By Maddie Caccavale
Through an open door, Nick Barbati sat cross- legged in his homey office across from the former associate dean of students at Rider University, Ira Mayo. Mayo retired from the university a few years prior, but always made time to visit Barbati, the associate dean of campus life. It is safe to say that Barbati has made a strong impact on many people during his 19 years at Rider, his office representing his collection of memories he has made at the school through the photographs, award plaques and event posters that decorate the walls.
A New Jersey native, Barbati grew up close to Rider and eventually became a student there, but attending the school was not a part of his original plan.
“I wasn’t supposed to go to Rider. I wanted to go to St. Joe’s in Philadelphia, and through some crazy kind of story, my application got lost there, so I ended up being waitlisted,” said Barbati. His older brother went to Rider for his undergraduate studies, so Barbati followed in his footsteps, but it was only supposed to be temporary.
“The plan was for me to just come to Rider for one semester and then transfer to St. Joe’s, and that plan suited me just fine. And then it was weird. I’m definitely the type of guy that when I get comfortable, I stay, and that is exactly what happened at Rider,” Barbati explained.
In the beginning of his student experience at Rider, Barbati struggled with getting involved on the campus, until one day, the woman who was the associate dean of campus life at the time approached him and asked why he was not involved.
“Because of that conversation, I started getting involved in our Student Government Association, along with other organizations. That really opened the door for me to get more involved and fall in love with the campus. I was meeting people all the time, and the best part of Rider is the people, [and] that is what has led me to today,” said Barbati. After graduating from Rider in 2007, he was offered a full-time position at the university, and has been there ever since.
When he became the associate dean of campus life, Barbati became responsible for supervising the majority of the out-of-classroom activities the students get involved with throughout their college experience. This included overseeing community service opportunities known as Service and Civic Engagement, the university’s radio station, 107.7 The Bronc, recreational programming, clubs and organizations, Greek life and the Student Entertainment Council (SEC) which is in charge of campus entertainment programming.
The SEC has been one organization that holds special significance to Barbati; he attends the council meetings with the students every Friday.
Senior digital marketing major Kayla Wagner serves as the current president of SEC and has worked closely with Barbati throughout her college experience. Wagner has been in the organization since her sophomore year.
“Nick has always been a supportive person. I can go to him about anything, even if it is not related to the SEC. I can always go to him with any questions, and he is willing to do anything to help any student,” Wagner explained.
One of Wagner’s favorite memories from working with Barbati on the SEC was when she was in charge of putting together “Rock Fest” last fall.
“Rock Fest was my first big event. It was amazing to work with him and see my ideas come to life. It was a huge success,” said Wagner.
“Rock Fest” has been a beloved campus tradition at Rider since 2015, but the backstory is not well known. There was a student who was getting into continuous trouble with the judiciary system at Rider. In this particular instance, the student had gone into the backwoods of the campus with their friends and tried having an illegal bonfire. Barbati knew them peripherally since this student had an entry level role on the SEC.
“I heard they were in trouble over this bonfire attempt. I called them into my office and I said, ‘What are you doing? What is happening?’” said Barbati. The student went on to tell Barbati that they wanted to create fun on campus.
“Well, you have the means to do this on a bigger scale. Why don’t you put energy into creating a large bonfire for the campus instead of getting in trouble?” Barbati reflected.
The student did not initially believe Barbati. “I said to them, ‘If you work with me and follow my guidance, I promise you, we will make it happen,”’ Barbati said.
That is how “Rock Fest” was born. The student still writes to Barbati every year when the campus hosts “Rock Fest,” thanking him and the students for keeping the event a tradition.
Another popular Rider tradition that Barbati started is “R Factor.” It is a spoof of “The X Factor,” and every year student singers sign up to compete in a two-weekend-long singing competition. The first weekend is the auditions and the second weekend is the final competition where the students that were chosen go head-to-head to be crowned the R Factor Champion.
“I love the ‘R Factor’ for reasons that people don’t see. Eric Craig was the first student who won the show. After winning, he left his own CD under the door in my office with a post-it note on it that said ‘I never thought that I would ever be able to perform my own music on a stage with a large crowd and I want you know, it changed my life,’” Barbati said. “That’s the reason why we do the ‘R Factor,’ because it’s deeper than just a talent show. It’s letting students live out their dreams.”
Last year’s R Factor Champion was current senior elementary education and English major, Moe Mahmoud. “The R Factor” has impacted my college experience tremendously. Prior to college, I never sang on a stage in front of people. I was so scared, and Nick was the one that pushed me out of my comfort zone and told me to sing. Looking back now I realize that helped me with my confidence,” said Mahmoud.
Barbati has impacted so many lives during his time at Rider and continues to do so everyday. “If in 10 years from now I’m still working in education, it will be at Rider,” said Barbati. “I wouldn’t want to work at another school.”