High Honors for First Bachelor’s Program Cohort Graduates

June 23, 2020

Earlier this month, the College celebrated a milestone for the Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Human Services program, as the very first graduates of the now three-year old program received their degrees. This milestone for program though, however significant, pales in comparison to the momentous accomplishments of the eight graduates in this cohort.

“This first graduating class includes both career changers and career accelerators – the career changers know who they are, but the career accelerators may not view themselves in that light,” said Julia Rodenhiser, the program’s Enrollment & Retention Counselor. “The career accelerators may have upwards of 10 years in Human Services… with all the years of experience, plus their bachelor’s degree, the possibility of their career accelerating is very likely.”

More importantly, she added, “These students have aligned an academic program with their gift of helping others, and I always find people that follow their heart remarkable.”

During a June 7 virtual gathering to celebrate the graduates, cohort members spoke of journeys, persistence, struggles, and supports. Each graduate credited their cohort and leadership at the College that taught, supported, and inspired them to ‘get it done.’ Six out of the eight graduates earned their degree with honors.

“Deciding to go to school full time was no easy decision to make. It would mean sacrificing income by going down to part-time at work so that I could make school the priority in my life,” said Curtis Chambers, B.S., a cum laude graduate. “There were several sacrifices that had to be made with regard to family activities, weekend trips, and even some sleep. Finding out that I am moving forward with honors is just that, an honor.”

Chambers works for The Home for Little Wanderers, which is where he originally learned about the program. He also has a personal finance consultancy. He said receiving his bachelor’s degree provides “the confidence that I am equipped with the interventions needed to support clients with the psychology of money... It also [means] I have the opportunity to further my studies in the realm of finances and psychology.”

Douglas Mariano, B.S., graduated at the top of the cohort with highest honors.

“Receiving this title is such an honor. It makes the sacrifices I experienced during this journey worthwhile. Graduating summa cum laude helps me recognize that we are much more capable than we often realize,” Mariano said. “It also points to the strength in collaborating with others to achieve our best. I put a great deal of individual effort into this work but the support I had around me provided me the opportunity to complete my degree.” 

Like Chambers, Mariano also learned about the bachelor’s program through his employer (Mariano works for JRI). “Making the decision to study at WJC was an easy choice when considering its academic environment, reputation, and the way courses are designed to provide opportunities for full-time working adults to advance their education in the mental health field,” he said. He also credited his faith and his family, including his wife, his children, and his mother. 

“The most important people I have to recognize with gratitude are my amazing wife, Sarah and my two beautiful children, Zion and Eva. I could not have done any of this without them by my side,” Mariano said. “Another person that gave me strength throughout this course is my mother. I know she is proud of me in heaven… as a nurse, she was a great inspiration for me to start working in this field with her passion and professionalism. Additionally, I am incredibly thankful to my professors and colleagues for sharing their knowledge and experiences, motivating me to become better as a provider.”

At William James, Mariano said he felt accepted for ‘who he is, for his values, his life experiences, culture and ideas’ and, at the same time, encouraged to expand his perspectives and knowledge, and challenged to learn skills to serve clients as a provider with a multicultural approach. 

“This is an excellent place to be if you are looking to improve career options, grow as a more informed and capable provider, and expand your horizons,” Mariano said. “The professors and staff are supportive and accommodating. They truly want to see you succeed.”

The Bachelor’s completion program, as the name suggests, is designed for students who began their education elsewhere, either by completing an associate’s degree or through earning credits from a traditional undergraduate institution, but for reasons as unique as the students themselves deviated from the educational path. Rodenhiser said when she speaks to students considering the program, particularly those that previously attended a traditional undergraduate institution, she often hears they want to “finish what they started”

Many students Rodenhiser speaks with started out in college right out of high school, and “then something, or a series of something’s, took them off of their path,” she said. “I encourage those students not to look at the bachelor’s degree as a formality, but to be fully present on the journey, to live in the moment.”

Kyle LeClair, B.S., came to William James College after feeling dissatisfied with his experience in an undergraduate program at another school. “I was looking for a new and more personal experience and opportunity. I decided to study in this program because the program that was offered was what I was looking for and from the very beginning,” he said. “I was welcomed with open arms and made to feel like I was wanted as a part of the Bachelor program.”

LeClair, who graduated cum laude, said it look a great deal of discipline, work and sacrifice, both personally, and from his family, to complete his degree. “I feel great about this, especially because this is the first program and degree that I will have earned,” he said. While it is the first degree he’s earned, he’s already moving on for the second. LeClair has been accepted to the Counseling Master’s program and will continue his education with William James College this fall. 

Rodenhiser said she encourages students to allow themselves to grow on their journey while earning the degree.

“As someone who has started and stopped several times along my academic journey, there were times that I did not believe in myself, and so I know that others must feel that way, too,” said Rodenhiser. “Now that our students are on the other side of that journey, and they know that they are capable of reaching goals that they set for themselves, I wish for them to be a light for someone else that does not believe that reaching their goal is possible. We know that it is possible, even if the journey is difficult.” 

Rodenhiser added that her wish for this year’s graduating class is for each to now “be the person that believes in someone when you can see that they are not believing in themselves.”

Several students who spoke at the virtual ceremony thanked Program Director Marc Abelard for his leadership and commitment throughout their academic journey. The feeling of gratitude is mutual.

 “I can't say enough about how proud I am for what these students have accomplished,” said Abelard. “I was particularly impressed with the students' work ethic, their commitment to academic excellence, and more importantly, their commitment to their families. I'm excited that this graduating class will be among the next generation of leaders paving the way in the behavioral health field.”