KINGSTON, R.I. – May 11, 2020 – Nick Marotta ran for Student Senate president to build leadership skills, but he never imagined he’d be president during one of the most unprecedented periods in his generation’s history. But there he is.
Marotta has found himself as the student voice on University of Rhode Island leadership panels that have decided the University’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and the postponement of commencement. And he advocated for the change in URI’s grading policy to help his fellow students, who were feeling the stress of the crisis and the challenges of remote learning.
“It was my duty in these discussions to best represent the student body’s interests,” says Marotta, of Copiague Harbor, on Long Island, New York. “I strongly supported for URI to postpone graduation so graduates could have the experience of having their names called as they walk across the commencement stage.”
His unofficial duties, though, may have been more meaningful.
“Reading the social media posts of countless students, especially my fellow seniors, spelled out so much sadness and disappointment,” he says. “That was the hardest part. I stayed active on social media to answer many students’ questions. I hope my fellow seniors know I was advocating for them at every step of the way.”
Marotta graduates May 17 with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture and a minor in community planning. While his year as senate president was disrupted by the pandemic, he can point to numerous successes.
A student carpool permit plan freed up dozens of parking spaces, saved students money and reduced URI’s carbon emissions, he says. He also helped implement a safety plan at eight local bars where women could discreetly alert staff to potentially dangerous situations. And as the campus emptied because of the crisis, he helped ensure the transition of student leadership happens with ease in the fall and that student organizations are properly recognized and funded.
While much of his final two years have been spent in the Student Senate chambers at the Memorial Union, he’s managed to fit a lot into his time at URI.
Growing up near the water on Long Island, one of the things that attracted Marotta to URI was the chance to explore some of Rhode Island’s many beaches. He’s been known to wear his bathing suit to class and has enjoyed living down-the-line in East Matunuck. He’s visited Narragansett, Sand Hill Cove and Scarborough beaches, along with spots in Newport and other areas.
“My first couple of years at URI found me really trying to adjust to a totally different environment and experience,” he says. “I was definitely more exploratory in my travels, trying to find every beach I could on weekends.”
His favorite beach is tucked away across the water from the Galilee port.
“It’s half ocean, half bay because it’s right in the inlet,” says Marotta. “It’s only about an acre and it’s just so interesting because it’s totally sheltered from the wind and the waves. You can see the commercial shipping and fishing industry right across the way. There’s no breeze and it’s easy to launch a paddleboard from there. So, I think that’s actually my favorite spot.”
He’s also started the group URI SUP (Stand-Up Paddleboarding) as a way of getting students out on the water, conducting bay cleanups and “thinking of themselves as stewards of the environment,” he says.
That idea carries over to his major. As a senior in high school, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study until his sister introduced him to landscape architecture. “I liked the idea of having the opportunity to design large spaces that can benefit the public and natural environment,” he says.
The classes in his major have been fun and inspiring, allowing him to hear from professional architects and engineers during design charrettes and engage with community members at public workshops for different projects. His favorite design studio was held last fall when students proposed designs for a congested commercial stretch of downtown Wakefield. The plan to “create a walkable, sustainable, mixed-use New England village” would introduce more green space and improve safety for pedestrians.
In his landscape architecture classes, he’s had the same five professors – Angelo Simeoni, Will Green, Richard Sheridan, Bill Gordon, and Farhad Atash – and has become close to them. “They’ve taught me a great deal about our profession,” he says, “but more about how to navigate through the world as a grown adult, never holding back on sharing life lessons.”
As he looks to the future, he’d also like to share those life lessons he’s learned. With the current economic crisis, he plans to pursue an MBA in the fall, while also trying to publish a personal-development book – “Before I’m Successful” – that he’s written his last year of college.
The idea for the book came during four-hour, round-trip commutes to a summer job as he talked with friends on the phone about their similar experiences, which left them wanting. Although he jokes he’s not qualified to offer anyone advice, he’d provide some to his friends that he’d learned from others over the years. And it seemed to help them.
“The book focuses on areas such as influences, finance and maintaining individuality in a world that seeks to strip it from you,” he says. “It’s geared to people my age, but anyone could benefit from it.”