Meet Our B.P.S. Students: Her Path to a Bachelor's Degree Came Unexpectedly

Head shot of B.P.S. student Ruth Soares
Rhode Island College Impact

The next chapter in Ruth Soares’ story has yet to be written but she believes the B.P.S. program is a link to her future.

There are more than 100,000 Rhode Islanders with some college credits, but no degree. The new Bachelor of Professional Studies (B.P.S.), Rhode Island College’s first fully online degree completion program for adult learners, is built for them. The first B.P.S. 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.

A year ago, Ruth Soares had no idea that she’d be enrolled as a student in Rhode Island College’s nascent Bachelor of Professional Studies program.  

“I’d always known I wanted a college education but didn’t know how it would be done,” says Soares, 54. “Now that I’m doing it, I’m so excited about learning new things.” 

Soares, a teacher assistant in the Pawtucket School Department, says she was a former psychology major at RIC planning to take an abnormal psychology course before learning about the BPS. She had been forced to drop the psychology course the prior semester because it conflicted with her daytime teacher assistant schedule. 

“A week or so after registering for the course, I received an email about BPS and thought to myself, ‘This might be the gateway to get a bachelor’s degree,’’’ Soares recalls. “I was thrilled to find out that this initial cohort was all women. Statistics show that more women are going back to college to earn degrees for better paying jobs.” 

Soares is one of 13 students enrolled in the program’s social services concentration, affectionately known as the “alpha cohort.” 

Jill van Leesten, Soares’ best friend, says she’s proud of Soares’ strides toward earning her degree at the alma mater of her father, Michael van Leesten ‘65, a civil rights legend, business leader and former star RIC basketball player who died in 2019. 

“I’m excited for Ruth because as you get older, you have doubts about whether you have time for school,” van Leesten says. “I told her if you really want it, go for it. Now, all she talks about is school and work; that helps her to stay focused.” 

Soares, who earned an associate degree in general studies and psychology from CCRI in 2021, says she’s elated that a program like BPS exists. 

“I think sometimes colleges are so focused on attracting students in the 18-to-24-year-old range, they tend to neglect people in my age range,” she says. “Being a part of BPS is going to open doors for everybody, and I’m happy that I will be able to finish in two years, rather than five.” 

With about 72 credits of the 120 needed to graduate, Soares says the work she’s done in her BPS courses has been revelatory. Her favorite so far was a sociology course. 

“That class was mind-blowing and very newsworthy,” she says. “The information I was getting was not only valuable, but inspired me to consider a master’s degree in social work. But I scaled back and decided to concentrate on what I’m doing now. As I get closer to graduation, I may reexamine that.” 

Additionally, Soares is finding that the lessons she learned in the sociology course are transferable in interactions with students at her teacher assistant job. 

“Children are people, and they want to be cared for, acknowledged and heard,” she says. “I’m learning from them. The beauty of education is that we’re teaching each other new ways of how to think and look at life.” 

When asked how a bachelor’s degree will change her life, Soares says she’s not sure, but keeping her options open. 

“I don’t want to have this big master plan to figure out what my next step will be,” she says.  

Van Leesten says whatever her best friend decides to do in her future, she’s sure it will be meticulously planned.

“Among our friends, Ruth is known as the one who plans our trips because she’s very knowledgeable and detail-oriented,” van Leesten says. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m so happy she decided to return to college because I know how smart she is. Sometimes, people must be reminded of who they are.”