Richard was raised in Akron, Ohio in a strong union household. His father was a machinist and his stepfather worked for The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and was a member of the United Rubber Workers Union.
Richard attended Virginia Tech on a Naval ROTC scholarship, where he was a proud member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, majoring with a B.S. in Nuclear Science. In 1987, he followed the legacy of his father and grandfather by joining the U.S. Navy, serving as a Surface Warfare Officer aboard the U.S.S. Donald B. Beary and as Cargo Officer for the Military Sealift Command in Naples, Italy.
After the Navy he pursued his passion for learning, earning Masters degrees and a PhD at Yale University. He taught at Georgia State University for fifteen years, where he was a leader in study abroad and held a competitive grant worth over one million dollars from the Department of Education and European Union.