From Humble Roots to Global Impact

ISE alum Rick Wicker (BSIE ‘75) has made a significant contribution to supporting international experiences for current students. His journey from humble beginnings in North Carolina to a global career has inspired him to create the Global Studies Endowment, aiming to provide life-changing opportunities for ISE students.

Wicker’s path to success began with little exposure to the world beyond his home state. However, his career with a major consumer goods corporation opened doors to international opportunities that transformed his professional and personal life. “I was selected to be the operations representative on a corporate cross-functional team to travel the world and investigate new product and marketing ideas for the U.S. market,” he recalled. One of his key experiences was an eight-month assignment in Turkey, which deeply influenced his worldview.

Completing a camel ride in the Sahara before camping near the Algerian border

Living and working abroad taught Wicker invaluable lessons and skills. “The opportunity to live and work in a country outside of the USA, and to have a career traveling and working with people from all over the globe, was extraordinary,” he said. These experiences broadened his perspective and enhanced his ability to navigate diverse cultures and business environments.

Understanding the profound impact of such experiences, Wicker established the Global Studies Endowment for ISE students. “By establishing a Global Studies Endowment, our undergraduate students can begin to get assistance to create an international experience as part of their academic career,” he explained. “We operate today in a world economy and a global supply chain. ISE students are in an ideal position to be leaders in this economy through these programs.”

Wanda Urbanska, ISE director of development, highlighted how Wicker’s gift aligns with the department’s goals. “Rick expressed gratitude for his ISE education here and a desire to ‘give back’ to current students,” she said. “His desire to support overseas experiences aligned with Julie Swann’s (ISE department head) goal of providing 50% of our undergraduate students with a foreign experience.”

The The Ahu Tongariki moais on Easter Island’s eastern coast. on Easter Island’s eastern coast

The Global Studies Endowment will provide crucial financial support for student internships and travel experiences abroad. Urbanska added, “Foreign study and experience is a stretch opportunity for so many of our students, an experience that may alter the course of their careers and lives.”

Wicker hopes his gift will inspire others to consider their own legacy. “Look at your career and life and find your passion. All gifts invested in the ISE department and its future will fulfill a need to transform and grow this department in engineering,” he advised.

At the Serengeti National Park entrance, Tanzania, before heading to our campsite

He also offered advice to current ISE students, encouraging them to seek diverse experiences. “In addition to the obvious—embracing your studies and interacting with other ISE students and professors—make a point of getting to know other students on campus in completely different majors and studies,” he suggested. “Reach out to those students who are from different cultures and/or countries and understand their perspectives on life.”

Reflecting on Wicker’s contribution, Urbanska remarked, “Rick Wicker is just a remarkable, generous, and thoughtful person. Julie Swann, Kanton Reynolds (ISE undergrad director) and I are made better by knowing him.” Through this endowment, Wicker’s legacy will continue to shape the lives of ISE students for years to come, helping them to become leaders in an interconnected world.