First-Gen Grad Leans on Supports and into Opportunities on Path to Success

Pauline Dobson
Rhode Island College Impact

Pauline managed to find help in some of the unique supports RIC provides, like Learning for Life and Project ExCEL

Pauline Dobson was born in the West African nation of Liberia and immigrated to the United States in 2012, at the age of fourteen. A shy young woman who did not talk much during her years at Hope High School — in fear of her Liberian accent — she nonetheless managed to graduate in 2016 and decided that Rhode Island College was the best fit for a first-generation student like herself. 

“I chose RIC because I felt that this was the place for me. I always wanted to be somewhere I feel safe and got along with people. It has been the best decision I’ve ever made,” she says. “I met new people, and nobody ever judges you on campus. I never experienced any discrimination, from professors or students.”

As a full-time student with a part-time job, Dobson found that money for school materials like books was tight. So, she managed to find help in some of the unique supports RIC provides, like Learning for Life and Project ExCEL (Excellence in College for English Learners). “L4L is a program that helps you when it comes to academic and personal things,” she explains. “They gave me bus passes to get to school. They provided a computer. I had a good experience with them. Laura [Faria-Tancinco] at Project ExCEL provides information, helps you out and cares about how you are doing with courses. She makes you feel very special.”

Dobson also praises the good heart of Professor of Biology Breea Govenar for teaching her how to study, understand concepts and overcome obstacles. “She was really amazing,” Dobson gushes. “In class we had to use a specific book and clicker. I didn’t have money to buy them, so she gave me the biology book and the clicker to use during the entire semester.”  

After graduating with a Bachelor of Social Work degree in May 2021, Dobson feels that her hard work as a student is paying off and that life is guiding her on the path that could make her dream come true: to launch her own organization to help orphaned children overcome obstacles, in memory of her departed mother. 

“I am grateful to my dad for bringing me to this country. My mom passed away when I was eight years old. I was 14 when I first met my dad. I grew up with my grandma. That’s the main reason I want to have my own organization to help kids,” she says. “I want my dad to be proud of me. I want my late mother to be proud of me in heaven, and I want to make my grandma proud.”  

Dobson has already accumulated some experiences that will help her accomplish her goal, such as an internship with the Refugee Dream Center, a local nonprofit that supports refugees after resettlement. She also works as the secretary for the local chapter of Sunrise Forever, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps Liberian children, and is learning much from her current boss Venus Wolo, the operations manager for the YWCA.

Dobson met Wolo soon after arriving in this country, in a summer youth program at Community Action Partnership of Providence. Years later, while searching for a job, she called Wolo to ask for a reference; instead, Wolo immediately asked Dobson to work with her at the YWCA in the child care center’s afterschool program. 

For Dobson, life is defined by the opportunities you reach for, which has led her to launch a business – Beautiful African Clothes – during the pandemic. She explains it is a social enterprise that aims to help people in Liberia and Ghana by importing and selling handmade clothing and accessories online. 
The young entrepreneur is proud of herself for all her accomplishments since arriving in this country and encourages young people who are on a similar path. She advises, “Don’t always feel like you know everything, because you do not. Always humble yourself, no matter what position you are in. The more you humble yourself, the more opportunities will come your way. Be respectful and have good character.”

Living by that advice has gotten Pauline Dobson this far already. Who knows where it will take her next.