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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Birthday presents provide gift of education for graduating senior

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 1, 2007 -- Each year, people spend lots of time and effort trying to find that perfect gift for a friend’s birthday. Longtime friends, M. Beverly Swan, provost of the University of Rhode Island and vice president for academic affairs and Nancy Potter, URI professor emerita of English, have found a unique, annual way to honor each other while helping URI students with their educational expenses.

Each woman donates to the other’s endowed scholarship fund. This year, Giselle LaFrance of Warwick was the recipient of both scholarships. LaFrance graduated last month with a degree in English and a minor in film media.

“I would not have been able to even go to college if it weren't for the help I have received,” says the new graduate. “My twin sister goes to URI as well, so it was even harder on my family, as with any family, to have two kids in college at one time.

Colleagues and friends established the Nancy Potter Endowment when she retired from the English Department in 1989. Income from the fund provides cash prizes in poetry and a scholarship to an outstanding English major. Potter, who won a $100 award when she was in college, has been paying it forward by generously contributing to the endowment annually. Her friend, Provost Swan, is also a regular contributor.

“There are only so many pins or watches you can give a friend,” says Potter, noting that endowed scholarships provide permanent funds. “It’s rewarding to give a gift that benefits students.”

Inspired, Potter established the M. Beverly Swan Scholarship in 1991 and is a regular contributor to it. Income from the endowment provides a scholarship that is awarded annually to a female student majoring in English based on need and academic achievement.

Swan says of Potter: “I met her on Saturday morning, September 26, 1959 in Room 219 in Pastore Hall. It was my very first college class and she was my English professor. She has remained a mentor, role model, and friend ever since.”

“Bev was an outstanding student,” Potter recalls. “She wrote a perfect term paper on Robert Frost and she had –and has—a dazzling sense of humor.”

After earning her master’s degree from URI and her doctorate from Boston University, Swan taught English and writing until 1981 when she became assistant vice president for Academic Affairs. She became provost and vice president of academic affairs in 1991.

“The Swan and Potter scholarships gave me welcome relief while I was studying in New Zealand during the 2006 spring semester. My grants/scholarships/loans all transferred to the tuition bill, but I still owed a little more and was on a very tight budget. Even though I did not get the two scholarships until I was in New Zealand, it was a welcome relief to know that the rest of my study abroad tuition would be paid,” says LaFrance who has worked 20-hours a week as a server, bartender, and manager of Trattoria Del Corso in East Greenwich to help fund her education. (She’s been in the restaurant business since she was 14).

The recent graduate explains the focus of her studies at URI. “I chose English because I love it - read, write, analyze, and interpret,” she explains. A “masculine images in film” course hooked her on film studies. “I have always loved film, and literature and film are really not all that estranged from each other. In fact, many films are made from pieces of literature - fictional and historical. And the concepts of theory and analysis are closely related as well.

“What I guess I was most surprised about URI is all of the opportunities I was given,” she says. “I was a mentor for two semesters, fought for hunger abatement and human rights with the University and then with the Rhode Island Food Bank, won second place in the Academy of American Poets, and got to live in New Zealand for five months.”

The new alumna plans to work in marketing or publishing before going to graduate school with thoughts of becoming published. Eventually, she suspects she will want to teach at college level—an aspiration her benefactors would no doubt appreciate.

Pictured Above
( From L - R) M. Beverly Swan, Giselle LaFrance and Nancy Potter