HUNTINGTON — In his time as director of the Basic Science Division of the Center for Diagnostic Nanosystems at Marshall University, Kevin Rice researched exciting, yet complicated, ideas about obesity, diabetes, aging and how our genes work, down to the nanoparticle.
“When you know of how the physiological cell should work, you think this is the process — A, B, C, D, E — but when you see something that goes from A to B to F then to H, you think, ‘How did it get here to here to here without hitting these other points?'” Rice said. “Life finds a way. Even when there is dysfunction, things find a way of working themselves out.”
Rice was talking about how the cells of diabetics work differently than typical cells to accomplish the same task, but he could have also been talking about his career path.
“I didn’t envision myself in this field,” Rice said. “I didn’t know where I envisioned myself.”
Rice graduated from Ohio University Southern with a degree in psychology, but without a higher level degree in the field, he couldn’t do much. So he became a construction worker, which he did for 10 years.
But then he was persuaded by the owners of the construction company to go back to college. Based on some work he had done as an undergrad, Rice chose to attend Marshall and pursue a biomedical master’s degree.
At this point, he and his wife were starting a family and he could not just attend school without bringing in income, so he became a lab technician within the College of Science. He continued to work his way up, graduated with a master’s degree in biology and helped secure a $5 million grant to start the Center for Diagnostic Nanosystems.
The grant funding for the center, however, has now dried up. Despite trying to secure new grants, Rice is out of the job after 16 years. So he’s reinventing himself.
With 65 published journal articles and numerous more citations, Rice has applied for research positions across the country. But the current research landscape isn’t easy.
“We are in a real weird time frame where the loss of funding for research is actually becoming detrimental to the progress of research,” he said.
Rice also does not want to leave the area. Currently living in Crown City, Ohio, with his wife and four children on his grandfather’s farm, Rice’s roots go deep into Appalachia.
So he’s starting his own companies.
First, he started his own research corporation, doing product testing for smaller companies. But eventually the market dried up.
Now his focus is on three separate but interwoven online ventures. First is an online bookstore. The second is a publishing company, and the third is a marketing company and a podcast.
The ideas came as he wrote his own books, which are Christian-based self-help books. (Rice is also a former pastor.) Rice knew it was hard to publish a book and get the attention of a publishing company, so he looked into the process of self-publishing.
He created the bookstore to sell the book but also to host other authors’ work. Then he started the publishing company to help others get their works published.
The podcast, “Manifesting the Kingdom,” is Rice’s way of building a platform and getting his name out there.
The podcast, Rice says, is about helping others find their inherent value then giving people the tools to change the world they are in.
“I’ve seen a lot of the mindset we have here,” Rice said. “Everyone is looking for the outside to come in and rescue the Appalachian culture, and they don’t see that they themselves have value. We need to figure out how can we utilize the resources we have locally and maximize those resources to better our own community.”
Rice said he is always looking for entrepreneurial opportunities himself, even before he knew his time at Marshall was coming to an end. He sees potential in producing commercial-grade silicon, but that takes a lot more funding to start than an online company.
His goal is to build something he can leave his children, so they too can grow up to stay in Appalachia.
Leaving Marshall and research is bittersweet, he said.
“When we had 24 people here and every day I was seeing new data — when you come in with a group of people and you all work on the same thing, you’re talking about it and you see all the potential and new data, it’s exciting,” Rice said.
Rice firmly believes his research skills will transfer to any new venture.
“The amazing thing is, when it comes to scientific thinking, that experimental design and being able to interrogate a problem and come up with different approaches to come up with an answer, that skill set applies everywhere,” he said. “You almost wish you could create that kind of critical thinking in your elementary students where they can sit and say, ‘I’m going to test all of these variables.’
“I think it’s in Appalachia,” he said. “People just natively — that’s what we’ve done. We will try things until they work. That skill set applies everywhere. Once you’ve advanced it to the level I have, I think it can apply to business, apply in construction settings.”
Rice wants to continue to educate, even if it’s through a podcast now instead of a classroom.
“That’s what life is about,” he said. “It’s about the journey. It’s about the people you meet. It’s about getting to influence other people and then come back a few years later and see that person you interacted with, that you had an impact on their life. I’ve seen that in a college setting. That’s what I like about education, too. You can interact with people and see their life change after you’ve interacted with them. I’m looking at how to transition that in a different way, to interact with people and bring out their potential.”
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.