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Community College of Rhode Island

President shares Opening Day remarks

Sept. 6, 2011

It is unfortunate we were unable to hold this morning’s Opening Day Convocation because of the temporary power outage at the Knight Campus in Warwick. As you know, Opening Day is a tradition here at CCRI, and this day is very important to me. I was looking forward to welcoming you back to campus and speaking with you personally, but unforeseen circumstances caused a change in plans.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule the Opening Day Convocation because of the complexities of class schedules. I will, however, be visiting all of the campuses this week, in an effort to meet with you and incoming students. On Wednesday, Sept. 7, I will visit the Newport and Warwick campuses. On Thursday, Sept. 8, I will visit the Lincoln and Providence campuses. Refreshments will be available during my visits to each campus.

I want to thank Dr. Phil Miller, who had agreed to introduce me, and for those who may be interested, please read the the speech below I had prepared to share with you.

If you have any questions regarding the information in the speech, please send an e-mail to  

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Good morning! I’d like to extend a warm welcome to each of you as we begin our 47th academic year at the Community College of Rhode Island. In just three short years, we’ll be celebrating our 50th anniversary and we’ll begin planning for that soon.

Opening Day Convocation is a tradition here at CCRI that allows me the opportunity to speak to you about where we’ve been, where we are and where we’d like to go over the next few months.

I hope you’ve all had a nice summer and have come back recharged and ready to face the challenges that each new academic year brings.

I’ve had a song playing over and over again in my mind for the past few months and I think it is very apropos to what we face here at CCRI and here in Rhode Island during these difficult economic times.

When Bob Dylan penned the song “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” the year was 1963.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was still fresh in everyone’s mind, American schoolchildren practiced hiding under their desks every day in class to protect themselves from nuclear attack, the Vietnam War was looming and John F. Kennedy’s assassination was only months away.

Governor John Chafee and the Rhode Island legislature were also putting the final touches on the opening of Rhode Island’s first community college.

When we reflect on the “good old days,” we often realize that they weren’t as rosy as we tend to remember them.

Every age has had its challenges. That was true in 1963 and it’s true today.

Today we have a stock market in flux, political polarization and an economy in Rhode Island that is not projected to improve for the remainder of this decade. But more on that in a bit.

No matter the year, the key to challenges and to change is how well you manage and adapt. The last five years have brought a never-ending series of challenges and changes to our state and our college. What we do to manage and adapt will ultimately define us, as an administration, as educators and as an institution.

Shortly, I’ll report on some of the routes we’ve taken to confront and deal with the challenges that have arisen over the past year.

The following are new employees who have joined the college since last Opening Day. 


  • Tia Applegate, senior teller in the Bursar’s Office in Lincoln
  • Mary Arias, eligibility technician in Financial Aid in Lincoln
  • Sindy Ceballos, representative in Enrollment Services in Providence
  • John Cruz, coordinator/counselor in ACCESS, in Lincoln
  • Margarita Dacosta, janitor in the Physical Plant in Lincoln
  • Michael Egan, plumber in the Physical Plant in Warwick
  • Robert Gravier, senior maintenance technician in the Physical Plant in Lincoln
  • Susan Hook, information aide in Dental Health/Hygiene in Lincoln
  • Judith Hubbs, supervising pre-audit clerk in the Controller’s Office in Warwick
  • Andrea Lachapelle, associate director of Financial Aid Services in Providence
  • Dawn Lapre, technical staff assistant in Mathematics in Lincoln
  • Michelle Lourenco, fiscal clerk in Accounts Payable in Warwick
  • Elizabeth Meaney, academic adviser in CWCE in Providence
  • William Pacheco, senior maintenance technician in the Physical Plant in Lincoln
  • Brendalee Peckham-Bell, graphic designer/public relations officer in Marketing and Communications in Warwick
  • Jillian Salerno, coordinator in Career Pathways in Warwick
  • Gail Sidney, coordinator/counselor in ACCESS in Warwick
  • Deborah Valliere, senior teller in the Bursar’s Office in Lincoln
  • Mark Vigorito, associate director of financial aid operations in Financial Aid in Lincoln
  • Joseph Winn, coordinator - sales and outreach in CWCE in Warwick


  • Melissa Boyajian, visiting lecturer in Physics in Warwick
  • Kate Chadwick, assistant professor in Nursing in Lincoln
  • Jessica Fede, assistant professor in Psychology in Providence
  • Leslie Killgore, assistant professor in Social Sciences in Warwick
  • Melanie Lally, assistant professor in Nursing in Warwick
  • Brenda Micheletti, assistant professor in English in Lincoln
  • Karin O’Rourke, assistant professor in Nursing in Lincoln
  • Deborah Perlow, visiting lecturer in the Library in Newport
  • Rachel Rogers, assistant professor in Psychology in Warwick
  • Keith Scally, assistant professor in Nursing in Newport
  • Heather Townsend, assistant professor in Biology in Lincoln
  • Gina Lyn Villarica, assistant professor in Nursing in Warwick

I extend my very best wishes to all for a long and distinguished career at the Community College of Rhode Island. The following employees have retired since Opening Day one year ago.

  • Taggart Aitken, 26 years of service
  • Marlene Albanese, 26 years of service
  • Kathleen Blade, 12 years of service
  • Donald Brown, 15 years of service
  • Brian Burke, 16 years of service
  • Jill DeGregorio, 38 years of service
  • Raymond Gonsalves, 22 years of service
  • Cledia Holland, 21 years of service
  • James Isherwood, 22 years of service
  • Carol Krause-Ferraioli, 41 years of service
  • Dr. Jaclynne Laxon, 41 years of service
  • Richard Santos, 14 years of service

I want to take this opportunity to commend and recognize our esteemed retirees who have provided such valuable service to the Community College of Rhode Island. How about this statistic … this group of retirees has provided 294 years of service to the community college!


Opening Day is a day of anticipation as we get ready to welcome thousands of students to our campuses tomorrow morning. It is also a time for us to celebrate the commitment of the CCRI faculty and staff who continue to do wonderful work and provide great service to our students. Everything we do here is centered on students, and this morning I’d like to share a few stories of student achievement to remind you how unique and amazing CCRI students are.

First, I’d like to tell you about Justin Marcotte , who is now a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. In July, he presented me with a copy of the silver medal he won for Related Technical Math at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Justin came in second place among 18 competitors from across the country on a test of work-related mathematical skills that touched on all disciplines. Justin took calculus courses at CCRI during the last academic year and is now at WPI studying actuarial math. He is a great example of achievement and a model for our students.

Also this year, students from the Knight and Liston chapters of CCRI’s Collegiate DECA , an international organization for business and marketing students, came home with top honors from the DECA International Career Development Conference held in Orlando, Florida. Four CCRI students placed in the top 10 in the nation and nine received certificates of excellence for placing in the top 30 percent in the country. Ten students also were recognized for showing leadership skills. We’re so proud of our DECA students!

And then we have Erin Archer , who has transferred to Rhode Island College this fall. Erin was the first CCRI student ever to win the prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Audition Scholarship at the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival Region 1 Festival at Fitchburg State University. Erin was selected out of about 250 candidates from other colleges in New England and eastern New York and competed at the national level in Washington, D.C., where she was the only finalist from a two-year college. She is a great example of the wonderful Performing Arts Department we have here at CCRI and we wish her well at RIC.

And here’s another first for CCRI – and for the state! On July 6, we held a pinning ceremony for our first-ever graduates in the new Opticianry program . Two years ago, these nine students began taking classes unique from all other CCRI students such as optical dispensing, optical anatomy, optical laboratory techniques and optical theory. As opticians, these graduates will fit patients with eyeglasses and contact lenses, or perhaps even design eyewear. Their success here at CCRI will lead them into careers in a growing industry in which they will help patients have the best sight they can.

Last, I’d like to welcome Ashley Olson . Ashley was a freshman from Coventry last year and was primarily a catcher on our softball team, which started the season with a 3-9 record and finished by winning 17 of their final 21 games. Ashley was named Third Team All-American by the NJCAA after she set school records for most hits and RBIs in a season – both 62 – and most doubles in a season – 15. Now, I should mention that our softball program started in 1980, so this is a significant achievement! I have no doubt that we will be seeing good things from Ashley and the rest of the softball team this spring! We’re so proud of the achievements of our student-athletes.

While we’re focusing on students, I’d like to introduce to you our newest Student Ambassadors .

  • Jennifer Bates
  • Robert Caruolo
  • Marilyn James
  • Andre Landry
  • Jean Merlain

You will be seeing them at many events over the course of the academic year.

And I’d also like to introduce the Student Government presidents who will serve the college and the student body this year:

  • President of the Knight Campus Student Government, Pedro Montecino
  • President of the Liston Campus Student Government, Billy Lewis
  • President of the Flanagan Campus Student Government, Antoun Bahit

Of course, our students aren’t the only ones with significant achievements. I have heard that some of you did some interesting things this summer; we’re about to hear about some of them now. Each year, the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development – better known as NISOD - bestows its Excellence Awards to deserving recipients. The Excellence Awards recognize the importance of outstanding teaching and leadership in institutions of higher education. This year’s NISOD winners are:

  • Dr. Hilary Jansson, Associate Professor of Nursing
  • Dr. Raymond Kilduff, Professor of Psychology
  • Dr. Richard Pendola, Professor of Biology

This summer, Associate Professors Kathy Blessing and Jack Every learned they have received two grants they applied for in commemoration of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary this year. With the first grant, the college will receive copies of three texts that probe the meanings of the country’s deadliest war. Next spring, educators, members of the public and others will take part in five discussions based on the texts. As a result of the second grant, the college will host an exhibition for six weeks that explores the constitutional issues of secession, civil liberties and emancipation that President Lincoln faced during the Civil War. They are hopeful that the exhibition will not only engage members of the college community, but also high school history educators and their students as well as members of the public.

The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts has awarded Art Professor Maureen Kelman a 2012 Artist’s Fellowship in three-dimensional art. The fellowships are highly competitive and encourage the creative development of artists by enabling them to set aside time to pursue their work and achieve specific creative and career goals. Also this summer, a two-page review of her recent artwork appeared in “Surface Design,” the premiere quarterly journal for textile arts.

Staff members Eric Klein, Jackie Mane and John Cruz instituted a pilot project called The Access Summer Institute from June 13 to July 28 designed to reduce the number of developmental classes some students must take. Participants were tested to determine their specific challenges in remedial math, reading and writing and a custom curriculum was tailored for each student, who then completed the curriculum through a combination of computer-based and live, one-on-one instruction. Fifty-nine percent of participants placed out of all developmental course work in the subject area they worked on and 71 percent placed out of at least one developmental class – and some placed out of as many as four classes.

Elizabeth A. Morais, professor of Spanish and Portuguese, was one of 19 applicants to receive an inaugural fellowship from The Beatrice S. Demers Fund to continue her study of Mandarin at both the University of Rhode Island and at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou Province, China, this summer. She will continue her studies this fall at URI. About her experience, Elizabeth writes, [quote] “I offer this to our community of learners that it’s never too late to learn something new and that it is always an enriching and rewarding experience.”

Thomas F. Morrissey, professor of Art and director of exhibitions at the Flanagan Campus Art Gallery, learned that he will have his artwork on permanent display in a new Department of Defense facility in the Washington, D.C., area. Among his works selected are several photographic images from his book “Between the Lines” and a recently completed mixed media and acrylic painting, “Badge,” which is an abstracted interpretation of the Vietnam Service Ribbon. Tom is a Vietnam combat veteran. He will attend a celebration and reception for dignitaries and the artists whose works are in the collection this fall.

Congratulations to all of you for a summer full of achievements. Thank you to all who submitted your stories. These and the rest are in your program.


The budget we submitted for fiscal year 2012 attempted to maintain the level of state funding – 49 percent – that we had in fiscal year 2010. As you know, the budget request did not include an increase in student tuition for this fall.

As you might recall that I mentioned at Professional Development Day this spring, Governor Chafee recommended that CCRI receive an increase in state appropriation of $4.5 million to compensate for no increase in tuition and also was recommending an increase in our FTE cap of 65 positions. So, while the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College sought approval from the Board of Governors for tuition increases for this fall semester, CCRI did not.

We all knew that this fiscal year would be tight and that the General Assembly would have many difficult decisions to make. The result is the CCRI received an increase of only $1.7 million and an increase of 50 FTEs. State funding now represents only 45 percent of our unrestricted budget. And we have no tuition increase for fall to offset the difference.

To make up the $5.6 million difference between CCRI’s request and the General Assembly’s allocation, we need to budget for turnover around 9 percent – still less than the 12 percent we had in fiscal year 2011, but higher than the 6 percent we had hoped. This, combined with a one-pay-period “medical holiday,” which is a technical state adjustment, and a decrease in student help allocations will generate $3.6 million of the $5.6 million reduction. We have identified $1.8 million in savings by reducing funding for technology and asset protection projects as well as academic capital funding and travel monies. Management of student receivables by being consistent in the college’s drop for nonpayment has yielded a real savings of $177,000.

Taking these precautions will help manage this year’s budget without a tuition increase but we are vulnerable: Collective bargaining is still an issue, enrollment targets must be met and with the correct student mix for maximum revenue generation, and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act fire safety projects must be completed in a timely manner to maximize use of federal money. Any of these fiscal issues can be problematic. For this reason I have gone on record with the Board of Governors that a mid-year tuition increase request may not be out of the question, but we sincerely hope that this does not turn out to be the case.


Fall enrollment has been steady. The Office of Enrollment Services reported this morning that approximately 16,900 students had enrolled for the fall semester, with late registration still under way. On this date last year, we had enrolled 16,812, so we are holding steady thus far – even after five drops of more than 3,300 students total for nonpayment. Last year’s final headcount was 17,775; so, while we might not surpass that number this year, as I mentioned in my budget update, the practice of consistently honoring “drop for nonpayment” dates means more students pay on time or do not re-enroll, thus reducing the college’s bad debt.


Before we close, I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about some institutional initiatives. Next semester, renovations will begin to the very theater where you are sitting today. By our next convocation, you will be sitting in new seats, enjoying improved lighting and sound. We are very excited to begin this project, which has been made possible through the Imagine capital campaign.

We have begun our ten year NEASC accreditation process. You’ll be hearing more about this in the near future, but I’d like to thank the 110 faculty and staff members who have volunteered to be a part of this important initiative.

Our continued efforts to raise money from private sources will allow us to continue to move forward with capital initiatives here at CCRI. And to that end, I’d like to mention two upcoming events this fall that will help raise money to help our students continue their efforts to change their lives and achieve their dreams.

The first is the 17th annual Fall Classic on Monday, Sept. 19, at the Alpine Country Club in Cranston. There are still a few playing spots left, and also opportunities for sponsorship. The day promises good food, camaraderie, awards and prizes as well as a spectacular playing course. Last year’s event raised more than $28,000 to help defray the expenses of college for students who continue to be challenged by the difficult economy. Since the tournament began through the efforts of Joe DiMaria and Ray Ferland, more than $300,000 has been raised to help students with scholarship assistance, book purchases and a variety of other forms of financial assistance. Visit my president’s page on the CCRI website to register.

Also, I invite you to spend “A Cool Winter’s Evening” at the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston for the CCRI Foundation’s Changing Lives Celebration on Dec. 1. This event honors three local champions while raising money to support student success. This year, Independent Insurance Agents of Rhode Island is our Business Champion. This organization has contributed to the college's buildings and grounds fund in support of safety and upgrades to the college campuses. Walter and Eileen J. Jachna are our Education Champions. Walter is a 1998 alumnus of the college and the Jachnas have established the Walter and Eileen J. Jachna Scholarship through the Foundation to provide financial support to a student majoring in Paralegal Studies or Nursing. To date, nine students have benefitted from this award. And, last, our Community Champion this year is YearUp, which provides a training and support program for local youth to assist them with the transition from high school to livable wage careers and higher education. The college has a dual enrollment agreement with the organization. You will be seeing more about this event in the coming weeks, and I hope to see many of you there.

There’s one last way you can help us this fall – by giving your time and talents to our third Grand Information Session. This time, we’re holding GIS at the Flanagan Campus in Lincoln from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4. This information session is geared toward adult learners who wish to attend CCRI but don’t know where to start. We have heard from many past attendees that they learned about GIS from talking to faculty and staff members so, even if you can’t attend that night, it would be helpful if you can mention this event to those who you think might benefit.


We’ve spoken a lot about change today. As we come to the close of this year’s Opening Day Convocation, I’d like to ask each of you to reflect on the one thing that will never change: Our dedication to our student’s success and our determination to help them change their lives and achieve their dreams. I’d like to share a short, four-minute video with you that I hope will inspire you as we head into the new academic year.

VIDEO: Sights and sounds of commencement

As we get bombarded daily with bad news and headlines that forecast economic doom and gloom, it can be difficult to stay positive. But that video speaks to the good work that we are all doing here at CCRI. That video carries the undeniable message that we are making a difference. Take that message with you as you leave here today.

Thank you, and have a great semester.

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Last Updated: 8/2/16