Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Awards


Applications opened March 30, 2021

The deadline to apply is midnight on May 7, 2021

RIHousing is pleased to announce a new awards program to honor the life and work of Michael S. Van Leesten. Born and raised in Providence, Michael was dedicated to improving the lives of Rhode Islanders through his business leadership, civil rights activism, and public service. Michael was one of the founders and the Executive Director of the Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rhode Island (OIC), a non-profit corporation offering career coaching, job training, and support for small businesses in urban communities. Michael also served as the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of RIHousing from 1987 to 1991 and held leadership positions with the Providence Branch of the NAACP, Urban League of Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society.

In honor of his lifelong commitment to housing and education, RIHousing is launching the Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Awards Program. The Memorial Awards Program will include both a scholarship and a fellowship position. By establishing new learning opportunities and offering financial support, RIHousing will provide additional pathways for people of diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in fields related to the housing or construction industries.

Many academic and professional fields are connected to housing. Those fields may range from finance to architecture to planning to social sciences and economics. We encourage students from all fields to consider how their studies or field of interest connects to the many facets of the housing industry, which includes construction, financing, banking, policy and planning, legislation, public health, healthcare, and many other direct and indirect connections.

For ALL PROGRAMS: 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.


Applications will be evaluated on the quality of written or video essay and evidence of the student’s commitment to the housing field. The purpose of this scholarship is to provide support to students of color, with the goal of increasing opportunities for members of underrepresented groups to learn about and participate both academically and professionally within fields connected to housing.

Thank you for your interest in applying for a scholarship:

  • Pursuit of Construction Trade Career: One award of $5,000 for a student pursuing a career in the construction trades through a technical/vocational school, community college, or university program.
  • Pursuit of Degree Related to Housing: One award of $5,000 for a student pursuing a degree related to housing, including, but not limited to, planning, real estate development, finance, economics, or architecture.
    • Eligibility: graduating high school seniors and post-secondary students.

Awards may be distributed in a single sum or in installments throughout the students’ program, depending on the program structure and timeline. All Rhode Island residents are eligible to apply, regardless of whether they are pursuing their education in Rhode Island or out of state.

Summer Research & Policy Fellowship

RIHousing has launched a Summer Research & Policy Fellowship to honor the life and work of Michael S. Van Leesten, the former chair of RIHousing’s Board of Commissioners and a lifelong advocate for housing and education. This Fellowship will support a student pursuing a career in any field related to housing, particularly students of color and members of other under-represented groups. One fellowship will be made available.

The fellow will:

  • Choose a housing issue in Rhode Island to explore in-depth through research, program evaluation, or policy analysis. RIHousing’s Research, Policy & Communications team will support the fellow in choosing an appropriate topic and developing a project plan.
  • Independently complete the project and share findings/outcomes with RIHousing leadership and stakeholders.
  • Attend regular professional development sessions delivered by RIHousing staff and community partners, focused on building relevant skills and learning about different aspects of the housing field.
  • Assist in other research and policy tasks that support the fellows’ learning goals.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Graduate students and undergraduate rising seniors from any relevant background (economics, planning, architecture, public policy, public administration, law, finance, etc) are eligible to apply.
  • 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.
  • This is a one-time fellowship. Previous fellows are not eligible to re-apply the following year.
Applications will be reviewed by an awards committee. Selected applicants will be invited to interview.

Fellows will work out of RIHousing’s office in Providence full-time (or remotely as necessary) for 12 weeks in the summer and will be paid RIHousing’s standard internship rate, currently $15/hour. 

Committee members, RIHousing employees and their immediate family members are ineligible to apply. “Immediate Family” is defined as the spouse, child, parent or sibling of the committee member or employee, including their child, parent or sibling by marriage or adoption.

Applications opened on March 30, 2021.


The deadline to apply is midnight on May 7, 2021.

If you have any questions or need technical assistance, please contact Stacy Wasserman at swasserman@rihousing.com