Volunteer Stories

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Rice volunteers make invaluable contributions toward creating an unmatched Rice experience for students while also promoting Rice’s mission and values. The volunteer stories below highlight just a few of the dedicated alumni, friends, faculty and staff who are critical to the success of our university — today and in the future.

When she relocated to the Bay Area, Veronica Saron ’14 jumped into a high octane work environment. She quickly realized that Rice alumni events and volunteer opportunities were a great way to take a step back and keep all of her priorities in focus. “One of the strengths of Rice is that we have a very strong community, which is invaluable when you live in a big city with a frenetic pace,” Saron shared. “When I connect with this community, I am reminded of why Rice is so very special.”

Jamila Mensah ’00 began to truly appreciate the impact of volunteers during the three years she worked for the Office of Admissions. Beyond her assigned responsibilities, Mensah spoke to prospective students and participated in the VISION program, an initiative that brought strong minority applicants to campus.

Leaving Rice after graduation was bittersweet for Ishmeal Bradley ’03. Because he wanted to maintain his connection to the university and ensure a unique Rice experience for future students, Bradley began volunteering for Rice while still in medical school. He worked with the Office of Admissions doing high school visits and alumni interviews, and he continued this work through his residency at NYU.

When Andrea Augustine ’21 and Priscilla Li ’20 applied for a spring break externship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they looked forward to touring the campus in Atlanta, visiting the CDC museum and meeting public health officials, including their externship host, Ellen Wan ’01, M.P.H, the CDC’s acting associate deputy director for non-infectious diseases. With COVID-19 spreading quickly across the world, though, things did not go exactly as planned.

Frank G. Jones ’63 grew up attending Rice football games and riding his bicycle through the city streets that crossed campus. Frank’s time as a Rice undergraduate was a highlight of his formative years, and he’s made it a priority to give back to an institution that provided him with a top-tier education. Now, as the president of the Association of Rice Alumni (ARA), Frank is committed to raising the profile of this important group. Part of his plan includes celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the ARA.

The Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade calls for an extension of Rice’s reach and impact through alumni engagement, which includes connecting alumni to the life of the university and enabling them as ambassadors of the Rice mission and values. Both of these objectives can be achieved by volunteering with Rice Alumni affinity groups. These dynamic groups bring together alumni who share interests, professional pursuits, ethnicity and even leisure activities. Without a doubt, volunteering with an affinity group can help you connect and engage.  Read more to discover how volunteering for an affinity group can benefit you and the university.

When asked about his philosophy of volunteerism, Ahmad Durrani, professor emeritus of civil and environmental engineering at Rice, gives a quick smile and knowing look: “Volunteering is my way of giving — of doing good in the community.” Throughout his career as a Rice professor, an entrepreneur and vice chancellor of Lahore University of Management Sciences, Durrani sustained an impressive body of service-oriented activities. “Leaders must be volunteers first,” Durrani says. “As a volunteer you can better understand the community you are trying to represent.”

In early February, Rice alumni volunteers in Washington, D.C., welcomed 12 undergraduates to an expanded externship program that offers career advising, job-shadowing and networking opportunities with D.C.-area attorneys.

For more than 30 years as a volunteer for Rice Athletics, basketball scorekeeper Helen Savitzky ’80 has brought rigor and passion to her front row seat. As official scorekeeper for women’s and men’s basketball home games, she has spent countless hours logging points, assists, rebounds and more in the high-pressure atmosphere of Rice Athletics.

Rarely does a Rice football play occur or a Rice basketball point register without the attention of Rice Athletics volunteer Bob Schlanger ’73, no matter where the game is being played. A volunteer since the 1980s, the Houston attorney and economics major estimates that he has worked an astounding 3,250 sporting events.

Over Winter Break, Rice alumni, parents and friends around the country welcomed current students to their workplaces to shadow them as Owl Edge Externs. 

For Michael Maher ’75, volunteering is a way to maintain a strong connection to today’s students. “I was the poster child of someone who paid no attention to what they were going to do when they graduated,” says Maher. “So I want to help students think through what’s next.” Maher mentors students as a Martel College community associate, a volunteer for the School of Social Sciences Gateway programs, and a member of the Center for Career Development’s alumni advisory board. “I get students to identify what is worth putting forward about their experience,” says Maher. “In an interview, nobody is there to speak for you, so you’ve got to say it yourself and point to real things that you’ve done.”

In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a great hall where Odin receives the souls of heroes. At Rice, Valhalla is a great pub where mentors nurture the souls of graduate students. And some would call Purvez Captain ’93 a champion of Rice’s graduate students — a local Odin.

Tina Chu ’17 and Maya Ramy ’17 wanted to know what a career in neurology might look like for them. Thanks to Rice parent Hazem Machkhas, father to Youssef Machkhas ’18, Tina and Maya were able to experience a day in the life of a successful neurologist at an outpatient clinic in Sugar Land, Texas. “Before this externship, I was pretty positive that I wanted to be a neurologist, but seeing Dr. Machkhas interact with patients firsthand and personally being allowed to interact with the patients confirmed my dreams,” Ramy said.

Donald Bowers ’91 really enjoys working with Rice students and takes every opportunity to do so. Whether as the president of the ARA, as a member of the R Association, or as vice president at the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, he actively tries to connect current students to new ideas, to fellow alumni and to each other. It’s about “building confidence of knowledge” he says, and he is eager to share how  Rice’s network of proud alumni are helping students and young alumni to stand up — and stand out. 

As an undergraduate at Rice, Lidya Osadchey ’81 was offered every opportunity to learn, achieve and make a difference in the world. Through Rice’s pilot Owl Edge Externship program, she channeled her experience and knowledge as CEO of ESCAPE Family Resource Center to Rice students who hope to follow in her footsteps. "We owe it to the next generation of Rice alums," Osadchey says. "We were taught and given the best knowledge and the best models of interaction and excellence. It just seems natural that it would be upon us to set it free to the next generation.

Two Owls, the sprinter and the businessman, talked career plans and leadership skills every two weeks for almost a year as a part of Rice’s Student-Athlete Development Program. Knighton, the student-athlete balancing track life with the classroom, hoped to build her portfolio of professional experience. She took Gee’s cue and earned an internship at a corporate real estate firm in the fall. Outside of the comfort zone of her health sciences major, she used her leadership lessons wisely. “I learned how to negotiate business deals and how to work with clients,” Knighton said. “I approached each day ready to learn. Certainty is less important than curiosity. Terrence taught me that.”