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Applicants Sought for Inaugural Michael S. Van Leesten Awards Program

Published on March 30, 2021 by Rhode Island Housing
Applicants Sought for Inaugural Michael S. Van Leesten Awards Program

Two scholarships and a summer fellowship available

Providence, RI – RIHousing is seeking applicants for the agency’s Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Awards program, an awards program that provides financial assistance to students pursuing a career in the construction trades or a degree related to the housing field through two scholarship opportunities and one summer fellowship. The awards program honors the life and work of Michael S. Van Leesten, a longtime advocate dedicated to improving the lives of Rhode Islanders through his business leadership, civil rights activism, and public service.

“Michael was a tireless advocate and passionate visionary,” said Nicolas P. Retsinas, Chairman of the RIHousing Board of Commissioners. “By establishing these new learning opportunities, RIHousing is providing additional pathways for young people of diverse backgrounds to further their education and continue his work.”

The program honors Van Leesten’s lifelong commitment to housing and education and includes both a scholarship program and fellowship position. Born and raised in Providence, Van Leesten was one of the founders and the Executive Director of Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rhode Island, a non-profit corporation offering career coaching, job training, and support for small businesses in urban communities. He served as the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of RIHousing from 1987-1991 and held leadership positions with the Providence Branch of the NAACP, Urban League of Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society.

To support students pursuing education and training in fields related to housing, RIHousing is offering two $5,000 scholarship awards, one for a student pursuing a career in the construction trades and a second scholarship for a student pursuing a degree related to housing, including but not limited to, finance, economics, architecture, engineering, public health, planning or public policy.

The program also offers a Summer Research & Policy Fellowship for rising undergraduate seniors and graduate students. This Fellowship will support a student pursuing a career in any field related to housing. The fellow and RIHousing will choose a housing issue in Rhode Island to explore in-depth through research, program evaluation or policy analysis.

“The goal of this new program is to increase opportunities for members of underrepresented groups to learn about and participate both academically and professionally within fields connected to housing,” said Carol Ventura, Executive Director of RIHousing. “We encourage Rhode Island educators, business leaders and members of the general public to share information on the awards program with eligible applicants.”

All applicants must be a resident of Rhode Island. Applicants may be enrolled in a program out-of-state, but their permanent residence must be within Rhode Island.

The deadline for applicants is midnight on April 30, 2021. Interested applicants should visit for additional information and how to apply.