Choosing to Give

Brian Ricks (BS ‘07, MS ’10, PhD ’13) is a bright fellow and no stranger to giving to others or finding ways to serve. As a professor of computer science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, he is developing virtual reality games with local physical therapists to improve engagement and outcomes during rehabilitation for stroke victims and children with cerebral palsy. But part of what he knows about giving and serving didn’t come as quickly as did computer science.

Ricks, whose student budget while at BYU had no room for any extras, recounts his irritation at the Student Alumni’s Choose to Give campaign for students: He thought, “‘Are they serious? I don’t have money to give. I’m here barely on my last pennies. I can’t be a philanthropist; that’s for rich people and retirees.’ I kept wishing they’d bother someone else. But they didn’t. It happened year after year.”

Ricks got married, and he and his wife Jennifer decided to stay at BYU to get master’s and doctoral degrees. He was invited to participate in the President’s Leadership Council mentoring program. He thought, “Maybe I can convince these rich people to give just a little bit more so the BYU fundraisers will stop asking me.” But they surprised him and turned his stereotype of rich people on its head because they were happy, optimistic, and cared deeply about BYU.

He says, “My wife could always tell when I had met with my mentors because I would come home happy. I thought that they were happy because they had money. My wife would say, ‘I don’t think that’s why,’ but I didn’t know what else it could be. Maybe I’m a slow learner, but it took a couple of years before it dawned on me: it’s not the money that makes them so happy; it’s that they’re giving it away.”

Ricks shared this revelation with his wife. They now had two children and were as poor as ever after ten years at BYU. He says, “So we pondered, we prayed, and we concluded that the only way we could also give was to enter a campus essay contest and donate anything that we won. We promised ourselves to do just that. The Lord blessed us, and I won $675. We knew we could use this money, but we had promised to give it to BYU. So we did. We gave to the same scholarship fund that helped me as an undergraduate.” In giving, Ricks says, “We’ve had a greater sense of purpose in our lives. . . . And we’re happier because we chose to give away something of value, knowing that others needed it, too.”

Ricks feels strongly that giving is important to him and his family. He says, “The big take away from that experience was that, if we want to give, the Lord can provide the means.” Now that he has five children and works with hospitals, patients, and college students, he sees giving in a broader light: “It is not just money, but time, energy, and wisdom”— all things which Ricks and his wife are putting to very good use. 

Full Name: 
Brian Ricks
Grad Year: 
BS 2007, MS 2010, PhD 2013
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