Remembering DMACC Professor Lauren Rice

DMACC English Professor Lauren Rice

On Sunday April 5, DMACC Professor Lauren Rice was killed in a hit-and-run incident near her home in the Beaverdale neighborhood of Des Moines. 

Around 8 a.m., Rice was walking her dog when a driver struck her with a truck at a high rate of speed; police said they believe the act to be intentional. Jason Sassman, 49, was arrested and charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of animal neglect, as the dog was also killed. 

Rice, professor of English at the Newton campus, had recently returned from London, as she was one of two faculty leaders for the study abroad group. The group had recently returned to the United States one month early due to the outbreak of COVID-19. In an interview prior to her death, Rice spoke about the group’s experience of trying to return home. Despite the group’s early return, she emphasized how grateful she was for the time they got.  

Bethany Sweeney, English and history professor at Carroll campus, was the other faculty member to lead the group to London. Sweeney said via email, “She was available to students and took an active interest in their academic careers and in them as people. She was also a great friend.”

Sweeney added, “I learned about her passion for travel and for sailing, her experiences in graduate school, and the wealth of friends and family who loved her dearly. I couldn’t have had a better colleague and friend to accompany me to London and I will miss her greatly.”

Newton Provost Joe DeHart also spoke about his experience with Rice in a public statement on the DMACC website. Dehart praised Rice’s teaching and her appreciation of literature’s ability to connect students to the world around them. “Lauren was an exceptional leader and had a great passion for her students. [She] worked hard to help students understand and appreciate the English language,” DeHart said. 

DeHart also recalled Lauren’s leadership skills: “Lauren was a leader on the Newton Campus and across the district. Most recently, she was mentoring and helping other faculty transition to online learning in response to the recent pandemic. She was an advocate for social justice, diversity, and inclusion of all people.” 

Adjunct Humanities and English Instructor Breanna Kreimeyer spoke similarly about Rice’s teaching. She said, “Many spoke of her as tough but incredibly caring as she helped them become more effective writers. She took the time to get to know her students, making them feel welcomed and helping them to see they were in the right place.”

As an English professor, Rice also had a passion for storytelling. Academic Advisor Jody Stiles said in an email, “Lauren was a fabulous storyteller, not just in written form but orally as well. When she told a story about her latest adventure, whether it was across the world or to the corner coffee shop, she held a captive audience and spoke with warmth and humor.” 

Those who knew Rice were also witness to her warm presence. Student services specialist Jenny Michael said in an email interview, “Lauren had a beautiful smile and sparkling eyes. She would light up when she talked about her passions, especially her beloved dog, Holiday.” 

President of DMACC Rob Denson sent a message to the college stating, “I always enjoyed her participation, and you always knew when ‘Lauren was in the room’. She was very smart and fought for her students and quality instruction. The meetings will not be the same.” 

A celebration of life has since been planned for August. For those who would like to share memories or condolences, a memorial website has been created: https://www.laurenriceholidaymemorial.com/

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