Her First Step
Rice called a friend at the school of dental hygiene at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: Dental Branch, where she had taught part-time almost 20 years earlier. She wasn’t hopeful; she had interviewed at the school the year before and lost out to someone with a master’s degree. "But my friend asked, ‘Are your ears burning? Someone just quit and your name came up,’" Rice recalls.
The Snowball Effect
Rice cut back her dental office work to one day a week and began teaching three days. At 55, she also went back to school (which cost $8,000) for a master’s degree in education.
What She Learned
Rice was nervous during her first months as a student but surprised herself by making almost all As. "I was in a class with three PhDs, four MDs, and me, the dental hygienist, the oldest in the class," she says. "But being older made me confident." She put up with a grueling schedule for two years — work four days a week, school two nights a week, studying all weekend — and earned her degree in 2004.
Why She Loves It
She’s earning 30 percent less than she could in a dental office, but she thrives on the variety implicit in academic life: clinical days teaching technique, lecturing, office days doing research, the constant give-and-take of a scholarly community. "I’m always learning new things," she says. "Teaching keeps you on your toes."
Originally published in MORE magazine, November 2007.