In the years between graduating from high school and coming to UNC, Rick toured as a country music artist, went to community college twice, served in the military and worked both in law enforcement and as a senior manager at Target.
After Rick graduated high school, he enrolled part-time at the College of Southern Maryland and began traveling back and forth to Nashville to record his first album as a country music artist.
The first time around, Rick was less than enthusiastic about academia. “I wasn’t focused on (college). All I wanted to do was sing and do music. So I did,” he said.
After two semesters at Southern Maryland, Rick finished his first album, signed his first record deal and began touring. He performed using the stage name Austin Cody.
Rick played shows with artists such as Big & Rich, Jason Aldean, Gretchen Wilson and Trace Adkins. He performed at venues that held over 10,000 people and even performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
“(Touring) was really, really fun. And crazy,” he said.
Sharon Wagner was president of Rick’s fan club. A close friend of Rick’s mother, she had known him since he was born.
“He has taken me places I would have never gone, and experienced so, so much,” she said. “This kid has done more than the average kid.”
Rick said his career came to an end due to politics in the music industry. “I didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter,” he said.
Rick worked in law enforcement and eventually joined the military. After being injured in a training exercise, Rick returned to Maryland to find employment. He enrolled at the College of Southern Maryland for a second time, where he was inspired by his professor, Richard Bilsker, to pursue a career in academia.
“He lit a spark for me that I didn’t even know was there,” Rick said.
Bilsker said Rick was valuable to the class, which didn’t usually foster much discussion.
“He seemed to like the idea of inquiring deeply into things, analyzing and trying to figure out what was the case and what wasn’t the case,” Bilsker said.
Rick graduated from Southern Maryland as valedictorian with a GPA of 4.0. He said he was first interested in UNC for its aesthetic value.
“I loved Carolina Blue. Then I realized this is a top-tier research university, which is exactly what I now want to do,” Rick said.
Rick is now working on his honors thesis on the sociology of religion. He plans to earn a Ph.D. in sociology and aspires to one day become a professor.
“This place, to me, is as close to what people call magic as I think I’ll ever experience, because to me it’s a gateway to everything else,” he said.