Tess Feigenbaum

One student’s path to a career in social enterprise with Riverzedge Arts
By Cayla Mackey
June 19, 2015

Tess Feigenbaum didn’t know what she was getting into as a junior at the Rhode Island School of Design when she enrolled in “Design for Social Entrepreneurship.” Much to her surprise, a class project with Social Enterprise Greenhouse led to her staying in Rhode Island to launch a career in social enterprise.

The advanced industrial design class, taught by Patricia Gruits, worked with Kelly Ramirez, CEO of Social Enterprise Greenhouse, to connect to local successful social enterprises. For their semester-long project, the students conducted  in-depth case studies to better understand how the businesses work and identify areas for potential growth. The businesses were Buy With Heart, Maternova, Providence Granola Company, Chocolateville, My Happy Shirts, and Riverzedge Arts.

Tess and her partner were paired with Riverzedge Arts. Through firsthand experience and collaborative discussions, they unearthed what really made the organization tick and provided insights for improvement. The experience was transformational for Tess. As she says, “The project I did with Riverzedge Arts was really interesting. I saw the organization in an amazing light and saw them as an inspiring model throughout school.” She cites her mentorship with Brad Fesmire, the Program Director at Riverzedge Arts, as instrumental throughout the project.

For Tess, there is no substitute for experiential learning. “To be in the building gives you a different perspective on how the organization works,” she explains, “To hear the kids experiences and be in the space was great. Talking to everybody at Riverzedge Arts was a really unique and meaningful experience, rather than the disembodied theoretical experience you would get just researching a case study or testimonial in the classroom.”

Tess went on to graduate with a BFA in Industrial Design from RISD with a focus on Design for Social Entrepreneurship. She conducted her thesis on Innovation and Social Good. As Tess was getting ready to graduate, a communications staff member at Riverzedge Arts contacted Tess and asked if the organization could use the work she had produced in class. This led to Tess connecting with Brad Fesmire, the Program Director, who invited her to become the Interim Design Works Director.

Tess is now a full time staff member at Riverzedge Arts. She oversees the Design Works studio, which provides a suite of graphic design services to paying clients through the engagement of at-risk youth. Tess provides job training and mentorship to a studio of eight youth participants who gain real-life skills while living in one of Rhode Island’s most impoverished communities, providing them with the tools to excel in life.

Riverzedge Arts has a 100% college application rate and the wait list for students who want to be involved hovers between 30 and 50 at any give time. Tess sees the difference she is making in her students’ lives every day. She recalls one student who especially benefited from this meaningful mentorship, “Riverzedge Arts definitely pushed her into pursuing a career in graphic design and entrepreneurship.”

Riverzedge also continues to work with local college students to expose them to social enterprise. It recently participated in a data visualization project conducted by students at Roger Williams University and coordinated by the school’s Community Partnerships Center. She is continually amazed by the creativity and passion students bring to social enterprise projects. As Tess says, “What the students came up with was really different from what we expected, and far cooler and more useful than we had imagined. We definitely want to work with them again.”

For Tess, getting the chance to experience social enterprise firsthand made all the difference in her decision to stay in Rhode Island and continue to pursue social enterprise as a career. As Tess says, “Experiences are more meaningful with real interactions, and that type of a relationship comes from being on site and in the real world.”

More on Tess here, or get in touch at: tess@riverzedgearts.org


Cayla Mackey
University Initiative Director

As the Social Enterprise Greenhouse University Initiative Director, Cayla helps college and university students get involved in social enterprise. The University Initiative is a program funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation Innovation Grant to retain students and recent graduates in Rhode Island and enable them to work on and in social enterprises. Learn more about Cayla here.

Contact: cmackey@segreenhouse.org