Commencement 2022: Community activist and COVID crisis leader, Ineida Rocha, is first graduate of Professional Leadership Studies program

PROVIDENCE, R.I.  – April 27, 2022 – Ineida Rocha believes in the Japanese concept of “Ikigai” (pronounced E-key-guy), which means the reason for being. For her, it is to be a community leader and health advocate for under-served populations.

At 41, Rocha is the University of Rhode Island’s first student to complete its bachelor of science degree in Professional Leadership Studies, a program introduced in fall 2020 at the Feinstein Providence Campus.

A native of Cape Verde, Rocha came to the United States at age 21, speaking four languages but not a word of English. Though an exceptional student throughout high school, a college education was financially out of reach for her.

Determined to find a way once she arrived in the States, she enrolled in ESL classes and gave herself a six-month deadline to learn the language. She told her mother that, “if I don’t learn English by then, I am going back home.”

She did learn the language, remained in the country, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and became a community volunteer for minority and ethic groups for more than 18 years, all while working full-time in the health services profession, and raising her three daughters.

“It is in my blood to work in the community and defend the rights of those who do not have representation,” she said.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rocha has led state-wide efforts to increase access, communication, community engagement, and education about the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. Her entrepreneurial spirit propelled her to establish and lead the COVID-19 Crises Response Project and serve as a liaison between the R.I. Department of Health’s COVID-19 Community Team and local organizations throughout Rhode Island who serve Black and other marginalized communities.

Her efforts have resulted in countless individuals receiving the vaccine, including, a vaccine-

drive that enabled more than 4,000 Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) to receive the vaccine who otherwise would not have had easy access. She also organized isolation support for families in Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Providence, and delivered emergency response to families in need of childcare items.

Additionally, Rocha is a certified interpreter and continues to use her skills within hospitals and to assist people pursuing homeownership and is an active member of her church community.

Through it all, she stays closely connected to her Cape Verdean roots and works on the Intergenerational Cultural Exchange Project to help young people forge a bridge to their ancestors and cultural past.

At URI, Rocha has served as an inaugural member of the Student Advisory Council, engaging with Black and Indigenous students and other students of color, and served as an ambassador for adult learner programs.

“It will be exciting to see how Ineida leverages her leadership capacity,” said Jonathan Kroll, acting director for academic programs, in the School of Professional Studies. “Through her coursework and co-curricular involvement, she gained leadership skills that will enable her to direct meaningful projects for the Cape Verdean community, as well as maximize her leadership potential for her career endeavor.”

Rocha said that her impending graduation and earning her bachelor’s degree makes her very emotional, as she looked forward to every class and the continual learning process.

“URI believed in me and gave me the emotional support I needed as an adult learner,” she said.

“When I looked at the Professional Leadership Studies program, it all fit (with her future goals).”

Rocha is the health equity coordinator for the R.I. Department of Health and hopes to one day become a physician’s assistant and health advocate for the underserved.

“My purpose has become very clear, and with my degree, I can go one step further, and go on from there,” she said.