A newsmaker you should know: Honor goes to La Roche dean for doing job she loves
For the past 22 years, Colleen Ruefle has been a part of students' lives at La Roche College -- in good times and bad.
As vice president for student life and dean of students, she oversees all student support services that are "outside the classroom," including athletics, health services and residence life.
That includes helping students cope when tragedy strikes, such as La Roche has seen in the past two years.
Two years ago, three students at the college in McCandless died in unrelated incidents.
In the past year, three staff members have died suddenly.
Scott Lang, the well-loved basketball coach, suffered a heart attack and died during practice at the school in December.
The school also lost Ruth Shoff, a longtime telephone operator, and Lance Shaeffer, assistant dean of academic affairs.
"[Mr. Lang] was one of the best human beings that I had ever known and it was truly so hard for us," Ms. Ruefle, of Hampton, said.
One colleague described how Ms. Ruefle helped students shortly after Mr. Lang's death:
"Colleen personally spent the night with students in the fitness center, holding students in her arms, dealing with the media and assisting the entire community come to grips with the tragic event. Just as she has always done, Colleen gave of her time, her wisdom and her heart that night and helped this community to heal and stay together."
For those actions and her other work with students, Ms. Ruefle has received the Ronald Lunardini Distinguished Alumni Award for 2011, given by Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
"It is a job that I truly love," Ms. Ruefle said. "So when I learned I received the award, it was icing on the cake."
The award is given by the IUP Department of Student Affairs in Higher Education, the department in which Ms. Ruefle earned her master's degree in 1989.
The honor is named for Ronald Lunardini, who worked at the university for more than 35 years, and is presented to an alumnus of the student affairs department whose achievements and experience best exemplify the standards and values of the department.
Ms. Ruefle didn't know she had been nominated until a friend from her undergraduate days at Saint Vincent College called her.
"I thought she was just calling to catch up because we hadn't talked in a while and then she tells me that she had nominated me for the award and I won," she said. "You can imagine my surprise."
Ms. Ruefle apparently was the only one who was surprised.
When she told one of her colleagues at La Roche about the award, her friend already knew.
"Unbeknownst to me, she told me that she had written a letter of support," she said.
The friend who nominated Ms. Ruefle for the award was Maureen May, a placement counselor in the career services office at Carnegie Mellon University. After submitting her name, Ms. May had to obtain letters of support so she asked past students, friends and colleagues of Ms. Ruefle to help.
The description of Ms. Ruefle's compassionate assistance to students the night of Mr. Lang's death was from one colleague's letter of support.
"They placed all the letters in a binder, so now I have all these lovely letters from students, some as far back as 10 or 15 years ago," Ms. Ruefle said.
She shares her love of working with students with her husband, Jim Shields, who also graduated from the Department of Student Affairs in Higher Education program at IUP and who works at Penn State University New Kensington Campus in career services. "We know what each other goes through and we often collaborate or bounce things off one another," she said.
The award was announced at IUP's reception for Alumni and Friends in March and was presented in May at the annual student affairs department banquet at the Indiana Country Club in Indiana.
In the letters of nomination and support, Ms. Ruefle was described as "genuine," "optimistic," "quietly but constantly making a difference in others' lives," and "seeing students as the true heart of campus."
Ms. Ruefle described the joy she finds in working with students this way:
"To see the students come in as freshmen, not knowing what they are doing, and to watch them grow and develop then graduate in four years. It's wonderful. That is the most rewarding part of my job for me."
First Published August 4, 2011 5:46 am