Grants & Scholarships

Turning a passion into a profession

An estate gift of nearly $800,000 from Antonio Cirino, who died in 1983, has resulted in more than $2 million awarded to over 200 Rhode Islanders who, like Angelica Cardente-Vessella, have earned advanced degrees with support from the Antonio Cirino Memorial Fund.

The daughter of a ballet dancer, Angelica Cardente-Vessella says she started dancing “as soon as I could walk.” Now a professor in the Department of Music, Theater, and Dance at Rhode Island College (RIC), walking among the students – encouraging, gently correcting, and joining in the dance – it’s easy to think that Antonio Cirino had Angelica in mind when he wrote his will.

Antonio, who died in 1983 at age 95, left nearly $800,000 to the Rhode Island Foundation for Rhode Island residents “who desire to acquire postgraduate education toward a master or doctorate degree in art education.” Through careful stewardship, that initial $800,000 has resulted in more than $2 million awarded to over 200 Rhode Islanders like Angelica who have earned advanced degrees with support from the Antonio Cirino Memorial Fund.

Angelica’s passion led her to dance as a student at the Community College of Rhode Island, through a summer program at Harvard University, and eventually opening her own studio. She later continued her education at RIC, earning both a bachelor’s degree in health education and a master of fine arts (MFA) in theater/performance.

“I earned my MFA in theater, became the director of dance at Rhode Island College, gained tenure, and am now a full professor. I have dedicated my work to social themes. Were it not for Antonio Cirino’s generosity and the Foundation, I would not be where I am today and doing what I love most."

- Angelica Cardente-Vessella

She has taught dance at Providence College and the University of Rhode Island, as well as RIC, the latter where she has served as director of dance, as well as artistic director and producer of the Rhode Island College Dance Company since 2008. At RIC, she teaches jazz, tap, modern, dance for musical theater, and choreography.