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MSU Profiles

Words hold the power to inspire

When asked to share his top three achievements, Rick Watson, communication arts, English and music instructor, didn't miss a beat ... "students."

"It is such an amazing thing, just astounding, when a student comes back or writes a letter to say ‘being in your class changed how I thought about myself,'" said Watson. "I try to work with the idea that their personal identity is absolutely essential to all relationships around them. If they don't know who they are, can't express themselves, and can't listen to others, they won't be happy. I push that."

Watson teaches students about the importance of assertiveness, and stresses that words and language are essential.

"I've had a number of students who struggled just to make it," said Watson. "And some struggle through the gen eds, but they've gone on to do great things! One former student works for NASA, another is an activist poet and another went on to get a law degree, to name a few."

Teaching is not where Watson began his career, however. After 30 years as a Minot area pastor, his boss retired, so he made big changes in life.

"I went off the skids for a bit, working at Dakota Boys Ranch and selling life insurance," said Watson. "But then I got back to what I was supposed to do."

With a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Master of Divinity, Watson couldn't teach. So in 1989, he enrolled at Minot State and got a Bachelor of Science in Education.

"If you timed it perfectly, you could do it in one year," said Watson. "People like Harold Stolt, (professor emeritus) and Ardel Boyeff (retired staff member) were magnificent in helping me get what I needed to finish."

On his quest for a teaching job, Watson was asked to teach part time for Minot State at Minot Air Force Base. Three years later, he was offered a full-time position teaching folk music, a love he developed as a child.

"As a kid, I got sick and almost died," said Watson. "My folks bought me a Motorola stereo, and I listed to lots of music, from the Beetles to Simon & Garfunkel."

That passion grew over the years and was apparent to many around him.

"The head of the music division knew me for many years before as a singer-songwriter, so I taught folk music for 18 years," Watson said. "I later developed a class called ‘History of Rock and Pop,' I called it ‘Rocking in the Free World.'"

With a love of drama and theatre, Watson slowly transitioned from communication arts and music to full-time communication arts. In addition to impacting students’ lives, his most memorable achievements include being the North Dakota Associate State Poet Laureate and getting to know Thomas McGrath, a celebrated American poet, and Larry Woiwode, an American writer who has been North Dakota’s Poet Laureate since 1995.

As for the future ... "I want to spend more time with my family," Watson declared. "I will also write poetry, there's no sign of stopping now!"