Richmond, VA (October 3, 2016) -When Jennifer Rivers found out she was a nominee for VCU’s prestigious President’s Award of Excellence, her first thought was, “Oh, gosh – am I going to have to go on stage?”
As director of student services in the VCU School of Engineering, Rivers has always preferred to stay behind the scenes and push students forward. But faculty members, department chairs, senior administrators and alumni thought it was time to put the spotlight on Rivers and her two decades of service to VCU’s engineering students.
“It is not an exaggeration that she has, in some way, helped every engineering student who has ever attended and graduated from VCU,” said Karla Mossi, Ph.D., graduate program director in the Department of Mechanical & Nuclear Engineering.
Rivers has shaped the student experience in the School in a variety of ways. She designed a transition course for incoming undergraduates and runs a program to enhance diversity in engineering.
“She shepherds them through their first semester with us like a mother hen with her chicks, and not surprisingly, students thrive,” said Barbara Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Engineering.
She also oversees undergraduate academic advising and pushes for continuous improvement and personalization of that complex process.
“Jennifer is the embodiment of everything that is great about VCU. She cares deeply about every student that walks through our doors and is personally invested in their success,” said Afroditi Filippas, Ph.D., associate dean for undergraduate studies in the VCU School of Engineering.
Gary Tepper, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Mechanical & Nuclear Engineering, notes that the full effect of Rivers’ caring, comprehensive approach to student services is particularly evident at commencement exercises.
“I have attended countless graduation ceremonies and while we always have speeches from eminent alumni, faculty and guests, it is always Ms. Rivers who draws the greatest applause and gratitude from the graduates when she takes the stage to call out their names,” said Tepper.
Multiple alumni were eager to add their endorsements, drawing on how they personally benefitted from Rivers’ candor, guidance and tough love.
“She is the soothing voice you need during difficult times, and the swift kick on the lazy days,” said Amber Smith, a 2009 alum and submarine program liaison with Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
Gary Artybridge, Jr., concurs and recalls her encouragement when he was at the verge of changing his major from engineering during a tough semester freshman year. Today, he is a 2010 alum employed as a nuclear engineering instructor at Newport News Shipbuilding.
Rivers’ rapport with students is lasting. She is regularly invited to former students’ weddings, christenings and grad school commencements. But she never loses focus on the students who are just taking their first steps into engineering and says that her favorite moment at the School is the feeling she always gets on the first day of classes.
“I love knowing that today is the day those students are starting a new life. I love helping guide them toward their best selves — and then looking them in the eye four years later at graduation and saying, ‘You did it!’”