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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI students to become beneficiaries of former schoolteacher

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Spencer Charitable Fund pledges $100,000 to English Department

KINGSTON, R.I -- February 7, 2005 -- The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain, but the sun will be shining brightly for some students majoring in English at the University of Rhode Island.

That’s because a new endowment has just been established for students “with an excellent command of the English language.” The endowment will provide scholarships for students who demonstrate a mastery of English in either their fictional or non-fictional work.

The endowment, called The Spencer Award, is based solely on merit. The award is named after the late Gertrude Spencer who created a charitable trust to take effect after her death in 1985. The first scholarship is expected to be awarded this spring.

Gordon Oppenheimer, an attorney in Larchmont, N.Y., oversees the Spencer Charitable Fund. He reports that Spencer graduated from Smith College and taught English in schools in the White Plains area of New York.

Because of Spencer’s career in education, Oppenheimer has tried to match her interests with the fund’s donations. Past fund recipients include Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Smith.
The endowment at URI was established with an initial $25,000 gift. At least $100,000 will be donated over the next four years, which will not only increase the value of the endowment, but the number of scholarships that can be awarded.

“My colleagues and I are thrilled to receive news of this gift, and of the scholarships it makes possible. We have long considered ourselves lucky to be teaching in a department that attracts so many talented, dedicated, and passionately engaged undergraduates,” says Jean Walton, chair of URI’s English Department. “This gift increases the opportunities we have to reward the high caliber of the work that they do, whether it be in the form of inspired literary and cultural criticism, or beautifully wrought poetry and prose. We are proud of our students, and this scholarship provides yet another way to demonstrate that pride.”

Oppenheimer became interested in URI while visiting the campus with his daughter, Alexandra who was scouting out colleges. Only after Alexandra received an early acceptance did her father contact Tom Zorabedian, senior development officer for the College of Arts and Sciences, to inquire about establishing scholarships for students majoring in English.

Oppenheimer has visited URI twice and was impressed both times with the physical beauty of the Kingston campus and with the friendliness of its students and its faculty. He noted that their URI tour guide, Kat Anderson, was “enlightening” and made the trip enjoyable. She even exchanged e-mail addresses with his daughter and the two women have been corresponding since.

“I loved the campus,” says Oppenheimer. “It’s small enough for Alex so she wouldn’t be overwhelmed by tens of thousands of students. And the University’s located far enough way, but it’s also close. Alex has just a short drive to the railroad station to hop on a train and get home.”