Over the past year, Mercyhurst has undergone several significant administration changes. However, change can be very positive, as fresh ideas and dedicated professionals step into their new places as Mercyhurst faculty. One of these changes comes as Christina Riley-Brown, Ph.D., will become the dean of the Hafenmaier School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences beginning in June 2018.
“I am so honored that I was asked to serve in this role,” said Riley-Brown. “It has been a transition, but from now until June I am learning a lot. Things have been very busy as I integrate even more into my life, but I really enjoy it.”
The Hafenmaier College is the largest college of Mercyhurst as it encompasses more than 30 majors and minors. The ultimate goal in working with faculty and students as dean is to make sure that the entire Hafenmaier College remains competitive, supportive and efficient, and meets students’ needs.
Riley-Brown has been a member of the Mercyhurst faculty for the past 13 years, serving for the past five years as chair of the English department. Riley-Brown’s previous position helped to prepare her for this role, as many of her duties remained quite similar but on a larger scale.
As chair, she was not only responsible for teaching several classes in early American literature, but also for resolving students’ academic or curricular issues, focusing on recruitment and retention of students and engaging with and mentoring faculty.
One of Riley-Brown’s favorite parts of her role in the English department was the interpersonal aspect that allowed her to work one-on-one with students and make a real connection with those in her classes and within the major.
“It’s hard leaving this position for me, especially with the students that I have had for one or two years already,” said Riley-Brown. “I can already anticipate with all my students what their career goals are, I have a sense of where they want to go and how I can help them move in that direction.”
For the past year, Riley-Brown has been the associate dean of Hafenmaier College under Dean Leanne Roberts, Ph.D. After Roberts accepted the position of Provost following the departure of David Dausey, Ph.D., Riley-Brown was chosen to step into the role of dean.
“I have enjoyed working with Dr. Roberts this year, so I was very pleased to be in a position to be working with her again,” Riley-Brown said.
However, the hardest part of accepting the position as dean is that she will not be able to teach any literature classes beginning this upcoming academic year.
“That was the only thing I struggled with. I have been teaching for about 20 years now, and it has been kind of hard trying to imagine myself in a different spot. Growing up with a whole family of teachers, I have been steeped in this my entire life. I had to think long and hard about this decision,” Riley-Brown said.
Those who have been mentored by Riley-Brown feel that she is well-deserving of this position.
“She inspired me to become an English major my freshman year,” said senior English and Secondary Education major Tereza Pintur. “She thought so highly of the major and how I could explore the opportunities English could bring for me. I think this is highly notable for a professor.”
Although she will not be teaching next year, Riley-Brown hopes to continue to foster the one-on-one connections with students through programs such as “Dine with the Deans” instituted by Roberts and having an open-door policy with any student seeking help or just wanting to chat.
“Come see me in my office. It is bittersweet as the year comes to a close, but I remind myself that it’s not a one-way path,” said Riley-Brown. “This position is something that I can learn and once I get my feet under me in a year or so, see if I can add a few classes into my schedule.”
Riley-Brown is looking forward to this new role, specifically for how it will give her another perspective of how Mercyhurst functions as a whole. Being on Faculty Senate, involved in the English department and serving as associate dean gave her thorough insight to each of these departments, but she sees great value in expanding this outlook.
“Every time you take on a new role, you get a wider view of how the university functions, and that I am interested in learning more about. It’s amazing how these different roles intersect with one another in ways you hadn’t even thought of,” said Riley-Brown. “You also just gain an enormous appreciation for how dedicated people are and how much we rely on each other to function.”
Riley-Brown is already planning to implement new ideas and means of engagement for those in the Hafenmaier College, including encouraging more robust research and scholarship among students, strengthening Mercyhurst ties to the Erie community and emphasizing the strength of the humanities as a key component of the university.
Along with enriching the strength of the university, she hopes to build up her fellow talented and dedicated faculty, staff and administration, who have already been extremely welcoming and positive about the future changes.
“When you’re an administrator, you have an enormous appreciation for how good people are at their jobs. I hope to find a way to clear a path for them to shine and help them solve problems to make it easier for people to showcase what they do well.”
Students of Riley-Brown are excited for her promotion and feel that she will excel as Dean of Hafenmaier.
“I couldn’t think of anyone better for the job,” said sophomore English and Secondary Education major Catherine Messina. “She’s considerate, patient, driven and professional. It’s easy to see her passion for her job and the care she has for all her students.”