What inspires donors to give year after year?
The Centennial Society is the cornerstone of RISD’s philanthropic community. Named for the gift that founded RISD—from the Rhode Island Women’s Centennial Commission— this society recognizes donors who have given to RISD in any amount for three consecutive years or more. Whether it’s $20 or $20,000, these gifts provide the steady, reliable foundation that enables RISD to support students and build its future. We asked a few Centennial Society members why they give, and what RISD continues to give them.
Mitchell P. Benjamin BArch 86
35 years of giving
Recently I was cleaning my garage, and I dug up some architectural drawings I did at RISD. My first reaction was how novice they were. My next reaction was, I haven’t changed that much. I could see the seeds of what I’m doing now in those drawings from 35 years ago. They were so simple, but the design sense was there, the logic was there. At RISD, you really start to understand what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve been extremely fortunate: I was able to figure out what I like to do in this world and pursue it, and go to a school that I wanted to go to and not have to worry about tuition. Giving to RISD is a way of acknowledging that. In Hebrew, there’s a saying, tikkun olam, which means “to heal the world.” To heal the world, you do good things. Part of doing good things is giving to others. I figured out that financially, I had it easy at RISD. I give so the next person can have it a little easier, too.
Jane Chung 06 GD
16 years of giving
RISD has had a huge influence in my life. My professors never placed much importance on how our portfolios looked, or what the latest technology was. They focused on how to ask the right questions and how to be curious. This developed our critical thinking skills—and the ideas always came first. Expression and execution need to be there, of course, but they follow the idea. This is even how design in my workplace functions today.
RISD provided me with a scholarship and work opportunities on campus that naturally involved me with the RISD community. When I got my first job after college, I wasn’t making much money, but I knew I wanted to contribute. I reflected on how much the school had given me and felt gratitude. People often have the mentality that if you donate, you have to donate a significant amount. But I say, start with a little. It’s like what I always tell my team at work: Progress over perfection.
Stuart J. Murphy 64 IL P 96
42 years of giving
Without question, my RISD education set the pace and sent me in the direction I needed to go. To suddenly be thrown into that first foundation year was magical, outrageously demanding, sometimes frightening, but incredible. It equalizes everybody. You learn who you are, who you might want to be; you see a path forward in the arts. And from day one, you’re involved in the critique process. That concept and mentality of critique, of not only being willing to have your own work discussed publicly by your professors and your peers, but also being willing to speak about other people’s works in a respectful, productive manner. That’s a life lesson.
There are so many people who deserve that experience at RISD and can’t afford it. And when they’re not there, it changes the makeup of the classes, the dynamic between students; it changes all the creative possibilities that could happen. There’s a real need for financial support, and not everyone understands that. But all of us were students once, so we can understand what’s at stake.
Angela Boswell 95 TX
25 years of giving
My big takeaway from RISD was learning how to sit through a crit: taking in good, bad and indifferent attitudes about your work. That and problem solving are what drove my career. You don’t have time to stress about little details or get hung up on negative criticism. Besides, negative criticism at RISD wasn’t always negative. It was more like: try it this way. Try it that way. Everything was problem solving. You make a decision, go with it, and if it’s wrong, you change your path. It’s not like the world is going to end.
I was one of those students who made phone calls to alumni, asking them to give to RISD. I enjoyed talking to people, but I remember how disheartening it was if they said no. So when I started getting those calls, I was only two years out of college, but I could afford $25. Every year, I would try to give a little more. RISD was such a unique experience, and I feel like I need to support this institution that gave me so many opportunities. My education got me my first job and it got me to where I am today. We all need to help take care of each other in whatever way makes sense to us, and for me, it’s giving back to RISD.
Tony C. Belluschi BArch 66 P 95
42 years of giving
I have got a long history with RISD, and a lot of loyalty, which started the moment I set foot on campus. The Freshman Foundation program [now called Experimental and Foundation Studies] was the most inspiring thing I had ever done in my life up to that point. I started to see everything differently—light, color, form, texture, scale. It probably was the most defining moment of my career in the arts. When I became an architect, I was able to bring all the arts to the table.
I am proud of my ongoing support for RISD, and I do it for two reasons: appreciation for the school’s impact on my life and to help continue the outstanding education of future architects and artists. I know many alumni may not yet have the financial resources necessary to give every year, but I also know that most of them, as artists, love what they do, and can see the benefit that RISD provided them early in their career. Not just creatively. RISD is a calling card. There’s a sense of appreciation and value. The minute you say, “Oh, that person went to RISD,” it puts them in a different category.
Yasuyo Iguchi 83 GD
37 years of giving
Going to RISD was one of the best things I’ve ever done because it gave me the necessary foundation for things to come. I had friends outside of RISD questioning whether they were going to the right college, but I never felt that way. It was like my world unfolded. All of my classmates inspired me; I enjoyed seeing their ideas developed and brought forth. During my first Wintersession, I took pottery, and threw pots from morning to night. My hands were raw, but I didn’t care; I loved it. I was working with architects, graphic designers, painters and illustrators, and relished that we all had a different take on the class.
When the first letter came, asking if I would donate, I thought, why not? It was a way of giving my support even if it was only $10 or $20. I still donate small amounts, and sometimes I think that my gift is not enough to make a difference. But someone told me once that if everyone gave a small amount, it would add up to something substantial. Think about how many people have gone through the doors at RISD. A lot of people.
Dana M. Newbrook 63 AR
43 years of giving
When I got to RISD, I probably did not look like I was going to fit in as an artist. I had started at Brown, with a Navy ROTC scholarship, studying engineering. I decided to make a jump and see what I could do, and RISD gave me a scholarship. Coming from Brown, I was pretty stuffed up on all of the mathematics necessary for architecture, and I picked up the structural ideas pretty easily. Some of my friends did not, so I started holding classes. I was working at a gas station near campus to make some extra money, and my friends would come down and lay their math problems out on the table, and we’d work together while I pumped gas.
I would not have been able to be at RISD without financial support. After living on somebody else's money while I was there, I thought it was best to give some of it back. I appreciate the work that goes into trying to give scholarships to students, getting as much diversity as possible on the campus. RISD is really at the top. We have a lot to be proud of.
Betsy Taylor-Kennedy BArch 83
39 years of giving
I give to acknowledge the benefit I received from scholarships and work-study opportunities when I was a student. When I was interviewed by the director of Student Activities to see if I would be a good fit for a work-study position they were looking to fill, it was a moment that made me feel I was being treated as an adult—that what I had to offer was of value. I got that job and went on to become active in student government and the activities committee, which broadened my connection to the RISD community.
Helping today’s students learn and thrive at RISD, regardless of their background or financial situation, is an investment in future artists and designers. You don’t have to be a wealthy philanthropist. You give what you can. A modest annual gift adds up over the years.
Vanessa Pyne 05 FAV
12 years of giving
RISD is a place that teaches you how to think. I learn by getting inspired by some idea and then figuring out what I need to know in order to accomplish that idea and make it happen. I’m a software engineer now, but seven years ago, I made the decision to go to a coding boot camp for two months because I wanted to learn those new skills. What I got at RISD—the ability to think for yourself, to not go after grades, to not try to please other people, to learn how to follow your passion and believe in yourself—I think if I had gone to a more traditional school, it would have been much more difficult for me to believe that I could learn to code.
I feel a sense of camaraderie with RISD and the community that’s there now, so it’s easy to want to support that. Why wouldn’t you want to give back to people who are sharing the same kind of experiences that you had? It’s almost like giving money to family, taking care of your own.
Will L. McLoughlin BArch 09
12 years of giving
My entire approach to life has been informed by my experiences at RISD. I think RISD alumni speak a shared language that comes from a deep interest in process—taking things apart to rebuild them differently, and understanding that an idea develops and evolves through asking questions and understanding constraints. The school instills in us a critique culture that is composed of different voices and perspectives, which makes a better, richer conversation and provides a wider lens. Giving to RISD and supporting the school’s greatest needs and scholarships is, for me, a natural exchange. It is a way to continue fostering the kind of conversations that have sustained me and build a diverse and inclusive creative atmosphere at the school.
So many alumni sacrificed a lot—because of student loans—to be part of RISD. I hope they know that even a few dollars a month, or a few dollars a year, will help continue the conversation for others.