Assistant dean of students’ journey to Rider

By Olivia Nicoletti

Christine Mehlhorn slowly recognized her passion for leadership when she was a student at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). From being a student leader at TCNJ to becoming the assistant dean of students at Rider, Mehlhorn’s long-time goal has been to help guide the lives of students.

After multiple shifts in a career path and doubts about her future, she found her passion for student affairs after meeting her college advisor, Magda Manetas.

Manetas, the current assistant counselor at Rider, served as Mehlhorn’s mentor through her time at TCNJ but always kept in touch in the years following graduation. After Manetas secured a job at Rider a few years ago, their relationship shifted as they became co-workers.

“[Manetas] can still make it better with a single comforting or encouraging word. It’s amazing having her here – just knowing she’s here,” Mehlhorn said. “She’s the person who is the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing. She always thought I was good at reading people, reading situations and predicting how things would go. She would say, ‘you always have your finger on the pulse of the student body.’”

Manetas’ role as the dean of students at TCNJ led to her first interaction with Mehlhorn when she took the position of Student Government Association president from 2006-2008.

Manetas said, ​​ ”She had been elected to the position of executive VP but suddenly and very early on in her administration she was thrust into the role of president, when that student had to step away unexpectedly. Although she hadn’t sought the highest leadership role, she was a natural from day one and such a pleasure to work with. The traits I continue to observe to this day – an unruffled demeanor, dedicated advocacy for the student experience and student learning, the one you can rely on to ‘get it done,’ were all in evidence right away and I was thrilled when she decided to pursue a career in student affairs. Christine will never be the loudest voice in the room, but she’ll very likely be one of the wisest. The students and staff at Rider are so lucky to have her.”

Along Mehlhorn’s professional journey she has met other people who have mentored her. Ira Mayo, the former assistant dean of students, played a major role in Mehlhorn’s career.

Mayo said, “Christine was a joy to work with. She is innovative, creative and totally committed to student growth. In my 40 years of working in higher ed, I have never seen a person more effective at mentoring students than Christine. Numerous graduates have chosen to go into careers in student affairs due to her influence. She also was a person who never said ‘This can’t be done’ but always said ‘How can we make this happen?’ Christine is well respected across campus because she communicates and includes other departments in her planning. Rider is fortunate to have her, and I am fortunate to have her as a friend.”

After Mehlhorn was promoted in the summer of 2021, she went from assistant to the director of student involvement in first-year programs to assistant dean of students. Her main focus has been to deal with students in crisis. What makes Mehlhorn admired by many is her desire to stay involved from the beginning to the end of a situation.

Mehlhorn said, “I know it seems small but I always send an email after our meeting to recap; ‘Here are all the suggestions I made, here are the steps that I think would make sense.’ I’m trying to help students who are facing some sort of obstacle that is preventing them from achieving their best in college by trying to help them navigate it.”

She is very passionate about student involvement especially during Rider’s Welcome Week when many are at a vulnerable stage of college.

“We put together orientation schedules and resources about transitioning here so that you can be successful,” said Mehlhorn. “Try to put yourself out there and take a risk because that’s the time when everyone else is trying to put themselves out there too.”

Nick Barbati, associate dean of campus life, is a close friend and coworker of Mehlhorn. They have collaborated on multiple events through the years and

Mehlhorn’s dedication to students’ well-being has not gone unnoticed by Barbati.

Barbati explained, “Christine is such an incredible staff member at Rider, and is a true mentor, advocate and role model for countless students over her time here. It is such an honor to work with Christine because she always shows up for the students of Rider and always makes sure they feel heard and seen which has made her a tremendous assistant dean of students.”

For a two-time orientation leader and current Graduate Assistant for First-Year Programs Austin Ferguson, Mehlhorn has lent him more than just a mentorship.

Ferguson said, “I owe so much to Christine’s leadership in the development of my own skills. As my supervisor, she taught me how to be an effective leader while also fostering a fun environment for employees. I learned what it meant to love work and how to make a job more than a job.”

Mehlhorn and the staff she surrounds herself with encourage students to bask in the opportunities they have in front of them at Rider.

“Take advantage of resources, take advantage of people who want to help you to do things that you want to do for yourself. This is your time to really take risks and learn about yourself and do things so that you can figure out who you want to be, Mehlhorn said. “I don’t like when students take a backseat to their own education.”

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