Susanna Prull rolls with the changes as COVID-19 challenges us all

Susanna Prull rolls with the changes as COVID-19 challenges us all

One more Thing

Susanna Prull, pictured, doesn’t live in Smithfield any more, but Smithfield lives in her.

“Growing up in Smithfield was great,” she observes. “I loved the home my parents moved us to – wonderful in all seasons. I’ve (also) made lifelong friends.”

In addition, she made her first acquaintance with her husband, Chris Capaldi, although they only became close after college.

A graduate of Smithfield High School, she went on to study art history and history at the University of Rhode Island, where she graduated magna cum laude. More education followed at the University of Vermont, where she earned a master of science degree in historic preservation. She also did further work in digital marketing there.

Staying in Rhode Island has been a conscious choice. “We wanted to raise Hazel in proximity to her grandparents on both sides,” Prull mentions.

Now 39, she lives in Cranston with Chris, a musician and teacher at The Wheeler School, and their daughter Hazel, 7. One year and one month ago, she made a career change, accepting a position at Rhode Island School of Design in the Division of Institutional Engagement.

Like everyone else she had no way of knowing that the year ahead of her was to hold challenges that would complicate things in unimaginable ways. The words COVID-19 were as yet unknown. It was alien as a term from science fiction. Today, however, it affects just about every area of life.

Yet she speaks with optimism and excitement about the adjustments and adaptations that RISD is making to contend with the disruption the coronavirus has wrought. At the same time, she acknowledges the need to cope with the changes it necessitates, such as getting used to working remotely.

“We’re on Zoom meetings and Google Chat all the time,” she declares. Managing her time is key, she adds.

“There are other people who depend on you at home. Flexibility is very important. When you take a job home and you have a 7-year-old daughter and you are trying to be a good wife, a good mother, a good sister, there is a lot of need. It has definitely been challenging in that regard.”

A specialist in graphic design, print production, and marketing communications, as well as website design and management, she has experience in project management and administration in historic preservation in the nonprofit sector.

Her title at RISD is associate director of institutional engagement communications. In that role she organizes support for events and publications in the area of digital communications. Her responsibilities include email and graphic design, development of designs for newsletters, and managing the strategy for email marketing. The goal of institutional engagement is to reach out to alumni and other supporters to develop and maintain their charitable giving to the institution.

“I think I bring a passion for supporting the mission and the work of the school,” she says, noting the satisfaction that there is in helping raise funds for scholarships and fellowships.

RISD has met the corona-crisis with “a lot of ingenuity,” Prull claims, noting that the inadvisability of gathering in larger groups made it necessary to postpone commencement. Likewise, her division has had to substitute smaller, more intimate and safely distanced events for larger ones when reaching out to potential donors. A similar strategy prevails for classes.

“RISD prides itself on being a studio-based learning environment,” she mentions. As a result, she explains, the school has adopted a hybrid teaching model. Studio courses are being taught in person with social distancing, while other classes are being offered online remotely.

“We have a de-densified campus,” she declares.

Before taking the post at RISD, Prull was program manager and graphic designer at Preserve Rhode Island and was based at the Lippitt House Museum in Providence. Her interest in preservation didn’t end with her career change.

In January 2021 she will have been on the board of directors of the Roger Williams Park Conservancy for two years.

She comments “previously we lived right on the park. We used it every day.”

Being on the board plays into her love of design and architecture and utilizes her knowledge of historic preservation. Her skills in fundraising also make her a valuable resource.

She feels a commitment to the nonprofit sector of the economy, and is attuned to its role in furthering culture and education. It seems to be her comfort zone. Hence the work with the conservancy allows her to keep her ties to historic preservation while she contributes some of her time and know-how.

Reflecting on the new opportunities for expanding her horizon while building on her prior experience, Prull says, “I’m really learning a lot right now. I have transferred my skills from preservation to higher ed. I like the mix of mission and design.”

Her cyber skills are making it work in the new reality where organizational charts and schedules must be synchronized with the data from a pandemic, and virtual conferences have replaced sit-down meetings.

Coffee and croissants optional according to your own preference, we assume.

(Contact me at

Bottom Lines

Answer from last time: I asked what apple variety has Rhode Island in its name. The answer is the Rhode Island Greening. The first reader to respond was Sheila Durfee from Marshfield, Mass. She wrote: “My late grandmother, Cora May Webster Mullins (born in 1899 in a house that still stands on Putnam Pike in Greenville) preferred that apple for the wonderful pies she made on Bungy Road in North Scituate.”