Skip to main content
Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI professor emerita continues to be role model for students

Media Contact:

KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 1, 2004 -- Nancy Potter's grandmother, a Civil War widow, saved every penny she could during her lifetime to fund her future grandchildís education. So Potter was able to earn both her bachelorís and masterís degrees from Tufts University without worrying about how to pay for her education.

Because she was such a bright and talented student, the future college professor was selected for a few awards, including one, created by the class of 1912 to honor classmates who lost their lives during World War 1, that came with $100.

"I remember standing in front of the bursar's office with the envelop in my hand and thinking if I ever earn some money I will be sure to establish something to pay tribute to all the good people who helped me," recalls Potter, Professor Emerita of English.

Although it's been well over a half century, Potter who turns 78 in June continues to repay that pledge with her time, talents, and treasure for the benefit of URI.

"My life has been shaped almost totally by the University," says Potter, a West Kingston resident, who retired in 1989 after spending 42 years in classrooms teaching courses, primarily in modern American and British literature and creative writing and serving in various administrative positions.

This year, three students were the benefactors of the Nancy Potter Endowment, which was established through generous contributions of colleagues and friends when Potter retired. Potter made an initial contribution and has continued to fund the scholarship.

Thanks to a Potter scholarship, Freddie Shipworth of Warwick, an English major and father of four, was able to shorten his work week at the West Bay Residential Services, a group home for developmentally disabled, from 35 hours to 24 hours during his last semester at URI. Before graduating this May, Shipworth was presented with the Estes Benson Award for achieving the highest grade point average among black scholars at URI and a 2004 Presidentís Excellence Award for the highest achievement in English. He hopes to teach high school English.

"Every semester has become a waiting game to see if I am awarded any scholarship," says Charles Allen IV of Providence, another Potter scholarship recipient. "Otherwise, I would not be able to afford the two classes I take every semester." Between working 50 hours a week at two jobs and studying, Allen still finds time to tutor students who are learning English. He got his love of teaching from that experience and hopes some day to teach English in a Rhode Island secondary school.

Nicole Souza of Wrentham, Mass. characterizes herself as an "academic hopper." Her previous attempted majors include studio art, art therapy, psychology, and wildlife conservation management. Last year, the "sorta" junior settled on English and anthropology as double majors. Similar to her changing academic environment, Souzaís financial status was fraught with instability after her parents divorced. Now, with help from financial aid, money earned cleaning houses, and the Potter scholarship, she has found a financial toehold.

"Nancy Potter remains one of the most intelligent, eloquent, witty, gracious, and generous people I've had the pleasure of meeting in my life," says Winifred Brownell, dean of URIís College of Arts and Sciences. "She has shared her generosity by investing in the best and the brightest at URI to reward them for their excellence and ensure that they have an opportunity to earn an affordable college education. Nancy's career and her life exemplify the very best we can be."

Potter prefers to pull back the curtains, let students take center stage, and remain in the shadows. Yet sheís a pragmatist who understands supporting endowments is important because they are the underpinnings for many students earning a college degree.

Pointing out fellow benefactors at a recent donor and recipient luncheon, she tells all scholarship recipients: "These are people with luck, pluck, and a good heart that you may grow into someday."

"Itís not about paying back for what they received," Potter says later. "Itís about rememberingÖitís a gesture, a trust that you place in them."