It shouldn’t be a surprise that theater found its way into Dr. Tammy Rice-Bailey’s communication classes. Showbiz is in her blood, after all.  

Her mother sang in the 1960s girl group The Tammy’s, and that’s where she gets her name. Rice-Bailey also sings, as well as acts, and most recently, performs improv. “The improv was kind of an accident,” she said. More of a research project, actually. When her husband shared an article with her about businesses using improvisational games in the office, that piqued her interest.  

Rice-Bailey read more about it, took a series of improv classes at Ampersand Theater, and then brought it into her Professional Presentations class. “I was thinking if students can be a little goofy in front of each other before they actually give the presentations, maybe they’ll be less stressed out about giving them.”  

Improv isn’t exactly within the comfort zone of some engineering students, she admitted. “A lot of them told me they were terrified, but they ended up really enjoying it.” Rice Bailey uses the activities in several of her classes and does research on improv as a means of student collaboration.  

Rice-Bailey began her career as a technical writer after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside with a communication degree. Ten years later, she earned her master’s degree in English literature from DePaul University, and then taught part-time at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. At the same time, she became manager of corporate documentation and training departments for several Fortune 500 companies, such as McDonald’s Corporation, Kemper Financial Services and Install Shield Software.  

After Rice-Bailey married and had her son, she decided to pursue teaching full time. So, while owning her own instructional design consulting business, Rice-Bailey earned her Ph.D. in professional writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  

Rice-Bailey joined MSOE’s Humanities, Social Science and Communication Department in 2014, and teaches technical writing, literature and user experience courses. One of her favorite courses to teach, she said, is Collaborative Design. “I love it because it’s very much about small group communication,” she said. “It teaches skills that a lot of students need to hone.”  

Empathy, she said, is one of the topics that comes up a lot in her classes, and she tells her students one of the ways to hone empathy skills is to divulge information about themselves. “Once we are able to talk a little bit about ourselves,” she said, “it makes others a little more comfortable doing the same thing.”  

As a CREATE Faculty Fellow, Rice-Bailey would like to help create more opportunities for students to develop and practice important interpersonal skills like empathy. “Empathy can be a conduit to academic and career success because it helps people understand and work with others,” she said.

She also believes in the partnerships the CREATE Institute promotes. “It’s the whole idea of working with community and industry partners to provide opportunities for the students,” she said. “Opportunities that would help raise the stakes a little bit for the students because they have an actual client.”  

When Rice-Baily isn’t working, or performing, she likes volunteering at the Humane Society and checking out new restaurants with her husband and son. She also enjoys her supporting role as superfan at her son’s wrestling matches and soccer games.