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Rhode Island and NASH Collaborate to Advance Refugee Education and Employment Opportunities

June 23, 2023

For Immediate Release: June 23, 2023


Providence, RI – The National Association of System Heads (NASH) and Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner (RIOPC) are joining forces to establish a Community of Practice (CoP) that aims to improve the support and integration of refugees and immigrants into the Rhode Island’s workforce via education. 

This collaboration stems from a Catalyst Fund award through NASH’s Refugee Resettlement Initiative (RRI) to further develop RIOPC’s RI Reconnect program which provides wraparound services to immigrants and refugees. The RI Reconnect program supports qualifying adults seeking to enroll in college or workforce training. Additionally, RIOPC will create a postsecondary completion strategy specifically tailored to the needs of Rhode Island refugee communities that includes assessment, outreach, enrollment, and persistence tactics.

“As a member of NASH, our office recognizes the importance of inclusivity and ensuring that all populations, including refugees, have equitable access to educational and employment opportunities,” said Shannon Gilkey, Ed.D., Rhode Island’s Postsecondary Commissioner. “Through our involvement with NASH’s Community of Practice we can tap into myriad resources and technical expertise that help us improve our outreach and our success. We are grateful to receive the NASH Refugee Resettlement Initiative Catalyst Fund grant to provide navigation and wrap-around services to Rhode Island’s refugee community.”

One key component of the focused outreach is the provision of supports needed to persist with and complete degrees and workforce certifications. Examples of the most common supports are access to the internet, transportation to campuses, and laptops. 

“Systems of higher education empower colleges and universities to have a stronger impact on the communities they serve than they could achieve alone,” said Nancy Zimpher, Interim Executive Director of NASH. “We’re thrilled to be working with Commissioner Gilkey and the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner to enhance their abilities of welcoming and supporting refugees in a way that also meets the economic development needs of the state.”

“Establishing this Community of Practice signifies a major step forward in promoting inclusivity and diversity within Rhode Island’s educational and employment sectors,” said Colleen Thouez, founder and director of NASH’s RRI. “It highlights the commitment of the RIOPC, NASH, and our partners to create an ecosystem that embraces the rich contributions of all Rhode Islanders, regardless of their background or origin.”

For more information about the Rhode Island CoP and its collaboration with NASH, please visit To stay updated on the progress of the CoP, follow @NASH_RRI on social media and use the hashtag #RIRefugeeOpportunity.


About the National Association of System Heads

Founded in 1979, the National Association of System Heads represents chief executives of the 65 public higher education systems in the United States. Member institutions work collaboratively to advance innovation and change in public systems of colleges and universities. To learn more about NASH and its strategic initiative, the Power of Systems, visit

About the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner

The mission of the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner is to ensure, promote, and expand postsecondary attainment among all Rhode Islanders by providing an effective system of postsecondary education and workforce training that is high quality, equitable, accessible, affordable, and aligned to pre-kindergarten-12 education and the economy. To learn more, visit

Media Contact

NASH Contact:

David Belsky; 347-227-0055; 

Rhode Island Contact:

Beth Bailey; 401-487-1046;