Above: Bryan Rickens, who took a job at Bosch after leaving CofC, has returned to complete his degree and found success as a data science major. (Photo by Mike Ledford)

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the stars don’t align on your first try. That’s what happened to Bryan Rickens when he first came to the College of Charleston in the fall of 2013, but then left after struggling academically. Thanks to support from the College’s Center for Academic Performance and Persistence (CAPP), Rickens returned as a student in 2019 and is now poised to graduate next year.

Although it has been a tough journey, Rickens says he has no regrets.

“I became a better person — someone who knows more about responsibility and values education more than if I had stuck it out and graduated with mediocre grades the first time,” he says.

Rickens first enrolled at CofC right out of high school. He selected a major his freshman year, but quickly realized it wasn’t the right fit for him. He never considered changing majors, though, and just kept pushing ahead. By his third year, Rickens was floundering academically, but he still didn’t want to change majors because it would mean becoming a fifth-year senior.

After he was placed on academic probation, his willpower plummeted. “I just gave up and let them dismiss me,” says Rickens, who left the College in the spring of 2016.

No longer a student, Rickens took a job with Bosch in North Charleston, where he worked on the factory floor.

“It was really hard — transformation is a violent process,” says Rickens, who notes that he learned responsibility and a strong work ethic at Bosch.

Over time, Rickens slowly regained his footing and focus. He realized what he’d given up and wanted to return to CofC.

“Stepping away gave me clarity of mind as to the benefits of an education,” he says. “My three years away gave me time to become a new person — like a phoenix rising.”

RELATED: Get to Know CAPP Director Jessica Zuber

First, he did research so he would have a clear direction. He wanted a major that was a good fit for his skills and goals. Based on his experience at Bosch, data science stuck out.

“At Bosch, I worked with engineers who worked on the process behind the operations — that’s exactly what I’m excited about,” says Rickens. “Data science permeates literally everything we do in life.”

He also reached out to the College’s CAPP staff who introduced him to the STEP (Successful Transitions through Educational Planning) Readmission Program, which aims to set returning students up for success. The CAPP staff also recommended he take advantage of CofC’s three-year option, which lets returning students who left the College for three years or more have their previous CofC record treated as transfer credit if they achieve a GPA of 2.5 or better upon completion of their first 15 hours after their return.

Rickens’ readmission came with the proviso that he participate in both the STEP program and the STEP workshop, something akin to orientation for returning students. He was game for whatever it took to come back to CofC. During the one-day workshop, he took sessions on things like productivity, resume building and career opportunities. He also met with the department head of his selected major and he signed a contract to commit to getting his GPA up to an agreed level.

The STEP program also required Rickens attend mandatory meetings his first semester back with Lindy Coleman, director for the Center for Student Learning (CSL). CSL matches STEP students with an academic coach to meet with about goals for the semester and to troubleshoot what might be getting in the way of their success.

“Having someone hold you accountable the first semester of your return to college is critical,” says Coleman. “When I think about coaching Bryan, I think about perseverance. He persevered through all the personal, academic and work challenges that came his way and overcame them all.”

“I felt reinvigorated and happy to get a second chance,” says Rickens of his return to the College. “My grades vastly improved and my meetings with the CSL really helped. It also helped to have a major I was excited about.”

Having a passionate data science professor like Navid Hashemi didn’t hurt either.

“Dr. Hashemi really pushed me to try harder and to get involved in extracurricular activities,” says Rickens, who plans to use his data science degree to help businesses take advantage of opportunities using predictive modeling techniques. “He really encouraged me to seize opportunities and build my resume so that I will be career ready. He is why I am planning to work on a project at Bosch, why I presented my research at the College’s EXPO and why I served as a teaching assistant at a workshop.”

“Seeing Bryan’s success is truly a testament to the services available to students at the College of Charleston through the STEP program,” says Jessica Zuber, CAPP director. “Bryan’s ability to hold himself accountable and self-reflect in his time away certainly contributed to his perseverance upon his return. He should be proud of his development and growth at CofC and beyond.”

Rickens is proud of what he’s overcome and what he is accomplishing now, and he hopes other students who may be having a hard time can find some inspiration in his story.

“It has been life-reaffirming for me, and I hope more students can learn from my experience,” he says. “The real failure would have been giving up entirely.”