Commencement 2021: Finish line for International Business Program graduate, track star leads to law school

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 6, 2021 – One of Maxwell Dickens’ favorite memories from his five years at the University of Rhode Island is simple, with no few frills. It’s his first day on campus, moving into Fayerweather Hall.

“I was farther away from home than I’d ever been,” says Dickens, who grew up in Lumberton, New Jersey. “I was on my own. It just felt like I was starting a new chapter of my life. I didn’t know anybody coming in. It felt like my coming-of-age moment.”

As he prepares to graduate this month from the five-year International Business Program with degrees in global business and Chinese, Dickens can look back on a URI career full of special moments. A captain of the track team, he’s overcome a serious knee injury and helped the Rams to Atlantic 10 indoor and outdoor championships, and in the classroom, he’s put together a resume that has him poised to enter law school.

Dickens runs in the 4x400 relay
Dickens runs in the 4×400 relay at the New England Indoor Championship in January 2020.

Dickens first visited the Kingston Campus on a track recruiting visit his senior year of high school. He immediately felt a part of the community and team, he says. Meeting members of the team, he felt like he already knew all the inside jokes. Track also ranks high in the memories he’s compiled at URI.

While the team has captured multiple conference titles since he started at URI in fall 2016, Dickens points to the 2020 indoor championship at URI. A hurdler and sprinter, he finished third in the 400-meter finals with a personal best 49.30 seconds and closed out the meet as part of the winning 4×400 relay team.

“That was with me and my best friend as part of the leadership of the team,” he says. “We led the team to that victory and then we won the 4×4. That was the last race of the meet and the whole team was there cheering. That was an amazing feeling.”

It was also his first championship back from the most serious injury he’d suffered in sports. In the spring of 2018, Dickens was having a great season, putting up his best times in the 400-meter hurdles. A week before the conference championships, he shattered his knee, needing surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament, lateral collateral ligament and posterolateral corner. The surgeon was skeptical that he would be able to run hurdles again, but Dickens was determined.

Dickens competes in the 400-meter hurdles
Dickens competes in the 400-meter hurdles at the Bryant Black & Gold Invitational in March 2021.

“We have an amazing athletic trainer, Michelle Barber,” he says. “When the surgeon said I might not be doing hurdles again, I looked at Michelle and said, ‘I’m going to run hurdles again.’ She said, ‘yeah, you are.’”

Dickens says the track staff gave the assistance he needed to recover, including physical therapy with a doctor in East Greenwich. He was in charge of making sure he made those appointments, which gave him the autonomy to do what needed to be done, he says. But having run track since age 7, he says, he also felt a little lost without the daily routine. The time away from the track taught him a lesson.

“I’d always been a good student,” he says. “But reality really hit me that track isn’t forever. I’m more than just an athlete. I’m also a student. It really gave me that extra focus.”

When he entered URI, Dickens was attracted to the International Business Program and global business, mixing two constants in his goals – the desire to travel for business like his father and an interest in being a lawyer. A pre-Advanced Placement student in Spanish in high school, he chose to focus on Chinese because he felt URI’s rigorous program would help him standout competitively.

As part of the program, Dickens took a 10-week intensive language immersion program in Shanghai in the summer of 2019, spending the weekends traveling to experience the culture. His favorite parts were talking to people in Shanghai and going to Xintiandi, a car-free shopping, restaurant and entertainment center in the city. He also found time to train for track. “A lot of people mistook me for a professional athlete when I was over there,” he says. “It was a big ego booster.”

Among his business classes, his favorite was a human resources course he took with Sean Edmund Rogers, the Spachman Professor of Human Resources and Labor Relations.

“His approach was down to earth. He showed us why everything was important, and if wasn’t necessarily relevant to the course, it was relevant to life and real-world experiences,” Dickens says. “I felt I could come to him anytime for help and advice.”

Rogers has mentored Dickens as he’s applied to law schools, weighing in on LSAT preparation, identifying schools that matched Dickens’ interests, and helping him prepare applications elements such as personal statements.

“Being a student-athlete is no small feat,” says Rogers. “Pair that with being enrolled in not one but two demanding majors, and the task of staying on top of everything and earning great grades becomes pretty monumental. Max has not only risen to that challenge, but he’s lived his athletics and academic lives in a way that serves as an example to all college students. He earns high marks in his classes. He volunteers in local communities. He’s a member and leader in honor societies and student organizations. Max is easily one of the most impressive students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching, mentoring, and learning from.”

With only weeks left before commencement, Dickens plans to spend time this summer in Rhode Island with his friends before heading off to law school. When he graduates, he hopes to practice international comparative law.

The things he’ll miss about Kingston, he says, are walking on campus – except the hill up from the residence halls on Monday mornings – and meeting friends in the dining hall.

“I would not have been happier anywhere else,” says Dickens. “I think this was a perfect place for me. I’ve met some of my best friends. I’ve grown so much as a person. I look at pictures of myself when I came in and I’m a completely different person now. I’m happy about the person I have become.”