Televisions, radios, and the Titanic: Professor talks about how to be a faithful scholar

Michael Rice, BYU electrical and computer engineering professor, gave the Phi Kappa Phi Distinguished Faculty Lecture on Thursday, October 27.

The title of his lecture was “My Journey as a Faithful Scholar: How Did I Get Here?” Rice explained that the second part of the title was motivated by one of his favorite songs by the Talking Heads called “Once in a Lifetime.”

“The song is about people who move through life with little awareness or questions and who commonly accepted trophies,” he said. “The last part of the first verse says ‘you may find yourself with a beautiful wife and you may ask yourself how did I get here?’”

That question was one he asked himself when given the opportunity to speak. Looking back through his life, he recounted how people were not expected to go to college in the little town in southern Ohio where he grew up. He thought he would end up working in one of the various mills in town until his guidance counselor told him he had good enough grades to apply for college.

During this meeting the counselor asked young Rice “What interests you?” After some thought he said he was interested in how televisions and radios worked. With that, his counselor told Rice, “You want to be an electrical engineer.” He then went to college as an electrical engineering major, got both an undergraduate and graduate degree and ultimately learned how televisions and radios worked.

He has studied air-to-ground communications and wireless communications and how the wireless telegraph used on the Titanic has evolved over the years to the point that we have Wi-Fi on airplanes. His research over the past 20 years has been trying to do more with less in regards to digital communication.  

As a faithful scholar, Rice explained that the work he has done does not overlap with big social issues or theological questions Mormons have, he asks how faith influences what he does. He referred to a talk from President Gordon B. Hinckley.

“It’s not enough for us just to live just to survive, but we have to do something worthwhile while we are here,” he said. “I like to think that the scholarship I have done is in some small way has made things better.”

He then talked about Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon. He pointed out that the iron rod starts right before the mist of darkness, which he compared to not knowing where to go in life. Rice wasn’t sure about what he wanted to do or whether he would go to college, but he stepped into the mist of darkness, putting one foot in front of the other.

“Another one of my favorite quotes from Gordon B. Hinckley is ‘try a little harder to be a little better every day,’” he said. “We do things just a little at a time.”

To end, he referred to Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19 saying the things you learn, the experiences you have, you can take it with you.

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