Rick Royce and the Mountain of Terror

by Rick Royce as told to Rick Neilson ’70
As seen in Webb News 2020 edition

Professor Rick Royce on top of Mount Kilimanjaro with the Webb flag.

Richard A. (Rick) Royce has a Ph.D. in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering from the University of Michigan and serves as Professor of Naval Architecture at Webb Institute, having been hired in 2001. In addition to his classroom duties, he has performed many different services, including Director of Research; Director of the Robinson Model Basin; leading the Webb “big boat” sailing efforts, including the Newport, R.I. to Bermuda race; and Principal Investigator for the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Navatek Consortium. Under Roger Compton’s leadership, Rick was a major author of the proposal to ONR that secured $2 million in grants for upgrades to the model basin, marine engineering laboratory, and the purchase of a research quality flow channel, in addition to funding research. Rick did a great job managing the resulting funds. In the time I’ve known Rick I have always thought of him as extremely capable and a reasonably sane man. Then I learned that in January of 2020, he planned on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Sometimes one has to re-think his opinion of another’s mental stability.

Spending a lot of time in a building the students often refer to as Hogwarts can do strange things to people. Perhaps that is what caused the aberration in the good professor’s mind though he claims this was a long time coming. The real impetus for this adventure came from Rick’s sister, Karen. They have always been close, and Karen wanted to do something special for their upcoming birthdays. So in the summer of 2019 they considered several options, but none seemed quite right. Karen was a geology major and had helped run field camps, as well as having spent extensive time on the Appalachian Trail. She had friends who had taken some African safaris, and she was the one who suggested climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Rick had done some mountain climbing as far back as college. In the late 1990s he had climbed Mount St. Helens, carrying his skis up and skiing down. Rick’s ex-college roommate worked for Christensen Shipyard in Vancouver, Washington, and when Rick visited him, they would go climbing, including Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. So Karen’s suggestion didn’t sound crazy. There are a number of companies that arrange a Kilimanjaro climb and after some research, they decided on a company called “Climb Kili.”

Rick knew he had to prepare. He started doing cardio on elliptical trainers in August then threw in some hiking locally, including walking the dog with a full backpack each morning. During Thanksgiving week he went to England, Wales, and Ireland. He did a lot of walking that week and climbed Mt. Knocknarea near Sligo, Ireland, which is only 1,000 feet tall but is steep.

Climb Kili provided an agenda for an eight-day trip that required their arrival on January 10, as well as some instructions. Because the park system limits the weight for porters, each hiker is allowed his or her own personal gear plus a maximum of 15 kg of “extra gear,” which an assigned porter carries. Costs cover transfers to and from Kilimanjaro International Airport, which is located between the cities of Moshi (population approximately 200,000) and Arusha (400,000). Karen and Rick flew from JFK airport and splurged on upgrades to business class, figuring it would be their last chance to be pampered for a while. Upon arrival they were taken to a hotel which was good quality though surrounded by a wall and razor wire.

The group consisted of six climbers, three men and three women. Karen lives in Dublin, Ohio. Besides Rick, the other climbers were from Los Angeles; San Francisco; Edmonton, Alberta; and north of London, England. There were three guides, a cook, a waiter, a dishwasher, a toilet attendant, and 13 porters. Each climber had one porter to carry personal gear such as sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and extra clothes. The remaining porters carried food, tents, and campsite gear.

The actual climb started on January 11 at an altitude of 5,000 feet, where the temperature was between 85 and 90 degrees F. Rick says that as opposed to the mountain climbing one might envision, most of this trek was a slight rise with only a few steep portions. They started at the end of the rainy season although the first day was fine weather. The second day they hiked in the rain. They experienced no other real rain but often climbed in a mist. Each morning they were awakened by the waiter, Balthasar, and his “smooth jazz voice” at 6:30. Then they would pack up their extra gear for porters to carry and prepare their day backpack with two to three liters of water, rain clothes, snacks, trekking poles, hat, gloves, and rain cover for packs. Breakfast would be served around 7:15 and was usually pineapple, porridge, eggs, toast, and diced sausage. While eating, they would have their pulse and oxygen content measured. As long as their O2 level was above 75% they were good to go. If not, there was always the option of staying behind with a guide and catching up later in the day, or having a guide lead the person down the mountain. Guides and porters were always saying “Pole Pole” (poley poley) which means “go slowly.” This allowed porters to pass the climbers on the trail so they could get set up at the next camp, and for those not used to the altitude, the slow pace prevented burn out. The guides and porters were constantly mindful of the physical condition of the climbers and from that point of view they always felt safe. They would leave camp around 8:00. The length of climb varied by day. When they arrived at the next camp, they would have lunch, starting with soup, toast, pineapple, chicken or fish, and potatoes. Then they would unpack their gear and get their tent, air mattress, and sleeping bag situated. Rick would usually walk around quite a bit to make sure he could sleep through the night. Dinner was at 6:30 and consisted of soup, rice, or pasta with stir-fried veggies for topping, potatoes, and fritter type deserts. Rick thought the food was surprisingly good. Hunger may have seasoned it.

Bathroom facilities were less than lavish. The middle-to-high-end tour companies have a toilet attendant. This person carries a portable toilet and tent for the climbers to use. When breaking camp the attendant empties the contents into the bare-bones toilets provided on the mountain. “Bare-bones” means “bare-bones” – think of an outhouse but with no bench seat, just a hole in the floor and the aroma reminiscent of the senior classroom after a ship design all-nighter.

Pit stop at Baranco Camp, close to the Great Baranco Wall.

There was one dangerous portion of the climb – a stretch at the Great Baranco Wall. It is an 800-foot rise on a switchback trail with a 60-foot drop-off on one side. Handholds were definitely needed there. Rick did see one person evacuated from the mountain. He was brought down on a gurney of sorts that had only one wheel in its center. It looked extremely uncomfortable but it was the only way available to get someone to one of the mountain’s helipads.

Some highlights of the climb included seeing buffalo tracks at 13,000 feet where there are salt deposits for the buffalo to lick. They stopped at the Moira camp at about 13,300 feet that night although the guides wanted them to go higher where they could get cell phone service. On day seven they started at 16,000 feet around midnight. Rick never considered quitting but the penultimate stretch of the climb to Stella Point at 18,875 feet was quite steep and he felt a bit light-headed. Guides carry oxygen for those climbers who need it, but once they take it, they are required to go back down. After a brief rest, Rick felt fine and the remainder of the trek to the summit at 19, 341 feet involved only a slight rise. They arrived at 6:05 am. It was -10 degrees F. They only stayed 30 minutes at the summit because the sun was coming up and there was a real concern about snow blindness. On the route they took, an average of 70% of the climbers achieve the summit. Not all of the climbers in Rick’s group were able to make it, but all had an experience to remember.

The trip down was a bit anti-climactic. They went by a different route, having climbed the northwest side of the mountain and descending the southwest side. It was certainly quicker than going up, but it was tougher than Rick thought it might be because the descent required the use of different muscles. They left the mountain at 5,000 feet and spent the night in the hotel. Having anticipated the need for a bit of R&R, Karen and Rick flew to Zanzibar for a stay at the Diamonds Mapenzi Beach Resort. This required local currency, so Rick went to get some Tanzanian shillings. The machine he used had a menu asking how many he wanted and not being familiar with the exchange rate, he chose 30,000. Turns out that is equivalent to about $12 US. The exchange fee was $7 US. Next time Webb’s Director of Research will do more research ahead of time.

So what did Rick accomplish on this trip? First, he lost about 10 pounds despite the hi-carb diet. Secondly, he most probably is the first person to drink a Diet Coke at the summit (Rick refused to confirm or deny this with me), and finally, he is not only the first Webb prof to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, he is certainly the first person to unfurl a Webb banner on the summit. Congratulations are in order. I can’t wait to hear what he does next winter. If he invites me, I’m busy that day.

A few members of the group at Mkubwa Camp.

Photo Credit: Climb Kili

A Message from President Michel

Webb prides itself on a culture built upon respect and generosity. These principles are embedded in our honor code and flow down from our founder William H. Webb. We strive to embrace our differences and through dialogue and collaboration, build a campus community where everyone feels appreciated and empowered. Notwithstanding our best efforts, we sometimes fall short of these goals. The key is to make sure that those times serve as learning experiences, encouraging us to redouble our efforts to ensure a welcoming environment where each student can flourish.  At Webb, we recognize and value the role that diversity and inclusion play in enriching the educational experiences and quality of life of our students. As Board chair Bruce Rosenblatt explained in a recent email to the Webb community, our collective aspiration to enhance diversity and inclusion are incorporated in our Strategic Plan and have led to changes in our Admissions processes and scholarship programs. Our students, alumni and staff have offered suggestions for new initiatives for advancing inclusiveness on campus. I promise that we will carefully consider each of these ideas as we develop actionable plans in the coming months. 

In 2017, the Board established a Diversity Committee tasked with informing the Board’s discussions on diversity and related strategic planning objectives. The Committee’s newly appointed chair, Dr. George Campbell, has a long history of advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education. George is past president of Cooper Union and his wife is currently president of Spelman College. The Committee’s membership includes Trustees, the president of the Alumni Association, the President and Dean, staff and students. The Committee will work collaboratively with the Administration and report regularly to the Board. The charge of this Committee includes:

  • developing a Diversity and Inclusion Plan that builds upon ongoing initiatives,
  • promoting surveys and listening sessions, to ascertain the views and ideas of all Webb constituencies and to understand their needs,
  • helping to prioritize our actions, and,
  • evaluating metrics to ensure accountability.

Higher education has a critical and necessary role in building a more equitable and tolerant society. At Webb, our first step is to reaffirm our commitment to seeking out the distinctive viewpoints that come from a diverse population, including differences in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic status. I look forward to learning from all of you and being an advocate for change, as we work to make a difference on the Webb campus and in our broader community. 

Please post your ideas on the Community Portal or directly contact me or other members of the Webb community. In the interest of privacy, I ask that you please avoid mass emails.  

Thank you for your interest and continued commitment to Webb and our mission. 

A Message On Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Webb

Webb Institute is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Below is a message from the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Bruce Rosenblatt, about Webb’s current initiatives and strategic plan.


The topics of diversity, equity and inclusion have been an ongoing commitment of the Webb Institute Board of Trustees and Administration and are common themes throughout the recently adopted Webb Strategic Plan. Recognizing that inclusivity, mutual respect and integrity are fundamental to Webb’s Mission, the Strategic Plan calls for consideration of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of Webb governance and operations, including the makeup of the Board, faculty, staff, and student body.

Two goals of the Plan that relate to enhancing the diversity of the student body are:

“To develop a comprehensive student recruitment program to ensure a highly-qualified, diverse student body in future years”, and,

To meet the demonstrated financial need of every student, in keeping with Williams Webb’s goal of serving students with limited resources.”

A significant step towards progressing our commitment to diversity in the student body was the hiring of Lauren Carballo as Director of Admissions and Student Affairs. Being one of the few non-English speaking, Hispanic students in her elementary school, Lauren has personal knowledge of the challenges that young people with differing backgrounds face growing up. Early in life, she developed a passion for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion – a trait that has served Webb and our students well. In her four years at Webb, Lauren has reinvigorated our student recruitment processes

Some recent initiatives aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented students at Webb include:

  • building bridges to organizations and high schools with large populations of underrepresented students,
  • placing greater emphasis on applicants overall academic records, strength of character, extra-curricular and leadership interests, and less emphasis on SAT/ACT scores, and,
  • establishing a room & board scholarship program to meet demonstrated financial need. This program originated with a grant from the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation. Over 200 gifts from alumni and friends of Webb have been received over the last three years as we seek to establish permanently endowed scholarship funds to perpetuate the program.

These initiatives are already reaping rewards, with significant increases in the number of minority and socio economically disadvantaged students being realized in recent years. For example, the percentage of ALANA (Asian American, Latino American, Native American, and African American) students in the freshmen class has averaged 28% over the last two years, up two-fold from the ten-year average. Similarly, underrepresented minorities (Latino, Native American and African American) comprise 12% of these classes, up three-fold. We are pleased with these improvements in the diversity of our student body while recognizing that there is more that we can do.

The aforementioned initiatives have been a factor in the steady increase in the application pool and the qualifications of our freshmen over the last five years. At the same time, we have achieved record graduation rates and now boast a student body of 101 students. Of particular significance, the graduation rates of our women and ALANA students have been comparable to or higher than their counterparts. These outcomes are consistent with research indicating the superior performance of diverse communities.

We continuously strive to provide a Webb experience that is safe and enjoyable for all students, regardless of their race, national origin, gender, or religion. Goals in the Strategic Plan related to equity and inclusivity include to:

“Reinforce the strong moral and ethical awareness of Webb students, and the principles of Webb’s Honor Code, so that the college is regarded as a model of inclusivity, respect and integrity”, and,

“Develop programs that further raise the cultural awareness of the student body, faculty and staff, and provide support for the different needs of a diverse student body.”

A number of student clubs provide support for the minority populations at Webb. External speakers on diversity/acceptance/inclusion are invited to present their ideas at Leadership Week. Earlier this year, a webinar hosted by Lauren Caballo on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion garnered participation from three-fourths of the student body. Psychologist Dr. Michelle Stein has become an integral part of our efforts to enhance student health, meeting weekly with Webb students to discuss all aspects of student wellness.

A year ago, the Board of Trustees established its Diversity Committee, with trustee, faculty, staff, and student representation. Chaired by Jen Waters ’91, the Committee is tasked with exploring ideas on enhancing diversity and inclusivity at Webb. The chairmanship of the group has recently transitioned to Dr. George Campbell. This Committee will be reporting to the Board at its regular meetings and tracking our progress in enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion at Webb.

We are constantly on the lookout for new ways to improve the environment at Webb. Should you have suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact Board Chair Bruce Rosenblatt at brosenblatt@webb.edu, President Keith Michel at kmichel@webb.edu, or Director of Admissions and Student Affairs Lauren Carballo at lcarballo@webb.edu. Should you wish to assist in these efforts by visiting high schools in your region, let us know. The “demonstrated need” scholarship program has been a resounding success but needs more resources. Should you wish to contribute to this effort, please contact the Director of Development Anthony Zic at azic@webb.edu.

We are hopeful that our Homecoming in May can be an in-person event. If so, please join us on campus and exchange ideas with our students, faculty and staff on these important issues.


Bruce S. Rosenblatt
Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Webb Institute

Alumni Spotlight: Arthur W. Schmidt ’48

Maintaining the Webb Legacy

Arthur W. Schmidt ’48

This is not an achievement of mine, but just one case, out of 1,722 graduates so far, of achievement of William Webb. After graduating from Brooklyn Tech High School in 1942, I was drafted into the Navy, and spent a year at sea. I was a Quartermaster 2nd class on the Luzon ARG-2, a cargo ship converted into a repair ship in Baltimore. I helped put it in commission in 1943. Using the V-12 program, my captain then sent me back home, to attend college and become an officer. Mr. Webb provided a castle in the Bronx to play games and do homework in the towers. At the castle, I remember Admiral Rock the administrator, who was tall and thin with a thick head of white hair, and a loud whistle to warn the neighborhood kids “to get off my property.”

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Webb Institute Featured in The Princeton Review’s “Best 386 Colleges” Guide for 2021

Webb Institute is one of the nation’s best institutions for undergraduates to earn their college degree, according to The Princeton Review. The education services company profiles and recommends Webb Institute in the 2021 edition of its annual college guide, The Best 386 Colleges (Penguin Random House, August 18, 2020, $24.99).

Only about 14% of America’s 2,800 four-year colleges are profiled in the book, which is one of The Princeton Review’s most popular publications. The company chooses the colleges for the book based on data it annually collects from administrators at hundreds of colleges about their institutions’ academic offerings. The Princeton Review also considers data it gathers from its surveys of college students who rate and report on various aspects of their campus and community experiences for this project.   

“We salute Webb Institute for its outstanding academics and we are truly pleased to recommend it to prospective applicants searching for their personal ‘best-fit’ college,” said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review’s Editor-in-Chief and lead author of The Best 386 Colleges.  

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