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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Princeton Review names URI a ‘college with a conscience’

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University one of 81 selected from 950 colleges and universities

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 19, 2005 -- The Princeton Review named the University of Rhode Island the number one party school in the nation in 1993, 1994, and 1995. A decade later that same organization has named the University a “college with a conscience.”

“There’s been a change of culture during the past decade that connects learning in the classroom with the community,” said Merith Weisman-Ross, class of 1994, who heads the Feinstein Center for Service Learning at URI.

URI will be featured in The Princeton Review’s Colleges With A Conscience: 81 Great Schools with Outstanding Community Involvement (Random House) due in bookstores on June 21. Two other Rhode Island higher education institutions, Brown and Johnson & Wales universities, are also on the list.

To select colleges and universities for the new book, The Princeton Review partnered with Campus Compact, a national coalition of presidents from more than 950 colleges and universities ---representing some 5 million students --committed to the civic purposes of higher education. Selection criteria included admissions practices and scholarships that reward community service, support for service-learning programs, student activism, and student voice in school governance, and the level of social engagement of the student body.

The editors collected extensive data about the schools’ service programs and policies, as well as surveys from students, faculty, and staff. The 81 colleges selected represent a diverse range of small and large, public and private, urban and rural institutions from 33 states.

“While collecting information from other areas of the University, it was exciting for me to discover URI’s depth and commitment to civic engagement and service learning programs, not only as a staff member but as an alumna,” Weisman-Ross noted.

Since 1995, all 2,000-plus incoming freshmen have been required to participate in a one-credit URI 101 course with a service-learning component called The Feinstein Enriching America Program. The course allows students not only a chance to provide help to the larger community, but also a chance to relate it to their studies, and an opportunity to reflect upon it.

URI works with more than 70 community partners in Rhode Island, providing a range of services to the underprivileged, sick and disabled. Students regularly volunteer, serve food, and visit with clients of St. Patrick’s Meal Kitchen.

URI offers 48 classes in 17 programs that incorporate service learning. Local schools receive a windfall of URI services. For example, URI’s Mentor-Tutor Internship began with a handful of students seven years ago. This year, 250 mentor/tutors--sophomores, juniors and seniors from all disciplines-- became “wise friends” to disengaged K-12 students in 27 schools from Westerly through Providence. The URI tutors receive three academic credits by providing a safe haven for the youngsters to explore social and academic issues.

Another 41 URI students this year participated in Jumpstart, a national early childhood program. Jumpstart URI Corps tutors, serving as part-time AmeriCorps members, worked one-on-one with preschoolers at three different South County sites to further develop their language, literacy, and social skills so that the youngsters could get a “jumpstart” on their education. The University became a Jumpstart site in 2003.

Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE), a pre-college science and math enrichment program for minority and economically disadvantaged students, is a partnership between URI and school districts. The purpose of the program is to increase the number of underrepresented minority and low income students who graduate from high school qualified to go on to higher education and pursue careers in science, math, engineering and health professions. With 60 URI students and 20 URI faculty per year members, the program serves 240 elementary, middle and high school students and 22 teachers in 12 schools throughout the state.

URI’s Coastal Fellows program, created a decade ago, annually provides about 50 students, mostly undergraduates, an opportunity each year to work in integrated research or outreach teams with faculty, staff members, and often numerous non-profit, or state and federal agencies. These multigenerational teams provide students with a range of learning experiences and project-related support. Students take responsibility for a small piece of the project's overall research or outreach design and follow the work through to completion.

URI’s College of Human Science and Services takes outreach seriously. With the help of the South County Habitat for Humanity chapter, the college’s students, faculty, and staff took the lead raising funds and providing the person-power to build a home in Westerly, which is now occupied by a family with four children.

While some projects are college driven, others are student driven. For example, URI students in Raise Your Voice, a national civic engagement campaign, funded in part by a Pew Charitable Trust grant, created an exhibit called “Boxes & Walls—The Oppression Experiment” in 2004 and 2005 which attracted hundreds of students. The interactive program took a personalized approach to teaching about diversity and discrimination. Students took an educational as well as emotional tour to experience what it might be like to face discrimination. As they went from “room to room,” fellow classmates told them what they might be confronting under different socioeconomic, racial, religious, physical and other diverse conditions.

“URI is a small universe of service-related programs and offerings both on and off the campus. Any student looking for a college who is interested in learning and service would feel right at home here,” says Weisman-Ross.

Photo cutlinie
Jumpstart URI Corps tutor Michonne Gamble-Rivers of Providence and her Jumpstart partner Elena read a book. Jumpstart is one of many outreach and service programs at URI. URI News Bureau Photo by Michael Salerno photography.