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Letters From the Dean

Check back here every Sunday for Dean Rifkin’s timely message to the School of Humanities and Social Sciences!

This Week - October 26, 2014

Dear Students:

This is the time of the semester when many of us are taking or getting back midterm exams and papers.  Some of us are pleased with the results of our efforts, while others of us may be disappointed that we may not have achieved the results for which we had hoped.

It is at this point in the semester that it’s especially important for all of us to understand the concept of “failing forward.”  We all fail.  Many of you started in HSS as freshmen and may remember the story, funny in the telling, but far from funny when I lived through it, of my first-semester freshman year math experience with the professor who called me, and I am truly quoting him here exactly:  “an imbecile, an idiot, and a moron.”  I learned so much from that experience: unfortunately, none of it was about math.  But I did learn, and I applied the lessons I learned from that experience to be more successful in all the other classes I took subsequently.  In addition, I applied those lessons to my own teaching, using my college math professor as my counter example in my work as a teacher for my own students.

So when you get back a paper or an exam on which you didn’t get as high a grade as you had hoped, I urge you to use the experience to “fail forward.”  Learn from the experience.  Talk with your professor and ask him or her for suggestions as to strategies that you might deploy to do better on the next project; ask classmates about the strategies they used to organize their work, prepare for the test, or write the paper.  Reflect on your experience and consciously plan to have a better approach to the next paper or test.  The worst kind of mistake is the mistake you repeat:  by failing forward, you learn from the experience and won’t repeat it.


Your friendly neighborhood dean,



Benjamin Rifkin
Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences
The College of New Jersey

PO Box 7718

Ewing, NJ 08628
(v) 609.771.3434

(f) 609.637.5173



Congratulations to those HSS seniors who were recognized with awards for excellence in their major or minor at Friday evening’s awards ceremony.  Stay tuned for next week’s message for individualized congratulations (for those who submitted their forms consenting to public acknowledgment of their award).

Congratulations to TCNJ alumna Krystal Knapp who broke the story on Nancy Snyderman’s breach of the Ebola Quarantine.  See:

Congratulations to Dr. Jia-yan Mi, Associate Professor of English and Chinese/World Languages & Cultures on the publication of his edited volume, Poetry Across Oceans: Anthology of Chinese American Diaspora  Poetry 《四海为诗:旅美华人离散诗精选》, the first full-scale book of Chinese American diaspora poetry featuring 23 Chinese American poets.

Congratulations to Dr. Rachel Goldman, Visiting Assistant Professor of History and Classical Studies, whose edited volume The Social and Cultural Significance of Color in the Ancient and New World:  Interpreting the Ancient Spectrum was just accepted by Sussex Press.



Now is the time to register to participate in the annual HSS Celebration of Student Achievement by going to  The registration deadline is Saturday, Nov. 15 at 5 pm.  Registration requires basic information about the project; the document attached to this e-mail message includes more information about the event.  This is the time for HSS students to shine:  share the work you’ve been doing!

The Truman Scholarship, for students who are currenty juniors, is a very competitive national scholarship, with only about 10% of students selected.  The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation – the federal memorial to our thirty-third President – awards merit-based scholarships to college students who plan to pursue careers in government or elsewhere in public service. Truman Scholars receive up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school, participate in leadership development activities, and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government.  TCNJ can nominate up to four candidates for consideration. To be considered students must submit their preliminary applications by the TCNJ Deadline of Friday, November 21st to Dr. Marla Jaksch by 5 PM via email:  For more information please visit the Truman Foundation website:

If you’re a senior, now is the time to think about applying for a Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship.  This fellowship provides for up to $37,500 annually for academic expenses for a master’s degree program, two paid State Department summer internships (one at home and one abroad), professional development through workshops and seminars, and mentoring by US Foreign Service Officers.  It all leads to entrance into the US Foreign Service.  For more information, go to  We’ve had three Pickering Fellows from HSS in the past few years:  maybe you’ll be the fourth?



Mon., Oct. 27     Info Session for Maymester Study Abroad in Greece and Turkey at 5 pm in AIMM 125

Tues., Oct. 28              Politics Forum Lecture by Dr. Bruce Stout (Chair of Criminology at TCNJ):  “The Human and Fiscal Toll of America’s Drug War – New Jersey’s Experiences,” in Social Science 223 at 12:30 to 1:30 pm

Tues., Oct. 28    Live streaming of a lecture by the Dali Lama “Develop the Heart,” will be held in the Spiritual Center from 9:30 to 11 am; not only your souls will be nourished, as there will be coffee, tea, and donuts, too.  You are welcome to come for as long as you want (any portion of the lecture)

Tues., Oct. 28              Study Abroad Info Session for Maymester study Abroad in Spain at 6 pm in AIMM 302

Wed., Oct. 29              The HSS Governance Advisory Council will hold an open forum at 1:30 to 2:50 in Social Science 128.  Come and share your thoughts, concerns, ideas, recommendations with regard to HSS policy, procedures, mission and goals.  See more about the GAC

Wed., Oct. 29     Sarnoff Lecture Series:  The Business of Research at RCA by Dr. Margaret Graham of McGill University, at 5 pm in Roscoe West 201

Wed., Oct. 29              TCNJ ACLU is sponsoring an event on student housing rights in Business 206 at 1 pm:  The event will focus on increasing student awareness of their rights regarding several aspects of housing, including the disciplinary process. Contact with any questions

Wed., Oct. 29              Trenton Makes Music:  Celebration of Trenton Jazz history, Black Box Theater (back of Kendall) at 7:30 pm.  This is a ticketed event.

Wed., Oct. 29              Sigmonologues with CAPS Peer Education:  hear your peers share their stories about mental health issues, stigma, and paths to recovery.  At 8:30 in Cromwell Main Lounge

Thurs., Oct. 30           Info Session for Maymester Study Abroad in Greece and Turkey at 12:30 pm in AIMM 125

Thurs., Oct. 30            1989 – Global Struggles for Social Justice Lecture and Film Series:  A People Uncounted (about the Roma), with post-film discussion led by Dr. Margaret Beissinger of Princeton University, 7 pm in the Library Auditorium

Friday, Oct. 31 The Close Readings event, featuring Dr. David Blake on Longfellow’s poem “Snow-Flakes,” is the Science Complex P101 at 12:30.

Fri., Oct. 31                 Brown Bag Series: On Becoming a Multi-Disciplinary Artist: The Sustainability Question by Aaron Chrome, at 12:30 in Mayo Concert Hall

Save the Date

November 12:              Dining Out in Professional Style, the annual networking program sponsored by the Careeer Center.  It will be held from noon to 4 pm in Brower 202.  You can registernow to attend this event by clicking on this link:  Please  register at

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