Former Eastern Washington University quarterback Eric Rice has never lost an ounce of passion for his alma mater since he left campus more than a decade ago.
"I am a proud alum," he said. "The reason a lot of people love Eastern is because it's big enough where it's fun and exciting, but you are still able to talk to real people all of the time.
"It's not a massive complex where you can't get through to the person you need to talk to. You can pick up the phone and get in touch with anybody."
That experience hasn't changed for Rice since he enrolled in the online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction program at EWU. He is on track to graduate in Spring 2021.
"In the master's program online, despite my lack of proximity to the campus, it has been exactly the same," he said. "I live about seven hours from campus, but I am able to log in and do anything I need to do with an abundance of resources.
"The master's program is so well-structured. The email responses and phone calls come quickly any time I need to communicate with someone on campus."
Rice teaches art history and studio art classes at Skyview High School in Vancouver, Washington. He is also an assistant coach for the Storm football team under head coach Steve Kizer, who was one of his assistant coaches when he played for the Eagles.
His wife, Stephanie, is also an EWU graduate and teaches at Chinook Elementary in the same school district. They have three children — Riley (10), Reghan (7) and Parker (5). The online format has helped him add more to a plate that was already plenty full.
"I was in Spokane for a full week in July," he said. "In my hotel room, I was able to log in, do assignments, get on Zoom and collaborate with my classmates. The flexibility is second to none. It's so cool."
Calling an Audible
Rice grew up in a family of educators and football players about an hour-and-a-half north of Spokane. He was on board with football from the outset, but he had no intention of following the career path of his parents, Mark and Margo.
"I tried everything I could to not be a teacher," he said. "My parents told me growing up, 'You have always done well at school and made great grades. Go do something where you can make a ton of money.'
"I was about a quarter of a way to finishing a degree in literature and business administration. Then, I was about to go to law school. I was close. I was looking at LSAT dates and thinking about law school applications. I had decided on that as a career path."
But football reeled Rice into pursuing a career as an educator after he worked at a camp in his hometown. He switched gears and graduated with a bachelor's degree in English and art education from EWU in 2006.
"Football has always been a big part of my life," he said. "I was making decisions based on how much money I could make. The more I thought about it, I loved the opportunity to teach and coach football. I have so much passion for the job now. It's definitely been the right choice."
Rice has also made a difference in the lives of his students. He started an advanced placement art history class for 60 to 70 students per year. He returned to EWU to make sure he could continue feeding his passion for teaching and coaching for as long as possible.
"It's a huge program," he said. "There are only about 150 kids in the state in AP art history. It's become my favorite aspect of my 13 years of teaching, so far. I can't imagine doing anything that would be different from this that would require me to leave that class."
The information that Rice has learned in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction program has been applicable to every aspect of his career.
"The program does such a good job putting relevant classes together for the degree area you are getting," he said. "There is a sequence and a track … figured out.
"The knowledge and the experiences build comprehensively toward the end of the program. Every class has had information I could use. Everything is pertinent for 21st century education."
Hitting Pay Dirt
In addition to improving his professional practice, Rice is putting himself in position for a raise. That's a win-win.
"We now have district salary schedules, which are similar to the former state salary schedules," he said. "At a certain point of teaching, you run out of salary ladders.
"I might want to do administration at some point, but I still have a ton of passion in the classroom that I don't see waning any time soon."
Although Rice is enjoying the pandemic-induced extra time to concentrate on school, he is eager to return to the status quo.
"Under normal circumstances, I would be coaching football and my wife would be coaching cheer right now," he said. "I grew up with my mon and dad as teachers, so they got to do everything with the kids. What a great life."
Rice's parents are both retired teachers and live about 100 yards from his wife's school. His entire family has supported his journey back to higher education.
"Our school district is very encouraging of teachers pursuing postgraduate degrees," he said. "I have had a lot of people rooting for me and cheering me on. I have thoroughly enjoyed the program."
Rice also can't wait for the Eagles to hit the football field again — especially now that he is an EWU student again. Even while he is in Vancouver, his heart never strays far from Cheney or EWU.
"The education program at Eastern, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, is outstanding," he said. "Everybody I know who has a degree from there speaks very highly of it. That faculty works so hard to make your life easy as an online student. It's awesome."
Learn more about EWU's online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.