State House celebration showcases University’s statewide impact and role as Rhode Island’s flagship university

KINGSTON, R.I. – March 30, 2023 – Rhode Island Sen. Pam Lauria visited with University of Rhode Island nursing students Tuesday during URI Day at the State House, an event designed to showcase the University’s impact as the state’s flagship public research university.

Lauria, a URI alumna, spoke forcefully about state support for the university: “We need to fully fund the University, the crown jewel of higher education in our state.”

A nurse practitioner at Coastal Medical in East Greenwich, who earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing and her nurse practitioner master’s degree at URI, Lauria was among dozens of lawmakers and state leaders to take part in URI Day at the State House. The event included interactive exhibits; the participation of URI students, faculty, and staff; and featured remarks by Gov. Dan McKee, House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, URI Board of Trustees Chair Margo Cook, URI President Marc Parlange, and URI student Cristobal Bustos. 

Nursing students Sydney Crowe of Cumberland and Brianna Boudreau of North Smithfield, who both participated in the State House event, are student-nurse interns at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and are now completing clinical community health rotations at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.

“My education at URI has been great and my professors are outstanding,” Crowe said. 

Boudreau said URI gives its nursing students the opportunity to work in all of Rhode Island’s hospitals. 

In addition to the nursing program, stations around the State House rotunda featured students, faculty and staff from Talent Development; the Rhode Island IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE); computer science; geosciences; the Sources, Transport, Exposure and Effects of PFAS (forever chemicals) program; mechanical and ocean engineering; Rhode Island Sea Grant; athletics; the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology; URI Foundation and Alumni Engagement; URI Research Foundation, and dual language and concurrent enrollment programs.

URI’s College of Nursing students staff an exhibit and speak with State House attendees at URI Day.

Bustos, in his welcoming remarks, shared that he is a sophomore and Talent Development scholar who was born in Colombia, moved to Rhode Island when he was 5, and graduated from Cumberland High School in 2021.

Student filmmaker Christobal Bustos poses with Rhody the Ram.

“TD has been a huge part of my life at URI, and it has given me a lot of resources and support as I pursued a degree in film, media and communications,” Bustos said. “In fall 2022, I released my debut documentary, a ‘Voice Was Heard,’ which commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Black Student Leadership Group Taft Hall takeover. My story is just one example of how the University of Rhode Island is transforming the lives of the next generation of Rhode Islanders. I am proud to say I am a Rhody Ram.”

Provost Barbara Wolfe stops by one of the exhibits.

Cook, chair of URI’s Board Trustees, said, “URI is on the leading edge of a number of fields that are crucial to the prosperity of our state. Number one, we are a regional leader in training nurses. Our nurses are critically important in terms of the talent and education that are being brought to the workforce. We are more than just a regional leader, our program is nationally known and nationally ranked.

“We are also graduating the greatest number of teachers in our state. Our graduates are contributing in every community in Rhode Island, including Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls, where there is exceptional need for teachers.”

URI Day featured multiple interactive exhibits along with the participation of URI students, faculty, and staff.

Cook also highlighted the Blue Economy where URI is at the forefront. “Everyone knows that URI and the state are partners and together, we can make the state of Rhode Island the best in the country,” she said to rousing applause.

“We’re here to recognize our state University,” McKee said. “It is so important to Rhode Island, but not just Rhode Island, but also New England, the region, the country and internationally. Investing in our schools is really a top priority for us. We have to be all in on the academics, the arts and athletics.”

McKee, like Shekarchi and Ruggerio, congratulated not only the students, faculty, staff and leadership, he also offered kudos to women’s basketball coach Tammi Reiss, men’s basketball coach Archie Miller, football coach Jim Fleming, and Director of Athletics Thorr Bjorn.

The Rhode Island State House dome awash in Keaney Blue as URI Day comes to a close.

“My administration is all in for URI, working with the speaker and the General Assembly making sure we do our best to manage the surplus that gets invested in our state schools, including the University of Rhode Island,” McKee said.

“We want to make sure that we are doing our best for the University and in turn, that’s going to make the state of Rhode Island stronger, and stronger and stronger.”

Shekarchi recognized the broad-based success of the University, from academics to athletics.

“We don’t always measure that in wins and losses,” the speaker said. “It’s about quality education, quality competitiveness and quality programs, and it doesn’t just stop with the athletic programs. It continues with engineering, the school of nursing and the pharmacy school, they are first class all the way around.”

He talked about the legislature and McKee working to develop a bioscience hub.

“I am going to come calling on URI to help be a part of that to develop treatments and devices to benefit all of mankind,” Shekarchi said. “I expect URI to play a big part in that. We need to work together. It’s only when we do that good things happen for us and URI.”

Ruggerio, the state senate president, said “The University of Rhode Island is our state university and they have done a great job. I want to help them in whatever manner we can.” Speaking of the bond to support upgrades to the University’s Bay Campus that was overwhelmingly approved by Rhode Island voters in November, he said,  “We have a great opportunity at URI to create jobs. However, we have to have the appropriate facilities to make that happen.”

Parlange thanked all of the speakers and elected officials for their support of the University, and offered a special thank-you to state Representatives Kathleen A. Fogarty, chair of the House Rules Committee, and Carol Hagan McEntee, chair of the Committee on Small Business, for their continuing support of URI.

“Watershed Watch—we have more than 400 volunteers across the state who are monitoring all of the drinking water, streams, ponds, coastal areas,” Parlange said.

The president highlighted the University’s Talent Development program, which recruits and serves Rhode Island high school graduates with college potential who come from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, a majority of whom are scholars of color. “We are so proud of our students, first of all, you’re a fantastic example of the wonderful people we have at URI,” Parlange said.

“We have our pharmacy program, and we run the INBRE program, which has more than $80 million in NIH [National Institutes of Health] funding, and that program is extremely important because we coordinate with Brown, RIC, CCRI, PC—all of the universities in the state—and we are building the capacity in the life sciences in many ways,” Parlange said.

“We also have our faculty and students who are doing outstanding work on PFAS and underwater technologies. We now have 1,400 high school students taking computer science at URI, so this helps them complete their high school requirements and earn university credit at the same time. We are working with more than 42 high schools.”

Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, a URI alumna who is chair of the Committee on Small Business, said her years at URI were some of her best and celebrated the occasion of URI Day.

“The students, professors and department heads demonstrate what URI can do for the state. So we look for a return on investment and we get it from URI. Look at URI—people are coming from all over the world to enroll at URI.”