Logging Out And Into Their Future — CPS Students Graduate To Become JWU Alumni

Logging Out And Into Their Future — CPS Students Graduate To Become JWU Alumni

Logging Out And Into Their Future — CPS Students Graduate To Become JWU Alumni banner

On Saturday, May 4, 2024, JWU College of Professional Studies online and JWU on-ground students came together at the Amica Mutual Pavilion in Providence to celebrate commencement. Two ceremonies celebrated students: one in the morning for the graduate programs and a second in the afternoon for the undergraduate programs. In total, JWU awarded 388 graduate and doctoral degrees and 1,438 undergraduate degrees. You can read an account of the ceremony in Providence on JWU news, including summaries of the amazing student and keynote speakers, and also check out the JWU Charlotte campus commencement news.

Waiting in the “tunnels” for the procession to begin, on-ground students enjoyed catching up with classmates while CPS online students excitedly met classmates in-person for the first time. Together, amid cheers and tears from the family and friends who had supported them, each student crossed the stage to join the global network of more than 124,000 JWU alumni. 

Amid the excitement, relief and pride in their accomplishment, we wondered what this monumental milestone — and life beyond commencement — meant for JWU CPS students, advisors and leadership.

Succinct in expressing what commencement — and earning her Bachelor of Science — Psychology degree online, meant to her, Victoria D. White declared, “To me, commencement means ‘victory’ – because I made it!” Alluding to what it takes to “make it,” Victoria downplays the hard work, grit and determination she needed to succeed.

Harry Ryan, Jr., an academic advisor for students in the College of Professional Studies described his feelings, “Attending a commencement event is a uniquely inspiring experience; there is a palpable sense of anticipation and accomplishment in the air, which can be quite contagious. It is a celebration and testament to each student’s resilience, hard work, determination and achievement.”

Cindy Parker, Vice President of the College of Professional Studies, explained why commencement is her favorite celebration each year. “Watching our CPS graduates walk across the stage with all of their peers from the Providence Campus inspires me, as it showcases the pride and resilience of our students, many of whom completed their degrees while working full-time and managing family and other responsibilities.”

College of Professional Studies

While online and on-campus program curricula are the same, the demographics of students enrolled in the College of Professional Studies are distinctly different. The average age of CPS undergraduates is 31; graduate students average 33 and doctoral students average 44 years of age. About two-thirds of the CPS population are women.

Shannon Rhyne, Bachelor of Science in Baking & Pastry and Food Service Management, put her culinary arts and hospitality career on hold for years while raising five children. Thinking it ‘wasn’t the right time’ and ‘probably not a good fit for her family life,’ Shannon unexpectedly survived a sudden life-threatening event. Grateful to be given a second chance at life, Shannon followed her heart to enroll in CPS bachelor’s program.

For people, like Shannon, whose family and work obligations would prevent them for attending classes on campus, online programs offer access to education. The flexibility of asynchronous classes gives students the ability to log on and work from home at any time of their choice. Still, the course load is equivalent to earning a degree on the ground. Juggling to manage life while learning, success as an online student requires excellent time management skills, dedication and self-motivation.

Shannon’s academic advisor, Harry Ryan, Jr., whose support throughout her program Shannon credits as being ‘extraordinary,’ said, “Shannon definitely embodies the power of passion, perseverance and purpose. She is a resilient learner who has definitely embraced her second chance! Shannon exemplifies the joy of pursuing one’s dreams with dedication and gratitude and I am blessed to have worked with her towards a successful completion of her program.

While still an undergraduate, Shannon began taking classes in JWU’s accelerated master’s program. Continuing on to earn her master’s degree as she completes her bachelor’s degree will be a step towards her dream of giving back to the JWU community by eventually becoming a teacher for the university.

One of Shannon’s favorite quotes is from John F. Kennedy and embodies what it means for her to graduate: ‘Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future.’

Shannon adds, “Graduation brings change to our lives. Pieces of our past, and even our present have helped propel the new change which comes from graduating. Graduation is a time for reflection on what we have just accomplished, as well as what we want to continue to accomplish as our future selves!”

Emmeline Orellana, an ’18 JWU alumna, attended classes on campus to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice. The skills and knowledge she learned in the program helped launch her public service career. A few years later, as a newly single working mom with a young son, Emmeline needed an online program to pursue a master’s degree. Because her experience as an undergraduate at JWU had been positive, she enrolled in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program through JWU CPS.

Emmeline explained, “Both my undergraduate studies on campus at JWU and my and graduate studies through CPS online have been good journeys. My decision to return to school to earn a master’s degree was driven by becoming a single mom, and my desire to make a good future for my son.

“Studying public administration at JWU helped me gain the knowledge I needed to move into future leadership roles. Right now, I’m applying what I’ve learned about fundraising and nonprofit management to my current job as the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), Community Safety Coordinator for the Providence Housing Authority. Long-term, my goal is to run for local office in my district. The master’s degree and the public speaking skills I developed in the program, will help me achieve my leadership goals and excel in my career.”

As she celebrates the completion of her degree, Emmeline shares, “Commencement was a defining moment for me, a culmination of years of hard work, sacrifice, and unwavering determination. Walking across the stage was an empowering moment, especially to have my son watching me. Although he is too young to understand, it will impact his future and pave the way for him to have an example of academic success. It was a testament to my resilience and a reminder that with dedication and perseverance, any dream is attainable. I am forever grateful to all my professors, faculty, and staff at JWU who supported me and encouraged me throughout this journey.” 

Support For Online Students

Being self-motivated as an online student doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Students credit the ongoing help from their advisors as a major force in making it through their programs. Advice about which courses to take and in what order, setting up class schedules each session, troubleshooting challenges that could be barriers to success — and friendly emails just to check in throughout their program — help them keep going.

Jessica Rounds, Manager of Academic Advising has helped many students, who might have dropped out, successfully complete their programs. “When students first begin their journey with the College of Professional Studies, you can hear it in their voice and see it in their emails how overwhelmed they are about navigating this new territory for the next couple of years (or more) to complete their program. As semesters go by and classes are fulfilled, you can see that change from being overwhelmed to feeling confident and successful, the realization that this is what they are supposed to be doing, and this is the right path for them. 

“Students come in with a variety of goals in mind, it could be a bucket list item, a chance for advancement in their career, or something they want to do for their family (parents and/or children), regardless of their personal reason it is so exciting to see them accomplish all that they set out to do with then chose JWU for this journey.”

Harry Ryan, student advisor offers, “Witnessing students that you have supported and mentored over the years achieve their goals is incredibly gratifying. It is also a moment filled with excitement about the future and the potential for even greater accomplishments! It is an important milestone for all parties involved as everyone from Admissions, Advising, Operations, and Administration have all played a role in helping the student achieve success.”

Educational Partnerships

Many of the new graduates were able to pursue degrees because they received funding through partnerships JWU has with their employers or other organizations, for example, Guild Education. JWU College of Professional Studies is proud to partner with a number of organizations including regional hospitality brands, well-respected healthcare companies, and local New England businesses.

Rasheeda Brooks-Johnson, Master of Science — Human Resources, appreciates that earning her degree was fully funded through the partnership between her employer and Guild Education.

When Rasheeda was hired as a human resources director for a financial investment firm, she had never held a position with the title “Human Resources.” Wanting to bring value to the leadership team, Rasheeda decided that it might be a good time to go back to school. Rasheeda chose JWU after seeing that the courses in JWU CPS’ master’s program covered facets of HR that would help her align her education to future career aspirations. Throughout the MS Human Resources program, Rasheeda appreciated being able to actively apply the skills learned in the classroom in her professional role, culminating in celebrating her degree completion at commencement.

“At JWU’s commencement it was so exciting to be joined by my professors, classmates, family and closest friends, each of whom played a vital part in helping me achieve this milestone. Now I’m able to officially share that I have gained my Master of Science degree at JWU, which will be a steppingstone for more successes to come!”

Angelo Pitassi, Director of Corporate Relationships comments, “College commencement is a significant milestone marking the culmination of years of dedication, growth, and achievement. It represents not only the completion of a formal education and new skills but also the beginning of a new chapter filled with possibilities and opportunities for many of the employees that enroll at CPS through our corporate education partnership program. Beyond academics, it serves as a moment of reflection, celebrating the friendships formed, challenges overcome, and lessons learned along the way. It’s a time to honor the support of family and friends who have contributed to one’s journey.”

First In His Family

Eric Maurice Sanders, MBA – Hospitality, walked across the stage while still healing from an accident that dislocated his kneecap and tore ligaments (ACL and MCL) — and having just survived the loss of a best friend to cancer and the passing of his mother-in-law.

A first-generation student, Eric remarked, “I’ve had the craziest quarter of a year in my life. There were moments when I thought I’d have to drop. I’m looking towards commencement as ‘something GOOD happening.’ I need the lift that will come from celebrating commencement with my husband, daughter, mom, sister and niece.”

Eric’s academic advisor, Tracie Souza commented, “To me, commencement is the ultimate reward — seeing our students that have worked so hard finish what they started, especially since most of our students are working professionals, parents and family caretakers. It is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated!

“Eric has worked hard and persevered through all of the challenges thrown his way. He has taken everything in stride and found solutions instead of excuses. I’m so happy to see him cross the stage at Commencement and complete his MBA!

A Door To The Future

We think of commencement as marking an end and a completion; however, the definition of commencement is ‘a beginning or start.’ The students for whom the 2024 commencement meant the end of their program, are prepared go forward into the workforce with skills employers want and to continue pursuing their dreams and goals as life-long learners.

Eric Sanders shares, “Commencement means the closing of one chapter, and the beginning of a new one. Stepping into the next season of my life, (I am) motivated, inspired, and empowered to do great things! It means I finished something important and setting a new record for my family. (This one’s for my Granny!) It means LEGACY. The best part of this Commencement is that my daughter and my niece will be there to witness it – I think they need to see it. If I can achieve this, they can too. Thank you JWU!

Shannon Rhyne observed, “Graduation opens the door to the future, bringing wonderful opportunities both on a career and personal level. Even after we graduate, we never stop learning about ourselves and the world around us.

Cindy Parker said, “It makes me especially happy to see students I have had in class make their way across the stage each year. I am immensely proud of every single graduate, as we celebrate not just their academic accomplishments, but also their growth and perseverance as individuals poised to make meaningful contributions to the world. I wish the very best to all of the university’s 2024 graduates!

The commencement ceremony on May 4 opened the door to the future for 1,826 new graduates — each of whom walks forward toward new adventures and greater accomplishments. As esteemed university alumni, graduates can always count themselves part of the Johnson & Wales community. Welcome to your future, Wildcats!

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