Kenneth Rice, GLE, '10
Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Rice, U.S. Navy
Lt. Cmdr. U.S. Navy
As a convenience store clerk in South Carolina at 17, Kenneth W. Rice never imagined working at the Pentagon, dining with the Mexican president or finishing his Ph.D.
Lt. Cmdr. Rice, who also has worked as a prison guard, is now a rising leader in the U.S. Navy as an aide to four-star Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, vice chief of naval operations. He's also completing his doctoral studies at Regent University. Rice, who has never forgotten his roots, didn't want an ivory tower Ph.D.—long on theory but short on practical applications. Rice chose Regent's School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship (GLE) because he could use what he's learning to impact not just today's Navy but also the Navy through the 21st century.
Rice, who finishes his Doctor of Strategic Leadership in May, writes his papers with two people in mind: his professor and his Navy bosses, not necessarily in that order. "Every paper I write for Regent, I give to my boss as a white paper," Rice says. "I don't just think about the theory. I think about what's going on in my office. My boss uses the information in the paper to help determine what changes need to be made to improve the Navy."
As Walsh's executive assistant, Rice has traveled widely and slept little. "A lot of my time is spent preparing him to go into a meeting or a hearing where he speaks before Congress," says Rice, who summarizes papers and highlights key points for Walsh. "We'll spend months preparing for a 45-minute meeting. It's excellent training but no sleep."
Last fall Rice was in Mexico with Walsh where they met with Mexican Secretary of the Navy Mariano Saynez to discuss U.S.-Mexican maritime collaboration. The trip also included a banquet at the Mexican National Palace with President Felipe Calderón in celebration of Mexican independence.
Rice is one of a growing number of armed services men and women choosing Regent's graduate programs. They like the relationships they can build with professors and the opportunities to put their education to work building a stronger military.
"I've gotten a lot of support from GLE," Rice says. "We've had (retired) Admiral Vernon E. Clark (former chief of naval operations) come to speak. We've had a general come to speak. To have the willingness to bring that kind of operational knowledge to the program is a great benefit. The fact that (Clark) is a distinguished professor in the Robertson School of Government and GLE at Regent and elected to the board of trustees is an illustration not only of the schools' commitment to supporting the military but also of their confidence in the types of leaders the military produces."
Another application Rice appreciates at Regent is his faith. "I like being able to apply my faith-based background to my papers," he says. "A lot of times when you write papers, it's easier to think with just your head. A lot of issues that come from your heart or your spiritual background, I wasn't able to apply when I was working on my master's degree because my professors at that school didn't deem it necessary to the conversation."
Rice has come a long way from those months working at the convenience store. He joined the Marine Corps at 17 after finishing high school. "I graduated early in January," he says. "My mother told me that if I wanted to attend college, I would be on my own—she couldn't afford to send me. She told me I was going to have to get a job. I worked at a convenience store and finally realized it wasn't enough. I joined the Marine Corps, and my only goal was to earn enough money for college. The thought of getting a doctorate was the furthest from my mind."
He left for boot camp in May and remained in the Marines for eight years, completing an undergraduate degree in criminal justice. Rice spent two years working as a corrections officer in a maximum-security prison and then joined the Navy to further his education even more. "The Navy feels it is very important to have higher education," he says, explaining the switch. "To get promoted to certain ranks, you have to have a master's degree."
His shipboard jobs have included electrical officer and main propulsion assistant. He has been deployed in counter-drug operations and to the Mediterranean/Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Rice earned a Master's of Education in Educational Leadership from Old Dominion University in 2004 and enrolled at Regent in 2005. "My cohort at Regent includes people from a variety of fields—medical, military, ministry, the federal government—and we're each able to apply what we're learning to our specific area of expertise," Rice says. "A lot of our professors are consultants, and although they haven't worked in every single field, they are able to help the students apply that knowledge in various areas of the workforce. It's exceptional. There is no 'one-size-fits-all' lesson. That was key for me."
Rice is coming up with new strategies and planning decades into the future. He credits his Regent studies and Dr. Bruce Winston, GLE dean, with helping him think outside the box. "At Regent, we took a class on creativity and innovation with Dean Winston," he recalls. "None of the ideas we could come up with (at first) were good enough. I can remember knowing then I had to think outside the box."
Building diversity, especially in the upper ranks and in technical fields, is an important goal in today's Navy. Last fall, a military "think tank" on diversity grew out of a paper Rice wrote in the doctoral program.
"Before I gave the paper to my professor, I gave it to my boss," Rice says. "That's when we started coming up with the 'think tank' idea. Diversity is a strategic initiative for the Navy. One of the problems we've struggled with is recruiting and retaining the right people for senior ranks. It's not just African-Americans, but also females and Asian-Americans. We want to recruit and retain the right people, because we're competing against the civilian sector for this talent. We want to look like America."
Technical fields such as engineering are key. "We need a lot of engineers, not just on ships but also on shore," he says. The Navy recruits high school students to make a commitment before going to college. These students often can qualify for Navy scholarships. Once they enlist, the next issue is keeping them in the Navy. Improving quality of life will help.
A paper Rice wrote on telecommuting is helping move the Navy to embrace that trend. Rice focused on fostering leadership—how to identify and motivate key players when you don't see them face to face every day. "Right now, the Navy is trying to get its arms around the idea," Rice says.
But, especially since last summer's gas crisis, Rice is hearing from other commands that want to know more about telecommuting. Adopting the policy for some employees could save money for both the Navy and its people, as well as improve morale.
"Here at the Pentagon, some of our folks may be able to telecommute," Rice says. "I don't know if people realize how much money we pay to have someone sit at a desk. It's not just lights. We're paying so much a month for that computer and a phone. Anytime we can send someone to work from home saves money. We'll get more work out of people. When the weather is bad and people can't get to work or they're too sick to come in, they can work at home." Navy service people and civilians will save time and the costs of gas, childcare and other commuter-related expenses. That fits into the Navy's emphasis on work-life balance.
"A lot of times, retention is not just about pay—it's about whether people can enjoy coming to work each day and being able to have a life at home," Rice says. "When you're on sea duty, you're gone a lot. When you take shore duty, you want to spend time with your family. If there's a parent-teacher night at school, you want to go."
Another Regent course that made a difference was a futures class. "We take data from the last 10 to 15 years and make sound decisions about where we want to be in the future—not just five years down the road but 30 years," Rice says. That impact will extend well beyond Rice's time in the Navy. But although he'll have served 20 years this year, he has no plans to leave; he's having too much fun.
When Rice eventually goes back to sea, he'll be second in command of a ship and then, if things proceed according to plan, will become commanding officer. When that time comes, Rice knows he'll be calling on what he's learned at Regent, making critical decisions.
"To command a ship, you need the high-level thought," he says. "A master's degree is a higher level of thought, and a doctorate is a higher level of thought than a master's degree. When you become commander of a ship, it's operational and analytical. It's not just, ‘What is my ship doing right now?' but, ‘What stage of diplomacy is our country in?' When a ship is off Iran and small boats begin firing at that ship, the commander is thinking, ‘What tensions are going on in the world, and how will (my response) impact our diplomacy as a whole?'"
Rice also looks forward to helping the Navy reach goals that some might dismiss as impossible. "I like the idea of leading people," he says, "because there are always those things that people think can't be done. But once you can get people to come together, to work together under the right leadership, they realize those things are possible."