Kieshana Dawkins is a member of the Bachelor of Professional Studies' "alpha cohort".
There are more than 100,000 Rhode Islanders with some college credits, but no degree. The new Bachelor of Professional Studies (BPS), Rhode Island College’s first fully online degree completion program for adult learners, is built for them. The first BPS cohort launched last spring. This story is part of a series profiling some of the students in that cohort who have found their path to career advancement through RIC.
Video by Justin Wilder
One day on the South Side of Providence, Penny’s Way will open as a nonprofit to serve residents in need.
That’s the goal in Kieshana Dawkins’ mind as she works to earn a degree in Rhode Island College’s newly established Bachelor of Professional Studies (BPS), which is offered through the Division of Professional Studies and Continuing Education.
“I’ve always thought of opening up a drop-in center in my community and naming it after my late mother, Penny, who was known for helping people,” Dawkins says. “With a BPS degree, I will attain the skill set of communicating with people so I can assist them.”
Designed for the approximately 100,000+ Rhode Islanders who have some college but no degree, the BPS is igniting the dreams of people like Dawkins, who found out about it via an email she received last year from RIC. By January of 2022, she was enrolled as one of the first 13 students in the program’s social services concentration, a group that’s now affectionately known as the “alpha cohort.” This fall, another cohort commences for the organizational leadership concentration.
Dawkins, who for more than two decades has worked as a certified nursing assistant and is also a mental health clinician in the psychology unit at the Veteran’s Administration, says graduating from the BPS program will elevate her career.
“Without a degree I’m limited,” she says. “I can’t write notes or get paid a higher amount, but I’m doing all this clinician work. When I worked at CODAC (a behavioral healthcare treatment nonprofit in Providence), everyone there had degrees. I was doing counseling and treatment plans but wasn’t being compensated enough to support my family because I didn’t have a degree.”
Candidates for the BPS program must be 25 and older, have five years of documented work experience, 24 earned college credits, a cumulative 2.0 grade point average and be working toward obtaining their first bachelor's degree.
Dawkins earned a human services undergraduate certificate for case management from RIC’s School of Social Work in 2016. She met the requirements for a BPS student by earning a 3.4 grade point average and 17 college credits from her certificate. She also took full advantage of one of the BPS program’s most important features for adult learners: it awards credits for professional experience. Dawkins earned the maximum of 32 credits for prior learning from her workplace. She now has 63 credits, past the halfway point of the 120 credits needed to graduate.
“To gain acceptance into this program is a major accomplishment for me,” Dawkins says.
Meanwhile, Dawkins says the work she has completed thus far during her first four courses in the BPS program has been fulfilling. Her first eight-week session included a sociology course on assimilation and migrations, and a portfolio course focused on past work experiences; her second eight-weeks included a course on nonprofit operations.
All the while, Dawkins says she has established a strong bond with her classmates, although they only see each other virtually.
“Because we’re the first in this program, it feels special,” Dawkins says. “Whenever we see each other online it’s always an educational turn-up. We’re going to try to get together to have some tangible discussions about our coursework. We started together and want to graduate together.”
RIC Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs Holly Shadoian, who recruited Dawkins and her classmates to apply for the BPS program, says she has no doubt that Dawkins will have a bright future.
“Here is this amazing woman who even while facing multiple challenges has the drive and determination to complete her bachelor’s degree,” Shadoian says. “My first thought after meeting her is that she would be a perfect fit for this program and would successfully finish.”
Dawkins says much of her inspiration is to set an example for her three-year-old daughter.
“Her name is Legacy, and that’s what I intend to leave behind for her,” she says.
However, she’s also hoping to inspire those she knows in her community.
“People are seeing me and saying to themselves, ‘If Kieshana is going back to school, maybe I can do it, too.”