Remembering the Legacy of R.W. Hicks: Athlete, Educator, and Advocate

A photo of R.W. Hicks and Adrienne Colegrove-Raymond
R.W. Hicks and Adrienne Colegrove-Raymond at the 2015 Forever Humboldt Distinguished Alumni Award ceremony. Hicks was an exceptional mentor and a champion of equity for students of color.
Last week the Cal Poly Humboldt community mourned the passing of a beloved figure, Richard R.W. Hicks, a towering presence on and off the field and a dedicated advocate for access to higher education.

“When we think of R.W., we are reminded that one person can make a difference,” says Adrienne Colegrove-Raymond, special assistant for Tribal relations & community engagement for the Office of the President, who also worked closely with Hicks during his tenure on campus. “He championed equity for students of color and reminded us of the importance of truly caring. Recently, he said, ‘Often small things set us back. Look at the big picture and stay focused.’ We will remember him as the rock of kindness, a coach, mentor, and friend. And, without a doubt, a man that loved Humboldt with his whole heart and soul.”  

Hicks arrived at Humboldt in 1971, leaving an indelible mark as a standout center on the Lumberjack football team. His prowess on the field earned him the status of an NCAA All-American, and he later took his skills to the professional level, playing briefly in the NFL for the Detroit Lions. In recognition of his athletic achievements, Hicks was inducted into the Humboldt Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992, solidifying his place in the University's sports history.

After returning to Humboldt to finish his degree in Political Science in 1983, he became an assistant football coach on campus.

Hicks' dedication to education did not stop with his own academic pursuits. A few years later, he became the director of the Student Academic Services Outreach Program and the federal Talent Search TRIO Program at Humboldt. These programs aimed to support and guide students from low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented backgrounds, helping them navigate the path to higher education.

“R.W. was instrumental in providing access to university education for students throughout the state. Many students he helped enroll in the University would become leaders, mentors, and major contributors to the Humboldt community,” says Steve Ladwig, director of the Transformative & Restorative Education Center for Humboldt’s Project Rebound, and who also worked with R.W. in the Educational Opportunity Program.

For two decades, Hicks played a pivotal role in these programs, aiding thousands of sixth to 12th-grade students of color in achieving their journey to and through college. He became a mentor to many, offering guidance and support once they set foot on campus. R.W. and his friends established the first Black Student Union on campus and developed a Black student network, and he kept in touch with many students beyond graduation. 

Recognizing the need to expose low-income and underserved students to the college experience, Hicks created Humboldt's Preview Plus program, which offers to transport prospective students to campus from other parts of the state as a way to give them a firsthand glimpse of university life and help them make informed decisions about their educational futures. Today, the Preview Plus program is still going strong and continues to benefit students. In 2015, Hicks was named a Distinguished Alumnus for his achievements and contributions to the Humboldt campus community. 

Hicks had a lasting impact on the countless lives he touched during his time at Humboldt. His legacy lives on through the students whose paths he helped illuminate and the programs he established to break down barriers to education. Beyond his professional accomplishments, Hicks is remembered for his warmth, commitment, and unwavering dedication to the betterment of others.

In his passing, R.W. Hicks leaves behind a grateful Cal Poly Humboldt community and a legacy that will continue to shape the future of education and opportunity for generations to come.