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Darden Rice '00 Heeds Parents' Advice: "Whatever you care about deeply, go with it"

posted on 11/15/2012

Eckerd alumna Darden Rice '00Darden Rice '00 graduated from Eckerd's Program for Experienced Learners with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies with a History track. She is the communications director for Progress Florida.

By Mary Ellen Collins

The seeds for Darden Rice's political activism were planted during her teenage years in North Carolina. "My mother volunteered at the local party headquarters and used to take me with her. I thought it was very interesting and exciting. … And I always say that if having Jesse Helms as a senator doesn't politicize you, I don't know what will."

She went to the University of South Florida as a Literature major, planning a career as an investigative journalist who would "uncover fraud and right wrongs." Her interest in conservation led her to the campus chapter of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a conservation and consumer group started by Ralph Nader. She was elected chair at her second meeting and held that position for four years.

"That took a lot of my time and energy, and it's where I cut my teeth on service," she says. "We worked on issues including fighting to stop offshore oil drilling. We got involved with lobbying, with the chapters at Florida State University and Florida International University, and it was my first chance to see what organizing was all about – what it meant to be a practical idealist. We worked very much in reality and saw how you can be effective."

Instead of finishing her degree, Rice chose to travel, get her nursery grower's license, start an interiorscaping business, and volunteer for conservation causes. By 1997, she was ready for school again, so she enrolled in Eckerd's Program for Experienced Learners and majored in American Studies with a History track.      

Following graduation, she worked for the Sierra Club for six years in areas including the Global Warming and Energy Program, the Judicial Nominations Campaign, and the Environmental Voter Education Campaign. The experience helped to stoke her interest in politics. "I was in charge of the local campaign effort, and we put together an incredibly well-oiled machine of 400 volunteers, and had an impact in reaching people who might not otherwise have voted. It was an incredibly empowering experience. We saw that what we did could change the landscape of local politics."

She ran for St. Petersburg City Council in 2005 and lost by a very narrow margin. Her second close loss was in a race for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission in 2009. "Running was such a great learning experience. I learned that as much as I cared about the environment, you can't just sing one note. Running enabled me to develop a better communication about a broader picture."

Rice has carved out a career that merges her work with her passions, from political strategy consulting to working for the Gulf Restoration Network to her current job with Know Your Care, where she is implementing a statewide campaign to educate the public about the Affordable Care Act.

"Whenever I've taken tests like Myers-Briggs, there was no question that what I would do would be service-related," she says, laughing. "I consider myself very fortunate that I have opportunities to work on issues I care about. You realize how lucky it is that your heart is completely engaged with the mission of an organization."

Rice has served as president of the St. Petersburg Area League of Women Voters, and has been asked to consider running for city council next year. In the meantime, she focuses on the causes that resonate with her, and credits her parents for inspiring and encouraging her to do exactly that.

"From an early age, my mother taught my brother and me about things like the Civil Rights Movement. She gave me a copy of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring to see if I was interested, and I was. She always nudged me in that direction. My father was a little more conservative, but always said, 'Whatever you want to do, you can do it.' They were both very encouraging in terms of a woman having a career, and said 'Whatever you care about deeply, go with it.'"

This feature is the first in a series of profiles of Eckerd alumni, faculty and staff who embody Eckerd's longstanding culture of service through their livelihoods and/or their volunteer activities. Through speaker presentations, campus initiatives and these profiles, Eckerd College's 2012-2013 Presidential Events Series "Cultivating Service: People, Politics Planet" demonstrate that service for the greater good can be achieved through scientific research, civil and public servant leadership, environmental protection, social justice action and commentary, foreign diplomacy, time in the armed forces, pro bono legal counsel and hands-on projects.

 

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