State leaders express support for ‘Rhode Island’s university’ during URI Day at State House

URI representatives showcase University’s research, academic prowess, and statewide impact

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — March 22, 2024 — “Rhody, Rhody, Rhody! Rams, Rams, Rams!,” echoed through the Rhode Island State House rotunda as University of Rhode Island cheerleaders led hundreds of onlookers in the URI chant while representatives of “Rhode Island’s university” showcased the work and impact of the state’s flagship research institution during URI Day at the State House March 21.

Dozens of lawmakers and other state leaders received a first-hand look at the impact URI has across the state, New England region, and nation. Students, faculty, and staff presented interactive exhibits highlighting the University’s broad educational and research activities.

‘Our state’s greatest asset’

URI trustee Cortney Nicolato, center, talks with Secretary of State Gregg Amore, right, and fellow trustee Jay Placencia, left, at Thursday’s State House celebration. (URI Photo/Catherine Scott)

“Let it be known that this Providence College graduate will say that the University of Rhode Island is our state’s greatest asset,” Secretary of State Gregg Amore said during a rally on the rotunda steps. “We have nothing but pride around URI. I’m proud to be at the forefront of the funding battles, and I’m proud every time I get the opportunity to talk about how great URI is.”

Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi reiterated the significant support URI has in the General Assembly and expressed his desire to continue investing in the University for the benefit of the entire state.

“In the House of Representatives, you have a contingency of supporters like no other group in the state,” Shekarchi said, noting the number of URI graduates who hold elected office. “URI teaches students to dream big and achieve great things. As you can see, you are doing just that. I’m really proud that Rhode Island’s public university offers a world-class education, which is affordable and attainable. We in the General Assembly, and me as speaker, we have your back. I’m proud of the commitments we’ve made to help this University thrive and grow together. We value URI’s role in the state’s economy and we want to build on that partnership going forward.”

Abby Benson, URI’s interim vice president for administration and finance, poses with Rhody the Ram. (URI Photo/Catherine Scott)

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who recently visited the Narragansett Bay Campus, spoke about the leadership role the University and state play in the blue economy.

“We have an opportunity in this state to be on the forefront of the blue economy and the green economy, and URI has an outstanding research facility right on the bay,” Ruggerio said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity that we have to fund and we have to make available to the students.

“URI is on the map and we’re going to have a great opportunity to attract people.”

Other state officials addressed the State House crowd, including Gov. Dan McKee’s Chief of Staff Antonio Alfonso, who delivered a citation from the governor, and General Treasurer James Diossa, who said URI is a point of pride for the state.

“We are all proud of all URI grads and the contributions they have made to our state, to our economy, to our government, to innovation,” Diossa said. “That’s why we must continue supporting URI every step of the way. The legislature has been very supportive of URI and we must continue investing, supporting and ensuring that innovation continues to grow in our state through URI.”

Diossa praised Parlange, who he said “has brought a new energy and a new sense of collaboration that I think we can all get behind and support.”

Parlange, for his part, thanked state leaders for their support and offered a special thanks to a delegation he called “committed ambassadors and champions of the University,” including Senators Sue Sosnowski and Alana DiMario, and Representatives Carol McEntee, Kathy Fogarty, Teresa Tanzi, and Tina Spears.

Elected leaders also praised the work of the University’s Board of Trustees and Chair Margo Cook and Vice Chair Armand Sabitoni. Sabitoni opened the speaking program, emphasizing “we are Rhode Island’s university, and at URI, we are working hard to address the state and the governor’s priorities.” Sabitonio noted URI’s work to support education, positive health outcomes, and access to jobs that will increase incomes.

Accelerating Rhode Island’s work in biomedical and life sciences

Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio speaks during URI Day. (URI Photo/Nora Lewis)

Several displays featured work in the biomedical and life sciences. The state of Rhode Island, through its newly launched Rhode Island Life Sciences Hub, is poised to be a life sciences leader, accelerating important medical advances and scientific breakthroughs. URI is a key partner in advancing this state priority with a strong foundation for leading cutting-edge research and education in the biomedical sciences, including neuroscience. Gov. Dan McKee recently included a proposed $80 million general obligation bond for a biomedical sciences building on URI’s Kingston Campus in his annual budget request.

Nursing students discussed health and health care, while pharmacy students and faculty members talked about vaccines and opioid use disorder. Nutrition and food science experts featured their “Veggie Meter,” testing attendees’ levels of carotenoids, pigments from plants that act as antioxidants in the human body, while students and faculty members in kinesiology displayed wearable technology that can monitor the body’s vital signs.

Presentations from the George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience and the Rhode Island IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) further bolstered the biomedical advances being made at URI, as did the College of Engineering, which displayed a robotic arm in motion, as well as wearable biosensing devices that collect physiological data.

“We collect medical grade data through wearable sensors for diagnostic information or to measure treatment efficacy,” said engineering professor Kunal Mankodiya, noting that biotech company EchoWEAR has its roots in the program. “Several state representatives came by and tried our demos and could see the health impact of this work.”

‘You have given us momentum and we are on our way’

Additional displays throughout the rotunda put the full breadth of the University’s work on display. The Department of Geosciences exhibited a variety of rocks and fossils, including the state rock, Cumberlandite; the state mineral, bowenite; and the soon-to-be state fossil, trilobite. The Graduate School of Oceanography showcased research of hurricanes, ocean robotics and offshore wind. There were also opportunities to engage with members of the College of Engineering, College of the Environment and Life Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education and College of Business, as well as with members of the Talent Development program, URI Foundation and Alumni Engagement, and Honors Program, among others.

Several dozen coaches, student-athletes, and spirit squad members—including Rhody the Ram—were on hand to raise the Rhody spirit, which was evident among legislators and other state leaders.

“It’s really great to hear this warm welcome and the love for URI,” Parlange said as he closed the program. “To the faculty, staff, students, the coaches, I am so proud of you. You are the best, the strongest, the brightest. URI is indeed Rhode Island’s university, he continued. “We are grateful to Rhode Islanders for their support over the years, and we are incredibly grateful to the state for an historic reinvestment in URI. You have given us momentum and we are on our way to building a university of the future—together.”

URI Day at the State House had many photo-worthy moments. (URI Photo/Catherine Scott)