A Chip Off the Old Block: Family Behind Utz Brands Endows GW Law Scholarship

Generations of GW alumni continue a longstanding family tradition of giving back with the Rice Family Foundation’s $1.6 million gift.

April 10, 2024

Michael and Jane Rice

Michael Rice, and his wife, Jane, created the Rice Family Foundation in 2017. (Photo courtesy of the Rice family)

More than a century ago, Bill and Salie Utz founded a potato chip operation in their Hanover, Pennsylvania, kitchen and began selling their product door to door. Today, Utz Brands, Inc., is the third-largest branded salty snack platform in the United States, producing over 3.3 million pounds of snacks each week and generating more than $1.4 billion in annual sales.

Bill and Salie’s grandson and his family are still involved in managing the now-public company.  With deep roots at the George Washington University, these alumni recently created a need-based scholarship to GW Law, the Rice Family Endowed Scholarship.

“My grandparents founded Utz, and they instilled in us an obligation to give back to the community,” said Utz Chairman Emeritus and Special Advisor Michael Rice, J.D. ’68.

Rice started his family’s GW tradition, although a law degree wasn’t originally part of his career plan. Indeed, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, he dropped out of college during his sophomore year. His father immediately put him to work at Utz shoveling potatoes in the potato cellar.

“By spring of that year, I said I didn’t want to do this, and I decided to complete college and then get a law degree,” Rice said. He passed the Pennsylvania Bar exam after graduation, but never planned to practice law as a career.

“I wanted the skills that come with a law degree,” he said, describing his GW Law education as “extremely valuable” in preparing him to join the leadership team at Utz. Rice and his wife, Jane, a former Utz public relations director, created the Rice Family Foundation in 2017. Their daughter, Stacie Rice Lissette, J.D. ’92, serves as director of the family foundation.

The Buff and Blue is a family affair: Stacie’s husband, Utz Chairman Dylan Lissette, B.B.A. ’93, studied business economics and public policy. Their daughter, M. Payton Lissette, B.A. ’18, was a communications major. Dylan’s twin brother, James Lissette, B.A. ’93, earned a degree in political science, and his sister, Michele Schimpp, B.A ’86, was a communications major.

“My father and I both had really great experiences at the Law School,” said Rice Lissette. “We were so blessed that we were able to go to GW Law, and we felt really fortunate that we didn’t have to go into debt to do it. We are conscious that this is not necessarily the case for others.

“We wanted to create this scholarship to pay it forward and give someone the same opportunity we had,” she said.

Michael Rice and many of his GW Law classmates.
Michael Rice and many of his GW Law ‘68 classmates have maintained their friendship for more than a half century. Pictured at a recent gathering are, from left: D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Robert Tignor, Michael Rice, James Stein, Dolph Sand, Martin Snider and Larry Thomas. (Photo courtesy of the Rice family.)

GW President Ellen M. Granberg expressed gratitude for the family's support of student scholarships, a top university priority. "GW Law offers unmatched exposure to some of our nation's most respected legal scholars and practitioners," Granberg said. "This generous gift helps support talented students who face financial challenges, allowing them to focus on their studies, take advantage of only-at-GW opportunities, and gain a meaningful hands-on legal education, particularly in nonprofit and government service where funding is more limited."

Rice’s decision to study in the nation’s capital was driven by his admiration for the early U.S. presidents that grew out of learning to read with a set of childhood books given to him by his mother. He still keeps in touch with a sizable group of law school friends. “In those days, classes were divided alphabetically, so I knew everyone from R to Z,” he said. “A group of us have gotten together regularly through the years to share special occasions and stay in touch with each other.”

He and Jane were married between his first and second years of law school, and he was still a student when Stacie was born. To support his new family, he took a job at the Census Bureau and switched to night classes at GW Law.

GW’s connections to the Washington, D.C., community influenced Rice Lissette’s decision to attend GW Law. Even though her family was based in Hanover, her parents spent a lot of time in Washington when she was growing up. The city felt like home.

“I loved studying law in the nation’s capital. My professors were awesome, and my classmates were such a diverse group of people. And I loved the clinics. That kind of hands-on experience, to be able to use the skills I was learning, was really meaningful.” Today, she serves on the school’s Clinical Law Advisory Council.

Rice, his wife and his daughter are deeply committed to providing opportunities for others. By supporting education in particular, Rice Lisette said, “you provide people with the ability to create their future.”

Donna Arbide, GW’s vice president for development and alumni relations, hopes the family’s “heartwarming” legacy will inspire others. “It’s so gratifying to see generations share the Buff and Blue tradition. It really validates the impact that GW can have on students and entire families, and it’s incredible when they give back so generously so that others can follow in their footsteps.”