Skip to main content
Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI students among Rhode Island’s Emerging Leaders

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

They play senators for a day at the Rhode Island Statehouse

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 12, 2005 -- The bill being considered by the Rhode Island senators would have put the question of a gambling casino before the voters. In the end, the bill was rejected by a 19-4 margin.

Casino gambling opponents shouldn’t get their hopes up, however. The senators were actually college students debating the merits of a casino bill as part of their experience in the Emerging Leaders Program, a part of Leadership Rhode Island.

During the debate, two University of Rhode Island students were among the leaders of the discussion – Nathaniel Nelson of Coventry and David Hathaway Jr. of Exeter. Fairfield, Mass. resident Krystle Nowak was the other senator from URI.

The three URI students have joined 26 other students from Rhode Island’s colleges in a variety of experiences in a program designed to help students make the transition from college to civic life.

The program began in December with an orientation, and included a trip to the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket; a discussion on Rhode Island’s “community landscape.” The program winds up April 29 with “Civic Engagement and the Business Community.”

During breaks in the casino debate, the students heard from Gov. Donald Carcieri and Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, who urged the students to take risks and get involved in public service.

When debate resumed, Hathaway gave an impassioned speech about the need for elected officials to do “their homework” on behalf of their constituents to make sure that a casino bill is properly written and that the interests of Rhode Islanders are protected.

Nelson said that the country’s founders certainly gave lawmakers the right to discuss and review topics before they are put before the voters in a referendum.

After a round of discussion, Nelson then moved to postpone the action on the vote to give senators more time to consider its effects. The amendment failed.

Despite that setback, Nelson, a political science major, thoroughly enjoyed the Statehouse, saying it made the legislative process come alive. “I enjoyed playing the role of Sen. Nelson and taking a shot at the debate,” Nelson said.

The biggest lesson he’s learned from the Emerging Leaders program is that there are other people willing to help make a difference.

“Being the state chair for the College Republicans, I thoroughly enjoyed the address by the governor. He is a tremendous individual and is doing remarkable things for the State. It was nice to see his presence because it demonstrated that state leaders are interested in helping upcoming leaders, and it brought the experience down to the individual level, which was nice.”

Nelson is the founder of the URI Students for the Awareness of Conservatism and a member of Young America’s Foundation Club 100. He is also a member of the Coventry Republican Town Committee and has served on numerous political campaigns.

Hathaway is a business and pre-med major and is applying for early acceptance to Brown Medical School. He said the program has helped him see the state and its people from a new perspective.

“As a premedical student, I hope to someday make a positive impact in my community, not only in serving people’s basic health needs, but also in being active in promoting public policy that is conducive to improving our society,” Hathaway said. “This program has given me the opportunity to learn about the issues that our state faces, and now I have a better idea of what kind of solutions I should be looking for as I continue my education.”

One of 11 children, Hathaway serves on the URI College of Business Administration Student Advisory Council and is a University College Scholar. He is the winner of two statewide music competitions. He is co-initiator of the piano teaching program in a Pawtucket housing project through the Rhode Island Philharmonic. Through the Shannock Baptist Church, he has volunteered at the Providence Rescue Mission and has served as Shannock’s church organist.

Nowak, a management major in the College of Business Administration, is a member of Phi Eta Sigma, the freshman honor society, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Phi Kappa Phi. She is treasurer of her sorority, Sigma Delta Tau, and has volunteered with Boys & Girls Clubs of Providence, Kumfort for Kids to benefit leukemia patients and Silent Witness Walks.

She said the session at the Statehouse exceeded all her expectations. “Although I didn’t get a chance to speak out, I really felt empowered being there,” Nowak said. “The session really made me think and I learned a lot about how the senate runs.”

Like her fellow students, she said the governor’s remarks and his time with the students were highlights. But she also said the entire program has helped her develop leadership skills. “This program has opened me up as a person to be more outgoing. I came into this program knowing no one. I had to be able to meet new people and make new friends on my own.

“I would definitely urge future URI students to get involved with the program. You learn things and develop skills you would never receive in a classroom anywhere.”

Photo cutline
URI student Nathaniel Nelson of Coventry listens intently from his desk in the Rhode Island Senate Chambers.. Third from left is fellow URI student Krystle Nowak of Fairfield, Mass.. URI News Bureau Photo by Michael Salerno Photography.