Kristin Rinehart is already dreaming about how to spend her days in retirement.
Reading a book on the porch. Driving to another corner of the state, or into Iowa or the Chicago suburbs, to visit old friends over a leisurely weekday lunch. Puttering in the garden. Heading out for a day of antiquing whenever the mood strikes.
But those things must wait – until at least June 1 – because something else is more pressing on her mind at this point.
“It’s still recruiting season,” says Rinehart, coordinator of recruitment in the College of Education’s Student Services office. “I’m still sending this out and sending that out and making phone calls.”
Those contacts will come to an end, however, when Rinehart retires Friday, May 31, following nearly a quarter-century at NIU and five years in her current role.
Her 35-year career of bringing students into higher education began at Western Illinois University and continued at Southeastern Community College in Keokuk, Iowa, before taking root at her alma mater in DeKalb.
And although she remains excited to talk with potential Huskies about the unique opportunities that await them in the College of Education, and considers her profession a rewarding one, this was not the original path she chose.
When the Palatine Fremd High School graduate and her clarinet came to NIU in 1980, she majored in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations.
“No one goes to college saying, ‘I want to become an admissions counselor.’ There’s never that moment,” Rinehart says. “I picked NIU because I thought PR was what I wanted to do, and NIU was one of the few schools that had a PR program specifically.”
During her time on campus, another option presented itself.
“I had the privilege to be on the Student Orientation Staff,” she says. “I was on it for two years, working for Denise Rode. I owe her a debt of gratitude. When you’re in a position like that, all of a sudden there’s this realization that there’s this whole career working in higher education. That’s what led me to know that I wanted to work in the university setting.”
Joining Western Illinois University as its Chicago-area admissions representative in 1984, she lived at home with her mom and dad while she worked the six-county territory.
Charged with making frequent visits to more than 90 high schools and a slew of community colleges, the work proved hard – and the hours long – but satisfying.
“I did that for five years and loved it – totally loved it,” she says. “But you get to a point in that career where if you wanted to move up, you have to have that master’s degree.”
From 1989 to 1990, Rinehart left “the road” for a graduate assistantship and dedicated study in Macomb, earning her master’s in College Student Personnel.
“They have always been known as having one of the top programs, and here I was working there, so it made sense,” she says. “I had been working on it in pieces. They always brought us down in the summers to work, and I would pick up some summer classes, and I had taken some classes at NIU and transferred them, so I took a year off from full-time work and finished the program.”
Southeastern Community College soon hired her as recruitment coordinator for its Keokuk campus.
Coming from the bustling suburb of Palatine, she found not only a different way of life in the tiny community but a needed break from traveling.
“It was just time to get off the road,” she says. “Working at that college, I met some of the very best people I have ever met, and I’m still meeting with them today. I had a blast; loved the job. When you’re at a 600-person campus – that’s the student body and the small staff – you truly become family. I loved it.”
Five years later, Rinehart’s phone rang.
A friend she had met at NIU reported that the associate director position in Admissions was open in DeKalb. Rinehart applied and got the job in 1995, serving under Bob Burk.
Her myriad responsibilities included hiring, training, scheduling and supervising the admissions counselors; special event management; and oversight of all admissions publications. She also was part of bringing the Hobsons Customer Relationship Management system to NIU and, for a short time, served as interim director of Orientation.
“We just had so many great people we worked with in Admissions, from Bob to the office support staff to a lot of terrific admissions counselors,” she says. “It really was just a special team with some really terrific people who were totally committed to the university and to the work they were doing.”
During the early years of Rinehart’s two-decade tenure, that special team included Margee Myles.
“Margee is amazing,” says Rinehart, who in 2014 leaped at the chance to rekindle a professional relationship with her old colleague while devoting herself to the College of Education.
“At that point, I was ready for a different opportunity. I was excited about it because, when you’re in admissions, you need to know something about at least 60 different majors, and this would be an opportunity to come in and recruit from just one college and to focus on these specific programs,” she says.
She has cherished the job.
“The college was looking to build a recruitment program – looking to develop something – and I said, ‘Hey, I have all of this great background.’ I’ve just had a lot of fun,” she says.
“I came in with truly a blank slate, and I’ve been able to create all these things, which has been awesome,” she adds. “I’ve had an excellent experience working with Susan Mizgalski to produce postcards, fliers, newsletters and dean’s cards. I’ve been able to have that freedom, and that support, to be able to do these different types of things, and to work in an environment where we say, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’ ”
Rinehart is proud of what she, Myles and Student Services office support specialist Lisa Pitney have accomplished – “We work well together as a team,” she says – and her chance to stay in touch with the students she recruits.
Part of her legacy is the Dean’s Achievement Scholars program, something she helped to launch in conjunction with Myles and Betsy Hull, a former assistant to the dean.
“I expressed that, in order for the College of Ed to be able to compete for the higher-achieving students, we had to have some scholarship support,” Rinehart says. “If we could get something on the ground floor for these freshmen with upper-20s, lower-30s ACTs – and thankfully, there was money, which was great – we’d be able to convince some top folks that this university is really where they want to be.”
Not only have outstanding students become Dean’s Achievement Scholars, she adds, but they have volunteered in the life of the college, whether in signing cards for recruitment purposes or in mingling with younger students and transfers at the New Student Welcome each August.
That’s not to say that Rinehart hasn’t had an exceptional product to market to all potential College of Ed majors, who hear her message of how an NIU degree will set them apart.
“I go out and do all these presentations, and I say, ‘When you’re looking at a college, here’s a question. What kind of really awesome experience am I going to get in my major? Then, compare it to what we do at NIU,’ ” she says. “That’s where Educate and Engage is so cool. You can tell the students and their teachers are thinking, ‘Where do we sign up to go on these trips?’ ”
Retirement will not completely remove NIU from her life.
Her husband, Miles, has just started working here as an accounting associate in Human Resource Services. The new job also keeps him in town after years of commuting to Aurora, Ottawa and St. Charles.
Closing her personal NIU journey, however, means she will begin to feel nostalgic for some unexpected things, such as regular reports of recruitment numbers, orientation registrations, hometowns, high schools and ACT and SAT scores.
“It’s kind of weird to think about that,” she says. “I’ve been doing this such a long time.”
Mostly, of course, she will miss her NIU friends and colleagues.
“In Student Services, we can bounce ideas off each other. We can share. There’s a lot of laughs in our office – a lot of humor – and that’s a big thing,” Rinehart says. “I’m just so grateful to have had this opportunity to come back to NIU. I loved it as a student here, and I always dreamed, ‘Gee, wouldn’t that be cool?’ And then it happened. I’m very, very thankful.”