By Hannah Newman
WITH only two hours left in student government elections, senior political science major Andrew Bernstein walked in the Student Recreation Center (SRC) dressed in his suit, hoping to make the most of his last moments campaigning for student body president.
He introduced himself to a few students and asked them what changes they would like to see at their school. Their answers reflected more than just hopes for the future of their university, but also the gratitude for being able to voice their opinions directly to someone who had the ability to make a difference.
At that moment, Bernstein knew Rider needed more than just change — it needed to cultivate a stronger culture that strives for student success and well-being.
“Not everybody is going to like what you’re pursuing. Not everybody is going to like what you do, what you are pursuing and the prioritization of your goals. But I think that is something you can get over if you know what is important to you and what is important to the people you are serving,” said Bernstein.
Soon after winning the election, Bernstein took it upon himself to empower a cultural change at Rider, helping sketch the blueprint and facilitate the planning and funding for a new space on campus dedicated to prioritizing students’ mental health.
Better known as the Zen Den, this study lounge is filled with a variety of seating options ranging from bean bag chairs to swinging chairs surrounded by vibrant green walls that create a tranquilizing atmosphere. This idea came from the counseling center and was put in the works prior to Bernstein’s presidency, but the finalization of the Zen Den was introduced on Sept. 15, 2022 and has been used nearly everyday since.
“It took a lot of time to plan and a lot of time to figure out what we wanted to do, but to see people actually use it and to see the vision of students having a place to go and take care of their mental health and well-being and utilize it for that, I’ve realized I could shape the narrative here because if some things are not pressed by students, they are going to get overlooked,” said Bernstein.
With the goal of becoming a judge, Bernstein has taken positions throughout his college career that analyze concepts of problem solving, such as being an embedded tutor.
“When I was a tutor, I was not only trying to help people learn about writing and English, but I was trying to provide constructive feedback to critique them too, and I think that also applies to this role [SGA president] as well,” said Bernstein.
Junior global supply chain major Drew Gerber, a student of Bernstein’s embedded tutoring class, felt that Bernstein’s ambition for student excellence was consistently present in his work.
“Every Monday before Andrew’s tutoring session he would log onto Zoom early and do an individual breakdown of my work to help me better utilize his tutoring sessions and increase the level of work that I could attain in the class,” said Gerber.
In addition to becoming an embedded tutor as a sophomore, Bernstein was also chaplain, the risk reduction and education chairman for Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity where he enforced the safety of brothers and was a first responder to situations that required mediation attention.
Senior finance major and former vice president of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity in the 2020 school year Ryan Marut said, “Andrew is one of the easiest people to work with. He is attentive to all aspects of his work and perfects his craft through thorough communication with the people he works with. All of these key skills on top of his ambitions to challenge the process contributes to how successful he is and will be in life.”
Bernstein never imagined himself joining a fraternity before college. The negative stereotypes associated with Greek life deterred him from rushing. However, his personal experience dispelled the stigma he had toward Greek life and gave him reason to encourage others to consider joining.
“I had no intention of joining Greek life given the stereotypes around hazing and traditional fraternities, yet when I joined and met people who shattered those stereotypes, I knew I found an organization worth being involved in,” said Bernstein. “Throughout my time, I think my biggest takeaway is the importance of appreciating the uniqueness of others. For many people, it’s easy to criticize and exclude others who aren’t similar, but in reality, appreciating people’s diversity of experiences not only enriches your own self-growth, it also creates a stronger overall campus community.”
One other leadership position that has immensely impacted the Rider community was Bernstein’s job as a tour guide.
Sophomore political science major Christina Natoli who was a new student that Bernstein took on a tour before she attended said, “When I went on my tour with Andrew, he was not only very involved on campus, but passionate about everything he was part of. I put down my deposit right after I came home from my tour that day. He always offered his support, even after the tour, which I was so appreciative of as a new student.”
During Bernstein’s reflection on his years at Rider, he recalled the moment in time when he felt Rider was ill-fitting for him and was thinking of transferring. His apprehensiveness slipped away once he started to find that opportunties to lead others was prominent in his community. This thought has evolved into a chuckle for Bernstein as he considered his accomplishments since he made the decision to stay.
“I almost transferred my freshman year. After talking to a close professor of mine who explained what Rider had to offer and what I could do here, I decided to stay. That has probably been the best decision I have made so far in my life,” said Bernstein. “The thing that gives me the most joy about being at Rider is the opportunity to be a part of a supportive community — and I call it an opportunity intentionally because it’s only there if you seize it. I’ve been able to accomplish more than I would have ever imagined here simply by forcing myself to become involved.”
Even though this is Bernstein’s final semester, he explained that the end of his time is only the beginning for upcoming advancements, improvements and passion for the university among students in the near future.
“When it is my time to go, I hope they will remember that my goal through everything I have done here was to improve the student experience,” said Bernstein. “It’s one thing to have a vision and want to improve the student experience, but to be listened to by folks able to make these changes is something I’ve come to value about student government and is something that really brought me joy.”