Rutgers remembers legacy of Dean Paula Van Riper


Dean Paula Van Riper passed away on Aug. 20, 2015 due to complications with myeloma, a relatively rare bone cancer.

Van Riper was the director of Advising at the School of Arts and Sciences. She loved her work and took great satisfaction in helping her students, said Julie Traxler, assistant dean of first-year students.

“She cared for her students like they were her children. She wanted them to succeed, and went beyond the role of an academic adviser when she needed to," Traxler said.

To call her selfless is an understatement, said Iris Zipkin, assistant dean of first-year students. 

Van Riper has been described as the heart of the Livingston Advising Center by the School of Arts and Sciences blog for first-year students.

“She was particularly good with motivating students that kind of felt a little lost," Traxler said. “Van Riper was approachable and warm to students while also giving them a motivational kick in the pants to start getting things done.”

She would occasionally work beyond the 15 minutes that are usually allotted for appointments if the student needed extra help, Zipkin said.

“Van Riper once was working with a student that had a lot of health issues affecting her schooling, and she worked with her for over an hour, staying well beyond after our office had closed,” Zipkin said via email.

She would be happily willing to do the same for any other student that needed her assistance, Zipkin said.

“Van Riper always seemed to be very connected. She always knew what was going on and knew about upcoming events. I think that made her particularly approachable to students," Traxler said.

Van Riper recognized Dean Zipkin’s last name when they started working together because she helped Zipkin’s husband graduate on a timely manner after he got unexpectedly sick, over 10 years earlier.

“I wish that more advisers treated students as she did - more than just their transcript, but as a whole person,” Zipkin said in an email.

Van Riper had been living with myeloma since 1999, according to an article about her experience with myeloma on everydayhealth.com. When Van Riper first received her myeloma diagnosis, before newer drugs were available, she was told median life expectancy was 2.5 years. She lived for the next 16 years.

During those 16 years, she continued to work full-time, traveled extensively and stayed healthy, aside from the myeloma and the mild side effects from her treatments, according to her interview on Curetalk.

“I have worked with her since I was an undergraduate student,” Traxler said. “She will be sorely missed.”

Van Riper’s diagnosis was made earlier than average, according to the everydayhealth.com article. Once Van Riper discovered that the pain in her thigh was due to a tumor on her bone, she had it removed immediately, before the cancer could spread to her marrow.

“When she was diagnosed with cancer, her caring nature played a big part in her battle. She didn't become a victim or a patient, she became an advocate,” Zipkin said.

She had spoken and written extensively in support of the myeloma community, and had appeared as its advocate before legislative bodies, according to her obituary.

Van Riper turned to the International Myeloma Foundation to learn about her condition, later using that knowledge to care for other people in her situation by founding a support group herself.

She started Central Jersey Multiple Myeloma Support Group, a support group for people with myeloma, according to her obituary. The support group provides information, guidance and support to many fellow patients and their families.

“She was always helping other people, whether it was students or other cancer patients,” Zipkin said.

Van Riper did not involve her family and friends in her decisions regarding treatments so that they would not feel guilty if the treatments failed her, according to her interview on Curetalk.

“It's hard to put into words how special she was, and how passionate she was about helping students,” Zipkin said. “She truly loved her work, cared about others and was looking forward to welcoming another school year this September.”


Connor McCarthy

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