BOONE, NC — Appalachian State University alumnus Mark E. Ricks ’89 is the 2022 recipient of the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes individuals who have achieved extraordinary distinction and success in their professional field and who have demonstrated exceptional and sustained leadership in their community.
Ricks found his way to App State from his home in northern Virginia and immediately knew Boone was the place for him. With a degree in criminal justice, Ricks went on to lead the protective services group for Mars Inc. and now owns and operates a horse sanctuary in Virginia.
Watch this video to learn more about Ricks and why he received App State’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Mark Ricks: How I came to the state of Appalachia is a really funny story because I grew up in northern Virginia. My parents were both educators: my father was a primary school principal and my mother a kindergarten teacher. I had never heard of the Appalachian State in any way. And so we took the… you know, piled into the car and got out. And as soon as I crossed the mountain, it was funny, they had a snowstorm. I remember walking across the mountain and being, like, amazed. It was simply magnificent. And so we walked around and walked around and I realized this was a great place for me. Not only was it just the right feeling, but what really struck me, for me personally, was that it was a six hour drive. And I knew there was no hope of me going home on the weekend.
M: I was looking forward to going to university. I couldn’t wait to leave home and start living. And Boone was a barren county, which I didn’t realize when I applied. This is one of the things that my friends made me very upset about, like, how the hell did I end up in a place without alcohol? But anyway, I got there. And so it was kind of a different environment. It wasn’t something I was used to. And it was great fun. It was just… it was… I tell kids now, when I meet kids, or parents who have kids who are planning to go to school, there’s no better place in the world. world to go to college than the state of Appalachia.
M: So when I came to App State, I was thinking business. I was going to major in business, go into marketing, sales… that’s my future. And then I met Dr. Randy Edwards, and it changed my whole life because I couldn’t finish accounting. And he had every reason and every right to fire me. So I realized after spending two years as a business major that I needed to do something else. So I thought, criminal justice is like that. And it was actually the best decision I could have made. But just… those were the courses that I enjoyed a lot more, not just the criminology courses, but also took me into political science, which took me into history, sociology, psychology, all of these things kind of came together. And these are courses that I really enjoyed.
M: So when I decided to go into criminology, or criminal justice, it was originally to be a lawyer. I wanted to go to law school. And as I continued my relentless struggles to pass my classes, do my homework, and the academic side of college life, I realized that going to law school was out of the question. So what is plan B? Well, plan B for me was to intern at a company founded by former Secret Service agents. I met a guy who played softball at church named Tom Pokusa, and I said, “Hey, Tom, you know, I know you work for a security company. Is there a chance they’re ready to hire an intern? So fast forward now, this is the late 80s, he said, ‘Well, we’re hiring people, so we can offer you a job for $10 an hour and you can, you know, get on the phone and work the hiring line. And then a month later they offered me my first full-time job at $20,000 a year. And I thought that I was going to play the lottery. It was great. And I spent 15 years there, worked my way up to general manager before leaving to start my career and start a security program at Mars Incorporated, and in that process I continued to travel the world and yeah, so I ran protection operations in over 80 countries, and that’s how it all started.
M: So, like I’ve told people before, I was the ultimate bad elder. I was the guy who bypassed the calls…never sent…I think I sent money all at once to Yosef Club. I think I sent $30 once. And I was at the beach, and it was Labor Day weekend, and we’re watching App State and Tennessee, and I get excited. I get fired. I start screaming and screaming and getting loud. Unfortunately, we didn’t win, but what came out of it was that my son-in-law looked at me and said, “I would love to go to a football game there. And I said, “Well, you know, I haven’t come back…” I couldn’t even remember how long I hadn’t been back. So I said, I said, well, let me reach out. I’ll phone. We will see to get tickets. I called, this guy, Brian Tracy, answers the phone and he said, “Well, we’d love to have you guys play a game.” So I went down, I saw Texas State. We get to it again and again, the way the university has grown, the growth of the university, I was blown away, I mean, I was blown away by how amazing it was.
M: I met Doug Gillin. I loved Doug’s enthusiasm. I loved his vision. And then from Doug I was able to ascend further and was introduced to Dr. Sheri Everts and upon immediately meeting Sheri I had the same passion, vision and her view of what she wanted the State of Appalachia becomes. When you invest, you invest in people. And for me, it was an easy investment between Sheri and Doug and Brian and everything that was going on. So it was a simple and easy way to get involved, and I was lucky that they welcomed me.
M: So when I met Sheri and Doug, and was able to get more involved with the university, I got some opportunities, and they asked me to be on the board. And it was something I had never even dreamed of. I was dazzled. It was an honor. I’m still… every day, I’m still shaking my head and I can’t believe I can be a part of this. You have all these people with all this passion and excitement for Appalachia, it was easy to get fired up. It was easy to be part of the team, and with the goals and what we do and move forward. I was just lucky they let me be in the room. And one of the things that’s important to me is that each of us is blessed in different ways. I am too blessed. I think I’ve been there many, many times, so it’s extremely important to me to give back. When you get to that point where you can help, you have to help. If we don’t help each other, we’ll never accomplish anything, and that’s fair. And that’s how I’ve always been, and now I’m in a position where I’m lucky enough to be able to do that.
M: So I think the highest honor you can receive as an Appalachian State alumni is receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award. And the fact that I get this award is mind blowing to me because obviously my path, my journey, my 19 year old self would never have seen this moment coming. To be able to accept this award, to be able to be in the company that I am in. .” I read our magazine that is coming out. I read these stories of these great elders and some of the things they did. And I have a passion for the state of Appalachia, but what I’ve done doesn’t compare. And I am in awe of these people. I am in awe of the predecessors who have won this award, and I am honored to be in this club. So I won’t be… I’ll be sitting in the back of the room just admiring the whole time. I am truly honored.
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About the College of Arts and Sciences
Appalachian State University’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) is home to 17 academic departments, two centers, and a residential college. These units cover the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. CAS aims to develop a distinctive identity based on the strengths, traditions and unique location of our university. The college’s values are not only based on service to the university and the local community, but also on inspiring, training, educating and developing its students as global citizens. More than 6,400 adult students are enrolled in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing App State’s general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing degrees in other colleges. Learn more about https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the Southeast’s premier public undergraduate institution, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead meaningful lives as global citizens who understand and take responsibility for creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to gain and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and purpose, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system. Appalachia is home to nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-faculty ratio, and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.