ONE-ON-ONE with Lauren S. Rivera, J.D., M.Ed.

Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students shares her story to encourage students as they build resilience and find their calling.

Dean Lauren Rivera embraces mission in her work and with the children of El Salvador. Read about the international service trip to Mexico and pilgrimage to El Salvador that changed Dean Rivera’s perspective on advocacy at
Dean Lauren Rivera embraces mission in her work and with the children of El Salvador. Read about the international service trip to Mexico and pilgrimage to El Salvador that changed Dean Rivera’s perspective on advocacy at

You graduated in 2004 with a degree in political science and religion from Bucknell University and then earned a Juris Doctor degree and Master of Education degree in college student affairs at The Pennsylvania State University. What led you to Scranton?

It’s a little bit of a long story. Nearly everyone in my extended family works in medicine, either as a doctor, a nurse anesthetist or a dentist. I’m the eldest of 11 cousins, and heading off to college, I assumed I’d become a doctor. One biology course in my first semester (that I barely passed!) and a realization that I don’t do well with blood prompted me to change course. If I couldn’t be a doctor, I’d be a lawyer to make my family proud. I graduated from Bucknell, and that’s what I did.

A couple of months into law school, I developed pretty intense anxiety and also began to realize I didn’t want to be a lawyer either. This worried me – I wasn’t sure what to do. I went to talk to vice presidents of student life, deans of students, and academic administrators at different colleges in Pennsylvania and asked, ‘What was your career path?’ They all encouraged me to go back to law school because the landscape of higher education was becoming more legally complex.

When I figured out I wanted to go into higher education, I was lucky enough to be at a law school connected with Penn State. If you want to learn about college students, 60,000 is a good number! I figured out that my passions for law and education combined made natural to search for jobs working in college student discipline processes.

I knew I wanted to work at a smaller school. I like that when you sit with people and have difficult conversations with them about their struggles, and then you see them other times on campus engaged and thriving. You get to accompany them on their journey. The University of Scranton happened to be looking for a new Director of Student Conduct & Assessment as Dr. Larry Morton was retiring after 40 years of serving the University! Then Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Vince Carilli, took a chance on me and the rest is history!

Since joining the University in 2009 as director of student conduct and assessment, you have served in several capacities. How has your role evolved?

After serving as the Director of Student Conduct & Assessment, in 2015 I applied for and was selected to serve as the associate vice provost for student formation and campus life and dean of students. That allowed me to focus more on student support and advocacy, often related to mental health or sexual violence, to work with student government, leadership development, and other areas of the division.

As dean of students, I have enjoyed helping students to navigate challenges they encounter outside of the classroom that can impact their success in the classroom. When students lose a loved one and are grieving, have a mental health crisis, face a difficult physical health diagnosis, or navigate an unexpected change in their family income situation, I try to help them connect to resources and to support them in being the best versions of themselves as they manage their circumstances.

I love that work and that was my dream job. I had achieved it by the time I was in my early 30s and that was it. That was what I wanted to do.

Candidly, I never dreamed of being a vice president for student life. Ever. I enjoy working behind-the-scenes and finding joy, purpose and meaning in engaging with students individually on their journeys. I couldn’t fathom giving that up. I’m grateful that Father Marina supported in me in serving a stint as the interim vice president for student life while also continuing as the dean of students. This allowed me to see that maybe I could do the vice president role in a way that allows me to keep doing what I love in a new way.

In February 2023, I was returning to campus for a Black History Month film and women’s basketball game. Driving on the President Biden Expressway, I had a God moment and felt a push -- ‘You should take a leap and pursue this role permanently. You don’t understand, you’re very anxious about it, but it’s all going to work out.


Web Exclusive

'Look Even More Intentionally to the Margins' banner image

'Look Even More Intentionally to the Margins'

How did an international service trip to Mexico and pilgrimage to El Salvador change Dean Lauren Rivera’s perspective on advocacy?

Read Article

You were elevated to your current role as Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students for in May 2023. What have been a few of your top priorities so far?

I have lots of hopes and dreams for student life, but I’ve first focused on building my team, making adjustments to better support student wellness, and working to create a more inclusive and welcoming campus community for all students. Students who are struggling with their wellness or feeling like they don’t belong at Scranton are not able to be the best students they can be.

Last year, you announced a reorganization in Student Life. Can you explain how it helps to support student wellness?

Sure! I saw an opportunity to integrate student wellness functions in a different way to promote a healthier campus community and seized it. I created a new role - assistant dean for student wellness – which oversees our wellness functions including Student Health Services, the Counseling Center, and the Center for Health Education & Wellness (CHEW). I appointed Stephanie Adamec to serve as the assistant dean and she got to work right away on improving how these areas serve students. This new structure makes it easier to bring staff from the different departments together to talk about issues they’re seeing, engage in professional development, respond to student needs, and offer intentional educational efforts.

One example that showcases the importance of integration -- Steph and the Peer Health Education team were the impetus behind hosting mental health screenings in the DeNaples Center’s Fireplace Lounge. She invited the Counseling Center and the Counselor Training Center -- our counselors in training in our graduate program-- to partner with the Center for Health Education & Wellness to offer depression and anxiety screenings at the start of October each year. They often serve more than 300 students who respond to the call to “get a checkup from your neck up!”

At colleges across the country, the resiliency of students is a concern. The University earned a Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators award for our initiatives. What’s working here?

For the last five or six years, we have been working on fostering student resilience through several different efforts as we recognized students were struggling to bounce back from struggles or failures. Our challenge is to help them understand that when they fail a quiz, when they don’t get selected for a leadership opportunity or when relationships don’t go as planned, they have the opportunity to learn and grow from these difficult experiences to better themselves for the future.

Two important resilience initiatives that I’ll mention…first, a few years ago we implemented a peer facilitated workshop known as ‘Resilient Royals: Be Happy, Be Healthy, Be You’ which is required for all first-year students. The session is geared toward helping them understand the building blocks of resilience, the importance of utilizing healthy coping strategies in the face of stress, and navigating the alcohol culture in college.

We continue the conversation at various programs throughout the year including the Fail Forward Panel, which happens every November as a collaboration between the Center for Health Education and Wellness and the Dean of Students Office.

Essentially, we invite four courageous faculty and staff members to share some of their struggles and failures and how they worked through them in 8 to 10 minutes. The night is amazing because it’s simple and captivating for students. It breaks down some barriers and helps them to understand that people who they think very highly of and have deep respect for encountered the same types of struggles as they are now encountering. Hopefully, students can connect with that and walk away, understanding a little bit more about vulnerability, resilience and self-compassion.

Student advocate. Dean. Mom of three. What advice do you offer students as they head into a world of endless opportunities and the stressors that come along with them?

Big question! A few thoughts. First, life is best when you follow your dreams. It took me until law school to realize that I had to do something that I wanted to do, not follow a path just to make my family proud. If something interests you, explore it rather than being fearful! That’s what college is about. The exploration might lead you to something really cool! Second, take care of yourself. You have probably heard that you can’t pour from an empty cup. For me to be the best student advocate and mom I can be, I have to take care of me whether that’s going for a run, catching up with a friend, heading to the beach for a trip, or going to bed early! Like students, my schedule is so busy that it’s hard to prioritize self-care, but it’s necessary for me to be at my best for others.

Scroll to Top