Rich McCombs holds many things near and dear to his heart: his family, his students, his favorite Pittsburgh teams and volunteering with Feed the Boro.
Originally from New Castle, Pennsylvania, McCombs went on to attend college at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, where he earned degrees in Geology and Education. He moved with his family to Florida in 1966, where he began his teaching career, and earned his master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
McCombs has taught a variety of subjects over the years, including Life Science, Computer Science, Health, Earth Science, Physical Science, Chemistry, Scientific Research and even Drama at one point.
He also worked, pre-COVID, with the SECME National Office at Georgia Tech, as a master teacher/consultant and student summer institute coordinator. He was able, in that role, to attend national competitions with students and present educational modules to teachers who attended the institute from universities all over the Southeast.
McCombs served from 1982 to 2004 in the Army National Guard in Pennsylvania, Florida and Georgia, and retired as a major. McCombs enlisted at the age of 17, and spent most of his military career in light artillery units, and served every position from Forward Observer to Battery Commander to Brigade Chemical Officer.
“It was during this that I learned a great deal of teamwork and how to serve as a leader, which means serving those under my command with everything that I could,” he said.
McCombs is the proud father of two sons: Ricky, who is a 29-year-old mechanical engineer with Great Dane; and Jordan, who is 25 and a software engineer with Floor & Décor.
When he isn’t teaching or volunteering, McCombs loves to fish. He likes to fish in the ocean, but he prefers to fish in a trout stream up north. He’s an avid Pittsburgh Steeler, Penguin and Pirate fan, and catches the teams’ games as often as he can. He also loves to read “from any time period.”
“More often than not, it is my friends and family that tell me of a new book that has come out and I find myself reading it,” he said.
McCombs also loves chess, but says he’s not very good at it. But he loves spending time playing chess with his students after school, and enjoys teaching them to play as well.
He’s also a member of the Statesboro Lions Club, and the Ogeechee River Scholastic Chess Association.
McCombs is a science teacher at Statesboro High School, a position he’s held for 21 years. He currently teaches Advanced Placement Environmental Science and STEM (Research I and III). He also teaches Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the Coastal Plains Charter School.
“These make for long days when I have both the day job and evening job, but I love being able to see students excel in all types of settings and learning as much about science as possible,” he said.
In recent years, McCombs has also become a hospital homebound teacher for Bulloch County schools. He tutors students who have extenuating circumstances who have been unable to attend school for a while. He also works with Educational Testing Service and serves as a table reader.
“This past year was the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak that we were able to travel to Cincinnati, Ohio, where we spend a solid week grading free-response questions from students from around the world who have taken the exam. During the COVID outbreak we were forced to do this virtually,” he said.
McCombs says he is extremely passionate about teaching science and about his students.
“I want them to see the value in what I am teaching them and how they can relate this to the real world, and how adults use it in their everyday jobs,” he said. “If they see me being excited about what I am covering in class and labs, I would hope more often than not this translates them into wanting to not only see what I am covering as important but to seek out more of an understanding of it.”
McCombs considers himself blessed to have seen students at SHS pursue their interests in post-secondary students and use it to seek degrees in the STEM fields at Northwestern, Yale, Harvard, MIT and Georgia Southern University. He’s even seen some of his students follow in his footsteps and become teachers themselves.
But McCombs says he didn’t always want to be a teacher.
“Like most young men I wanted to be an airline pilot. I started off on the path of my teaching interest once I got myself settled in college to earn a degree in Geology,” he said. “It was during my junior and senior years when I was a tutor for those in lower level science classes that I found my passion to help those who did want to learn about the courses in the science world. I helped to break material down into smaller chunks and by the end of our session tie these all together. It just made sense to teach new material this way to younger students.”
His teaching methods have certainly paid off, and the evidence is clear — McCombs has been named STAR Teacher by three different students so far.
“This is one of the most unique honors because I know these students have had some of the best teachers from kindergarten through high school not to mention the influence that both their parents and this community has had on them. To have them choose me as the teacher who influenced them the most is very humbling and at the same time helps to solidify the ideas that I try and instill in all of my students,” he said.
McCombs is also a five-time Teacher of the Year from three different schools in two different states. He was also named the National Teacher of the Year in SECME, and a finalist five years prior to that. He was also chosen as the Georgia Junior Academy of Science and Humanities Teacher of the Year, in addition to a host of other awards.
He says the greatest lesson he could pass on to his students is that if they study as much as they can, they will wind up where they need to be.
“Even if you are not going to pursue an interest in Environmental Science studies, you don’t know what the future holds. You could wind up being a future mayor of a city, a congressman/ senator, or a hardworking citizen who may have to vote on an environmental issue and because of what you are learning in this class and in all of school you will hopefully be better informed on what to support and vote for,” he said.
One of the things that McCombs has become very passionate about is volunteering with Feed the Boro. He’s been volunteering with the organization for more than 10 years. He was impressed in the beginning, he said, that helping in such a simple way could help so many.
“That first year I helped prepare desserts that Thanksgiving eve and then came back the next morning to help prepare meals for delivery. I believe that if we all do something, even a small amount of service, together, great things will grow out of this,” he said.
Since then, McCombs has served in many capacities with FTB, and says he currently wears the “head dude” hat during the organization’s monthly food drops. And he enjoys making people smile during these events by literally donning a different hat — he’s worn a turkey hat, a Pittsburgh Steelers hat, a Santa hat, and even a hat for St. Patrick’s Day.
“I try and make people smile, from our volunteers to those who are picking up food,” he said.
McCombs is most comfortable serving behind the scenes, helping with set-up ahead of time.
“During the drops I help with the early morning crew set-up which normally starts at 4:30 a.m. Then when the food trucks arrive I help stage where the food and other items brought in on the trucks in locations where they will be most efficiently placed into cars,” he said.
McCombs says he gets a “little OCD” during the food drops, but he just wants things to run smoothly and serve as many people as possible.
“Then with the list from Second Harvest, and some assistance from Chuck from Second Harvest, Roger, Patrick and Jeff, my fellow board members, we help determine how much food we will give to each car to make sure they all get even amounts for our 1,000 food drop events. When the bulk of our volunteers show up, who report to my fellow board members Lisa, Lisa, Rev. Wayne and Mary, I put them in the locations where they can best help us load the cars when we start running the cars through the drop,” he said.
Prior to COVID, McCombs also helped with FTB’s Thanksgiving meal, and calls himself a great “turkey-from-the-bone remover.”
Volunteering with FTB has helped McCombs to realize that the effort has to be a “partnership within the community to want to help in so many different ways by several different means.”
“I want to be a FTB volunteer to help members of the community I live in who may be struggling,” he said. “By giving of our time, effort and talents together, we have been able to get so many people in need a great amount of food in these times that we are struggling through,” he said. “If you can look out and see how many cars are lined up at 4 a.m. during one of our drops, it can easily be seen that were are dealing in a community where the need of food is great.”
McCombs says he’s talked to some of those receiving help, and he has found that they are so grateful that not only have they received much needed food, but it enabled them to be able to afford medicine or to pay bills. He’s especially grateful to the Statesboro Police Department, which helps with keeping traffic flowing during a food drop.
He invites anyone interested to “come on out and serve.”
“We do a lot of hard work, but the smiles throughout the day are priceless,” he said, noting that there are many roles, so finding a spot in which to serve won’t be difficult for anyone.
“Volunteering is everything to me,” he said. “Being a true servant becomes more of a lifestyle. It is extremely important to our community because we truly never know what our neighbor may be going through.”
Volunteering in this way has taught McCombs so much.
“I have learned being a volunteer in so many different capacities that volunteering with any service organization is needed so much in our world today and is especially for myself very gratifying,” he said. “I would hope that others would find their niche in service to mankind.”