Furniture designer and educator Rosanne Somerson became the 17th president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) last month. She has been a part of the RISD community for four decades, and interim president since Jan. 1, 2014.
Photo by Jo Sittenfeld for RISD.
The decision to name Somerson president came from an 11-member committee comprised of individuals from the RISD community, appointed by Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter.
“Her experiences as a RISD student, faculty member, department head, provost and interim president provide a depth of knowledge and almost instinctive understanding of the institution that no other candidate could match,” said Spalter. “She has also demonstrated the collaborative leadership style and informed vision RISD needs to expand its role in advancing global innovation in the 21st century.”
Though intent on studying photography when she arrived at RISD as a freshman, Somerson changed her focus after a woodworking course. “I was challenged as I never had been before,” said Somerson. “I was trying to find the right means of expression, and working in three dimensions was simpatico with my needs as an artist.”
She graduated with a BFA in Industrial Design in 1976, two decades before the school had a Furniture Design department.
Somerson became a leader in the field of studio furniture, as well as in art and design education. In 2011, she was named interim provost and accepted a permanent appointment in 2012. She became the interim president after the 16th president, John Maeda, left for a position in Silicon Valley.
Pushing through a campus master plan to improve studios, classrooms, student housing and administrative spaces was only one of Somerson's achievements as interim president. She also helped to articulate RISD's academic vision, Critical Making, Making Critical, which emphasizes immersive learning along with research, innovation, student engagement and diversity among RISD's academic priorities.
“I am honored to lead this institution, to build on its strong 138-year legacy and advance ambitious plans for facilities, programs and global partnerships,” said Somerson. “I know firsthand the value of an art and design education, and am confident that RISD’s model of immersive, studio-based learning has greater global impact and is more important and vital than ever.”