University News

U. promotes in-state opportunities for alums

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

When students envision their lives after Brown, few consider staying in Rhode Island. But in an effort to retain graduates, the University has been working with the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island to launch Bridge, a joint initiative aimed at encouraging more alums to stay in Rhode Island.

Dan Egan, president of the association, said the idea came from a knowledge symposium held at the University last year, which brought together business leaders and academics in the state. President Ruth Simmons and presidents from seven other institutions in the state have pledged their support for the program. According to Egan, the number of Brown students who remain in the state after graduation will be released next month, but it is less than the figure for graduates of other schools in Rhode Island. The retention rate for Rhode Island schools is generally between 10 and 15 percent, he said.  

The idea for Bridge came from a series of discussions about “the knowledge-based economy and the role of the University in that economy,” said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the President. “There could be more internship opportunities available if we were more systematic about identifying them,” Spies said, adding that he wanted to help Brown students feel like they were part of the community rather than “four-year visitors.”

“There’s a lot here in Providence and Rhode Island that you don’t see with so much to do on campus,” he said.  “We care about graduates having successful careers, and we also care about the community and the robustness of the economy.”

Egan said he hopes Bridge will highlight these opportunities to students and show them that staying in Providence “may be the right choice for the right person.” He added that it is the “perfect time” to do so as graduates are finding it difficult to find jobs in this economy, and those that might have “traditionally fled to (Los Angeles), Singapore or London” might be convinced to stay in the state and help grow the economy here.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing Rhode Island while not in the college bubble,” said Rebekah Bergman ’11, who will be working with Teach for America in the state after graduation. “I want to give back to the city and the community,” she added. “I’m very comfortable with my decision.”

She said that other students she knows are also “open to the possibility” of staying here after graduation and are willing to “take what they can get.”

“It’s win-win for everybody,” Egan said. “It’s a win for the state of Rhode Island. It’s a win for the students to have a young, healthy alumni base that attracts a younger, more entrepreneurial and engaged community.”

Egan said the association is also working on an iPhone application targeting the state’s 80,000 undergraduate students and a summer immersion program that would provide paid internships to students from each school who would become Bridge ambassadors in their communities.  

“Bridge is really a communications vehicle,” he said.  

“Not many graduates stay in Rhode Island. It’s difficult because there are no jobs here,” said Dave Tapalian ’97, who works as a manager at Olives and an attorney in Rhode Island. He said that it was different for him because he was “local” and “knew a lot of people within the state,” adding that he would not have stayed after he graduated if he were not from Rhode Island.  

“The other day a sixth grade student asked me — ‘Why would you ever stay in Rhode Island?'” said Nick Werle ’10, a teacher at the Wheeler School in Providence. “I didn’t really have anything more compelling to do.”  

Werle said he considers it a “fake fifth year” of college spent teaching classes rather than taking them and that it made sense because he could network with people here and continue his research. Most of the Brown graduates he knows that remain in the state take up a job that is somehow affiliated with the University, he said.  

“I plan to move out right after the Campus Dance,” he said. The University could better incentivize students to stay by extending library and Olney-Margolies Athletics Center privileges, he said, “especially after we have just paid four years of tuition.”