Alumni Awards & Recognition
The Alumni Awards are presented annually to graduates and community leaders whose personal and professional achievement and service to the community and Rhode Island College and/or the Alumni Association bring honor upon themselves and the College.
2022 Alumni Award Honorees
2022 Honoree Biographies
John Nazarian Alumnus/Alumna of the Year Award
Dr. V. Michael Ferdinandi ’71 and Lucille Ferdinandi ’70, M.Ed. ‘75
Dr. V. Michael Ferdinandi and his wife, Lucille share a deep commitment to Rhode Island College. In 2021 they donated a $1.2 million planned gift to establish the V. Michael and Lucille Ferdinandi Endowed Scholarship. This is the second largest gift in the college’s history. It will support first-time, full-time freshmen who have high academic standing and financial need. The couple shared that their gift was made possible because of the opportunities they received at Rhode Island College that prepared them for the future. The couple met at Rhode Island College, where Michael was majoring in industrial arts and Lucille in elementary education. They both shared a passion for education and understood that access to opportunity can make a difference in people’s lives. Lucille taught in Johnston public schools for 20 years, earned her master’s in counseling at RIC and worked as a counselor at CCRI. Michael, too, came back to earn his master’s degree at RIC and his doctorate at Boston University. His career led him from the classroom to three of the country’s leading Fortune 20 companies: PepsiCo, the Ford Motor Company and CVS Caremark. He retired as Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for CVS in 2012. Ever the educator, Michael returned to the classroom as an Executive in Residence at Palm Beach Atlantic University for seven years, where he helped prepare students for successful careers. The Ferdinandi’s life and legacy will impact the lives of Rhode Island College students for years to come.
Charles B. Willard Professional Achievement Award
Capt. Octavio Borges, M.D. ’88
Capt. Octavio Borges, M.D. has had a 25-year military career as a Navy physician. He graduated from Rhode Island College in 1988, with a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry. He then enrolled in the Brown-Dartmouth Medical Program in 1992, specializing in ophthalmology. After graduating from med school, Borges joined the U.S. Navy in 1995 and was assigned to both the Naval Hospital Pensacola as staff ophthalmologist and to Fleet Hospital 15 as an eye surgeon. He then enrolled in the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute and Naval Flight School. Upon completion of flight training, he was assigned to Patrol Squadron Eight, a Navy squadron tasked with reconnaissance, intelligence and antisubmarine warfare. Following his tour of duty, Borges was assigned to Naval Health Clinic New England, where he continued to rise in rank and position, his highest rank being that of Navy captain. He has extensive experience in deployed operations and humanitarian assignments and was a major contributor to the President’s initiative in the Partnership For the Americas mission where the crew of the USNS Comfort provided medical and surgical care to the people of Central and South America nations. His expertise has also been utilized by the Navy and Air Force Medical Support Agency, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Armed Services and NASA. In his final tour of duty, Borges served as chief Navy liaison and chief of aerospace medicine at the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In addition to his military duties, Borges has engaged in clinical research, published in major peer-reviewed journals, and was a clinical instructor in ophthalmology surgery at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the Providence VA Medical Center. Though Borges officially retired from active duty, he continued to offer his services as a consultant at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Alumni Service Award
Donna Lennon, ’75, M.Ed.’01
Lennon is a two-time graduate of Rhode Island College, having earned her B.S.N. in 1975 and her M.Ed. in 2001. For the past 26 years, she has worked as school nurse teacher for Matunuck Elementary School in Wakefield, R.I., and nursing coordinator for the South Kingstown School District. On the frontlines of three pandemics – AIDS, H1N1 and COVID-19 – Lennon has demonstrated a deep commitment to the health and safety of others. During the AIDS pandemic, she was head nurse at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, developing nursing standards of care for AIDs patients. During H1N1, she administered vaccines to children. And during COVID-19, she triaged and cared for sick children at Matunuck Elementary School. She also developed district guidance for safe in-person learning, contact tracing and school safety standards along with spearheading the asymptomatic testing of staff and students in all South Kingstown schools and the vaccination of staff and students. Her community service truly knows no bounds. She is involved in food drives, coat drives, peanut butter express drives, cell phones for soldiers, pennies for patients and many others. Dedicated to health education, Lennon served for over 20 years as coordinator of Matunuck's Healthy Schools! Healthy Kids! program and co-chaired the Matunuck Elementary Health Fairs. She also gives back to RIC by taking on the role of preceptor to graduate nursing students. Much deservedly, Lennon is the recipient of three Leadership Awards from the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Young Alumni Award
Dr. Melissa Marcotte ‘12
Assistant Professor Melissa Marcotte earned her B.A. in psychology and B.S. in chemical dependency and addiction studies at Rhode Island College. She went on to earn her master’s degree and Ph.D. in behavioral science at URI, with focus on multicultural psychology and research design and statistics. Marcotte was honored with the Graduate Student Excellence Award by URI’s Department of Psychology for her teaching, research, and initiatives around social justice, diversity, and inclusion. As a first-generation college student from Woonsocket, Marcotte credits RIC’s Department of Psychology and the research opportunities and mentorship she received at RIC for inspiring her love of research and statistics and for preparing her for graduate school. Marcotte returned to RIC in 2017 to begin teaching in RIC’s Department of Psychology, with the intention of giving her students, particularly first-generation and other underrepresented students in STEM, the opportunity to learn about, participate in, and develop a love for statistics and research methods. As a Buddhist and Kingian Nonviolence trainer, Marcotte’s research focuses on experiences that lead to cognitive dissonance, which result in inter- and intrapersonal acts of aggression. She is also interested in potential interventions and practices to prevent such violence. Marcotte runs the Department of Psychology’s Social Cognition Lab, where both undergraduate and graduate student research assistants gain invaluable research experience. Marcotte has mentored McNair scholars, honors students, and graduate students and has proudly taken students to regional conferences to present their own research.
Alumni Faculty Award
Professor Mark Motte
Professor of Geography Mark Motte has been a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Rhode Island College since 1995. He is also a recipient of the Paul Maixner Award for sustained excellence in teaching. Motte earned his Ph.D. in urban planning and policy at Rutgers University. In addition to teaching courses in urban planning, policy and geography, Motte has served in a number of administrative positions at RIC, including special assistant to the president for community affairs; assistant vice president for the Office of Academic Affairs; director of Graduate Studies; director of the David E. Sweet Center for Public Policy; director of the Feinstein Institute for Philanthropic Leadership; acting director of the Office of Research and Grants Administration; interim director of the Bureau of Government Research and Services; founding director of the Institute for Portuguese and Lusophone World Studies; acting director of the College Honors Program; director of the Study Abroad Program and Geography Program; and co-founder and director of the Undergraduate Certificate Program in Nonprofit Studies. Motte has also served in a voluntary or consulting capacity at several public, private and nonprofit organizations. He’s been involved in many statewide and regional applied research projects sponsored by government agencies and private foundations; he was commissioner on the Cranston City Planning Commission; he has served on the board of many organizations; and he has co-authored a book on the political history of Providence, numerous articles, monographs and book reviews.
Alumni Staff Award
Nancy Bessette ’10
Nancy received her undergraduate degree in Communication from Rhode Island College in 2010 and a masters in Adult Education from the University of Rhode Island. She is a first-generation financial aid professional who has worked in the Financial Aid Office at Rhode Island College since 2000. During the past 22 years, Bessette has worn many hats within the financial aid office leading to her current role as Interim Director of Financial aid. She serves on multiple professional committees and organizations associated with the financial aid profession and works with her team to recognize and meet the financial needs of currently enrolled and prospective RIC students. Bessette shares that she is passionate about working with her colleagues at the college to support our students by making continuous improvements to help them reach their goals. She has been married to her husband, Eric, for 26 years and has two beautiful daughters and an amazing granddaughter.
Honor Roll Awards
Faculty of Arts & Sciences Honor Roll
Nicholas Hardisty ’13, M.A. ’17 History
Nicolas Hardisty is program manager and historian at Tall Ships America, the national body for sail training and tall ships. Upon earning his master’s degree in history at Rhode Island College, Hardisty served as lead coordinator for the RIC/Rhode Island State House Tour Project and as adjunct instructor at RIC and CCRI. He then transitioned to his role at Tall Ships America, where he has supported the educational efforts of America’s traditional sailing fleet and helped develop a national certification program for early-career mariners. Hardisty has compiled a virtual archive documenting 50 years of American sail-training history and maritime heritage. He co-founded Global Empire & Resistance Scholarship, an international academic collective that promotes interdisciplinary scholarship, with the goal of supporting early-career academics across BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and gender spectrums. He has presented articles at numerous historical conferences and was recently named to the New England Regional World History Association’s executive council.
Alex Nunes ’07 Sociology
Alex Nunes is bureau chief and South County reporter for The Public’s Radio. He covers stories in Southern Rhode Island and manages the NPR affiliate’s news bureaus in Newport and New Bedford. Nunes was among staff reporters at The Public's Radio to receive a First Place Award from the national Public Media Journalists Association for their coverage of racial justice issues in 2020; and in 2019 he received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for his 30-part podcast series “Mosaic,” which aired on The Public’s Radio. Co-hosted and co-produced by Nunes, “Mosaic” explores the history of immigration in Southern New England through stories told by the immigrants and their descendants. Prior to joining The Public’s Radio, Nunes was an editor at The Westerly Sun and The New London Day. He holds an M.A. in journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in sociology from Rhode Island College.
Jessica Vega ’10 Psychology
Jessica Vega is city councilwoman for Central Falls and the first Dominican American council president in the city’s history. After earning a B.A. in psychology at RIC in 2010, Vega went on to earn an M.A. in community development at Roger Williams University in 2019. Elected to city council in 2018, Vega has been a fierce advocate for children, youth and families. She’s been a leader on the issue of criminal justice reform, both serving as president of the Central Falls Juvenile Hearing Board and as a member of the Policing and Use of Force Commission, which led to significant reforms in the Central Falls Police Department. Vega sponsored an ordinance that repealed the youth curfew and an ordinance that prohibited the police department from cooperating with ICE. In 2019 she co-sponsored an ordinance to create the city's first affordable housing fund. Jessica is currently the Dunamis Synergy Initiative Director for the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation.
School of Business Honor Roll
Benjamin Silva ’11
Benjamin Silva graduated summa cum laude, with a B.S. in accounting, in 2011. That same year, he completed the CPA exam for which he was awarded the Nicholas Picchione Gold Award for achieving the highest score in Rhode Island. Silva continued his education at Bryant University, where he earned an M.P.Ac. in public accountancy in 2012 and an M.S. in taxation in 2016. His career began at DiSanto, Priest & Co., one of the largest regional accounting firms in Southern New England. He moved on to Oliveira & Associates, Ltd., where he held the role of manager. And in 2019 Silva co-founded his own C.P.A. firm – ClarkSilva, where he specializes in tax planning and compliance for privately held businesses and high-net-worth individuals. Silva credits Rhode Island College for providing him with the foundation, skills and opportunities he needed to achieve success in the accounting field.
Feinstein School of Education and Human Development Honor Roll
Plinio "Edward" German ’05
Ed German credits the wrestling team at Mt. Pleasant High School for his becoming a man and for teaching him that he was capable of success in academics as well as athletics. He went on to wrestle for Rhode Island College and was awarded for his academic work in special education. Today, German is the Head Wrestling Coach at Hope High School, a Bilingual Special Education teacher at William D'Abate School, where he instills in his student-athletes the same inner drive to be successful. German, diligently follows his student-athlete's school attendance, grades and overall well-being; he’s in constant communication with their teachers, guidance counselors, and parents; he funds their participation at summer wrestling camps, college visits, and private lessons; and he’s there to support them throughout their lives. Awarded Coach of the Year three times over and Assistant Coach of the Year two times over, German is a recipient of the Lisa Bonaventura award, the NAACP Leadership Award, and was honored with multiple citations from the mayor, governor, state treasurer and senator.
Zvart Onanian School of Nursing Honor Roll
Kerin Da Cruz B.S.N. ‘93
Kerin Da Cruz, who earned her B.S.N. at RIC in 1993 and her M.A. in nursing administration at URI, is a consummate leader in the nursing field. In 2020 she was appointed senior vice president and chief nursing officer for L+M Healthcare which is a member of the Yale New Haven Health system and consists of L+M Hospital, Westerly Hospital and the VNA of South Eastern CT. In this role, she leads teams in nursing, patient care services, laboratory, and care management and oversees the organizations two Smilow Cancer Centers in Waterford and Westerly. Da Cruz is also a per-course faculty member at URI, where she teaches leadership in the College of Nursing. Her areas of expertise include executive leadership, labor negotiations and culture change in healthcare organizations. In 2021 Da Cruz was honored with URI’s Luminary Award for her contributions to professional practice, education and the College of Nursing. Da Cruz is board certified as a nurse executive in nursing administration and is a fellow in the American College of Health Care Executives where she served on the editorial board. She currently serves on the boards for the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce and Mitchel College in CT. She is a member of the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, the Organization of Nurse Executives, and the Organization of Nurse Leaders for New England where she is a past board member representing the state of Rhode Island.
School of Social Work Honor Roll
Walter Orellana M.S.W. ’10
Walter Orellana is a licensed independent clinical social worker, a chemical dependency professional and assistant professor in the Department of Human Services at CCRI. He has provided counseling services for adults, children and families and clinical supervision to staff and graduate student interns. Orellana is passionate about social justice, equal rights and service to the community, and he takes pride in giving back. He served as adjunct faculty member in RIC’s School of Social Work, has served on the board of directors at Segue Institute for Learning, was a member of the Continuing Competence Committee for the Association of Social Work Boards and was a subject matter expert for the Advanced Alcohol & Drug Counselor exam development. Orellana also contributes to the social work field as a member of the Rhode Island Board of Social Work Examiners. In 2017 he was awarded Social Worker of the Year in Health/Mental Health by the NASW Rhode Island Chapter.