Media release

Rhode Island Foundation announces five recipients of college scholarships honoring Roger Williams

The goal of philanthropists Letitia and the late John Carter is to encourage students to think big about their futures

The Rhode Island Foundation is sending high school seniors from Cranston, East Providence and Providence off to college with scholarships honoring Roger Williams, the state’s founding father.

The four-year, renewable scholarships are through the Carter Roger Williams Initiative, which was launched by philanthropists Letitia and the late John Carter in 2017. This year’s recipients are eligible for $320,000 in aid over four years.

“All of these students discovered inspiration in Roger Williams and in turn has an inspiring story of their own to share. It is due to the commitment and generosity of the Carter family that we can offer students and their parents this opportunity to think big about their future."

- Neil D. Steinberg, Rhode Island Foundation president and CEO

This year’s scholarship recipients are Ita Encarnacion of Providence, Joseph Grajales of Providence, Haylee Mota of East Providence, Jayson Rodriguez of Cranston and Michael Salzillo of Providence.

They were selected from more than 70 applicants based on their academic achievement, financial need, appreciation for Roger Williams’ values and record of community service.

Ita Encarnacion
Ita Encarnacion

Encarnacion attends the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center and plans to attend St. Louis University and major in Environmental Science.

Her activities include an internship at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center and serving as a Recruitment Captain and Leadership Team member at the Providence Student Union and a member of the Met School’s Ethics Bowl team and Leadership Team.

In her application, Encarnacion shared how she relates to Roger Williams’ values.

“My knowledge of Roger Williams has influenced the way in which I view my community by seeing his tolerant values and hopes of Rhode Island, in Rhode Island now. My family found ourselves in Rhode Island as immigrants because we saw the amount of diversity and sense of community, and although there’s always a place for improvement, I believe Rhode Island embodies his better qualities up to this day,” said Encarnacion.

Haylee Mota
Haylee Mota

Mota attends East Providence High School and plans to attend the University of Southern California and major in in mechanical or aerospace engineering.

Her activities include an internship with Prepare RI, where she collaborated with a team to develop an app to streamline patient visitation scheduling practices during COVID-19 for some Rhode Island hospitals; competing on the FIRST Robotics team, which won the 2020 state Championship; and volunteering at Bridgewater Elementary School, where she helps a blind student learn how to use the Braille Note assistive technology device to complete class assignments.

In her application, Mota describes how, as a person with a vision-related impairment, she relates to Roger Williams.

“He deviated from what the community expected of him and forged his own path. Similar to Roger Williams, I have spent my life fighting against the expectations others have about what I can and cannot do. Throughout, I have stuck to my belief that I will set my own expectations,” said Mota.

Joseph Grajales
Joseph Grajales

Grajales attends the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center. They plan to attend the Rhode Island School of Design to pursue a BA in fine arts or painting.

Grajales’ activities include serving as Design Director at the Providence Student Union, serving on the Studio Team Advisory at New Urban Arts, working as an accounting assistant at Premium Services, participating in RISD’s Project Open Door and serving on the Justice Student Action Committee. They also received a Scholastic Art & Writing Award in Drawing & Illustration.

In their application, Grajales shared how they relate to Roger Williams’ values. “I aspire to lead like Williams and uphold his vision of an equitable community for people of all different identities. Growing up as a Queer Black student, I’ve had to innovate my entire life. Whether it was through educating peers who had bullied me or helping staff better support students like me, I used my voice and ideas wherever I could. By using my art in combination with my Black and Queer experiences to imagine a future that centers justice for Black, Queer, and other marginalized groups, I’m able to uphold the Rhode Island community he created,” said Grajales.

Jayson Rodriguez
Jayson Rodriguez

Rodriguez attends the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center. Their activities include College Visions, Leadership Team Co-Director of the Providence Student Union and founder and Editor-in-Chief of the youth literary magazine Violet Magic Zine.

A recipient of a Scholastics Art and Writing Award and the Secretary of State's Civil Leadership Award, they also were a finalist for a National Youngarts Foundation photography award and a Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Teen Portrait award.

Rodriquez plans to attend New York University and major in photography, Africana Studies and literature. Their goal is to become a college professor or civil rights attorney focusing on the study of equity and justice in Black, Brown and Indigenous communities.

“Through his dedication, he inspired many to think outside of the realm of the status quo. This is exactly what I aspire to: to stand strong in my beliefs, regardless of how radical others may perceive them to be. Roger Williams proved that no idea is too radical and no future is too unthinkable. That asking questions and being critical of our surroundings is essential to human development, and that when we critique, we uncover the truths and ideas that lead us towards a more equitable society,” said Rodriguez.

Michael Salzillo
Michael Salzillo

Salzillo attends Classical High School and plans to attend Providence College and major in American Studies. His activities include competing on Classical’s Academic Decathlon team and volunteering as a docent at the Stephen Hopkins House and on several local political campaigns.

In his application, Salzillo shared how he relates to Roger Williams’ values.

“As someone deeply involved in politics and civic engagement, I know we need to heighten civic engagement and political activism among younger Americans, who are still less likely to be engaged in politics than older Americans and less likely to know basic facts about our government. Whether we be poll workers, campaign volunteers, tour guides, members of a historical society or anything else, we can all live our lives in the spirit of Roger Williams,” said Salzillo.

In addition to the scholarships, the Carter Roger Williams Initiative hosts a website – findingrogerwilliams.com -- that offers educational resources for students and educators and awards grants to schools to underwrite field trips to the State House.

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $68 million and awarded a record $87 million in grants in 2020. Since its centennial five years ago, the Foundation has awarded more than $284 million in grants and has raised more than $328 million. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential.