Retiring communications professor reflects on his career achievements

In Elliott School Professor Rick Armstrong’s 33 ½ years teaching at WSU, he has never taken a sick day. 

“I never missed a class for illness in 40 years of teaching,” Armstrong said. “I don’t think that too many people can say that so I’m gonna knock on wood and hope that continues.”

Armstrong is retiring in December through the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program for Retirement introduced by WSU in September.  Professors who have at least 10 years of service and are at least 62 years old are eligible to receive a full year’s salary through the program.

“It is just time because so many things have come together,” Armstrong said.  “I’ve already taught well beyond what most people teach, I’m 75.  I’m in good health and I enjoy my work so I could’ve gone on but we just had to take advantage of this.”

As Director of the University Public Speaking Program, he taught graduate students how to teach public speaking to their own students for 20 years.  He was a role model for many students in the program.

Brandy Willett, a graduate teaching assistant, said that she appreciates all the work and dedication that he has put into building a stellar program for public speaking GTAs.

“He has designed and maintained a program, where we are able to go into our classrooms day one knowing what is important and the impact we can make, and more importantly we know he is always there with advice, understanding and support if we need him,” Willett said.  “Dr. Armstrong is an inspiration for what I would like to be for my students.”

Armstrong said that he hopes the students in the program are still able to find a good balance between teaching and completing their own coursework.

“Luckily, we’ve made good decisions, we’ve got really good people you know, and I hope that whoever replaces me can continue to teach that class in a way that they feel like they are prepared to walk into a class on the first day, probably teaching for the first time,” Armstrong said,

Armstrong said he also enjoyed teaching various communication courses, such as business and professional speaking, that give students the skills that will help them in their everyday business lives.

Along with teaching, Armstrong has presented around 40 peer reviewed papers at conferences all over the country, published three books and is working on another one, and published a number of articles in scholarly journals.

“I like to do research and write and I try to publish things in my discipline.,” Armstrong said. “That’s what really had made it attractive to me, it’s not the same thing all the time.  We have so many different things we can do; serve on committees, write letters of recommendation.  Plus I don’t think I ever missed one of my kid’s ball games, so that’s really nice.”

Despite his many achievements, Armstrong is humble about his good reputation at the university.

“It’s part of your upbringing I guess to have a good work ethic and that sort of thing, and follow the rules and do what’s expected,” Armstrong said.   “I was in the army reserve for a while so I learned all about following orders.  I just live my life that way and try to treat people how I would like to be treated, be a kind person, be nice … works for me.”

Armstrong said that he will miss a lot of things, including his colleagues, students, the everyday humming of the university, and the occasional challenge.

“I have nothing but good things to say about WSU,” Armstrong said. “I drive by the innovation campus everyday when I go home, and it’s just thrilling to see all those new buildings and everything.  I used to play golf there … It’s incredible and it makes me proud.”

Armstrong said that he would like to be remembered as a good colleague, a decent teacher, someone who didn’t cause trouble and did the right thing, and made contributions where needed.