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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI couple to chair Alumni Fund

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Morgan Stanley executive, interior designer find it natural to give back

KINGSTON, R.I. -- September 2, 2005 -- Stephen and Laura Cunningham have family roots that grow deep in University of Rhode Island soil. And even though the successful couple has traveled far and wide, the tug of those roots keeps them connected to the place where they were once nourished.

Steve is a managing director of Morgan Stanley and head of its Latin American investment-banking group. Laura runs Ramsdell Cunningham & Co., an interior design business. Despite their busy schedules the Greenwich, Conn. couple has volunteered to co-chair the University’s Alumni Fund this year.

Steve’s family could probably fill an entire branch on the URI alumni tree. His father, mother, her two sisters, and uncle are Rhody graduates. His brother David is a member of the campus police and his niece Marla is a URI sophomore.

Laura Ramsdell met Steve Cunningham when his family moved next door to hers in Cranston when they both were teen-agers. They have been together ever since. Both came to URI where he studied economics and she focused on art history. Steve was president of the Student Senate and Laura was communications chair.

“My focus as president was trying to get more money allocated from the state for the University. I remember going to the Statehouse with (URI President) Frank Newman and speaking before legislators,” Steve recalls.

Steve has fond memories of the late URI President. “Frank used to hold Sunday morning touch footballs games, mixing students and administrators.”

After leaving URI in 1976, Steve graduated from Columbia University’s Business School. When he went to work for Continental Bank, the couple lived in San Paulo, Brazil for three years. He was recruited by Bear Stearns to build a Latin American investment banking business. He left that position to accept a position at Morgan Stanley.

Laura applied her art history lessons to her business. “It’s a great background for interior design,” she says. She also volunteers her time for a number of charities, including serving on the boards of the Breast Cancer Alliance and “Kids in Crisis,” a residential organization that provides help to children about to enter the foster care system. She also sits on the board of the URI Foundation.

Asked why the two are such staunch supporters of URI, Laura replies: “We want to do our share. We had a great experience there. It’s important to support the University and the best way to support it is to give financially.”

Steve agrees: “It’s natural to want to give back to the institution that gave so much to us. Those were our critical and informative years, it was an important time of our lives.”

“Steve and Laura continue to be such loyal and generous alums,” said Sarah Howard, director of URI’s Annual Fund, which includes the Alumni Fund. “We are so honored that they have agreed to co-chair this year’s fundraising effort.”

URI News Bureau photo by Nora Lewis