PTK experience helped student taste success at Hinds
RAYMOND – Rakim Rowley arrived on the Raymond Campus out of high school like a lot of inner-city youth, in need of a direction and guidance.
“I could’ve easily ended up a product of my environment,” Rowley said. “There was a lot of violence and criminal activity.”
Rowley, a native of Indianapolis, moved to the Jackson area in 2006 and attended Provine High School. A back injury playing sports in high school affected his planning at the time mightily. “I really couldn’t afford to go to college, but that and the military were really my only plan.”
A life spent having no help was about to change for the better. He credits the environment of support he experienced at Hinds for a successful career he’s building in the U.S. Navy.
“It was really a second opportunity at life,” said Rowley, currently a master at arms second class stationed at Naval Support Mayport, in Jacksonville, Fla. “Before, I didn’t apply myself as well as I should have. I was in the right place at the right time at Hinds.”
Once on campus, he served as district Student Government Association president and became an officer in the Gamma Lambda chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, where the world first opened up to him as part of the group’s international studies in England and Costa Rica. He was named a 3E outstanding student and was also a resident assistant in the men’s residence halls.
“So many people at Hinds molded me in ways where I could be a leader,” Rowley said. “These people weren’t bluffing back then when they told me I could go to greater heights.”
Among them were his PTK advisers, Honors Institute Dean Debbie McCollum and Dr. Ben Cloyd, who is now Raymond Campus academic dean, as well as Vice President Dr. Theresa Hamilton.
“The first thing you notice about Rakim is his huge smile,” McCollum said. “He just knows how to engage other people and make them feel welcome.”
McCollum remembers the study trip to Bridgwater College in England fondly, as it foreshadowed his job in the Navy working as a K9 handler with bomb-sniffing dogs like Raven, his black Labrador.
“Rakim was new to international travel, and when in London, he ate the best pizza he said he’d ever had,” she said. “So, he bought an extra pizza and stuffed it into his bag. When we came back through customs, a TSA dog hit on it. Former Honors Dean Kristi Sather-Smith had quite a time talking customs officials into not giving Rakim a huge fine. This story is particularly ironic and perhaps provided a glimpse into his future, when you consider Rakim has worked internationally and trained dogs for the military to sniff out bombs.”
After Hinds, he finished his bachelor’s in history from the University of Mississippi, where he remained active in PTK as an officer, then entered the Navy. He termed his start with the K9 unit much the same way most dog owners do when it comes to their own fur-babies.
“I didn’t choose it, but it did choose me,” he said. “There’s only about 300 of us in the Navy, roughly, and there’s a rigorous interview process beforehand. Being the person I am, I thought, ‘Only the best can get in? Well, I’m going for it.’ I’ve always gone after leadership positions, so I grinded hard after it.”
His Hinds mentors credit that kind of persistence for his success as a student then and such an outstanding officer now that he was named Patrolman of the Year for 2018 by his superiors at the Naval facility. His most recent award, in January 2019, is the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal from the Navy.
“Rakim was part of a highly successful PTK officer team that had tremendous energy, curiosity, passion and a desire for excellence,” Cloyd said. “Rakim personifies all the attributes that make the Honors Program and Gamma Lambda such a worthwhile endeavor.”
Another part of his job involves supporting the Secret Service, which has let him travel with two presidents so far and have assignments for former presidents. In December, he was assigned to work the funeral for former President George H.W. Bush, who died Nov. 30.
Of his Hinds experience, he said, “The vibe I got was ‘come take some classes and do something with your life.’ They changed my mindset to not be scared and lazy, but to be confident.”
His mentors haven’t lost confidence in him, either.
“With all his gifts and accomplishments, he is still a humble person,” Hamilton said. “I am looking forward to what he will accomplish.”