneur at a young age. Now as a business student he became involved with TeeSpring, a start-up technology company that allows users to raise funds through crowd-funded apparel sales. He now will join the company full time to develop their strategic plans for growth.
Amy Battocletti took an atypical route to the University, serving first for seven years in the U.S. Navy as an aerographer's mate, gathering weather data and forecasting atmospheric and oceanographic conditions for aviators, submariners and others. But her desire to go to college to become a conservation biologist was reinforced when she earned a Letter of Commendation from a Rear Admiral for her work to mitigate the effects of Navy sonar on marine mammals during an exercise while stationed at 6th Fleet Command in Naples, Italy.
It is safe to say that after graduation, pharmacy major Andrea Russell, won't look back on her college years and wish she had been more involved. Her experiences and accomplishments include studying abroad in three different locations, serving in the United States Air Force, and attending the University of Rhode Island on a full academic scholarship. She says she lives by the motto, "Try everything once." After graduation, Russell will enter the United States Air Force as an active duty pharmacist.
Balancing four majors would make most students wince, but Eugenio Fernandez, Jr. found a way to do just that. Fernandez will graduate with a doctor of pharmacy degree, master of business administration, bachelor's degree in biology, and a bachelor's degree in psychology. Oh, and he is also fluent in Spanish. "It is important to be disciplined and dedicated," said Fernandez.