During his undergraduate and graduate years at Rider, Cone was highly involved. He served as a charter member and vice president of the Gamma Nu Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., the Class of 2019’s first-year and sophomore class president, and president of campus organizations the Black Student Union and Black Men Unified. Cone also participated in Rider’s Multicultural Student Leadership Institute (MSLI) program.
As a graduate student, Cone was recognized by Rider’s Department of Graduate Education, Leadership, and Counseling with the Outstanding Achievement in Organizational Leadership Award for excellence in scholarship, leadership and his contributions to the field.
It is evident that Zaire Cone’s calling is to serve others. His passion for encouraging student success, mentorship and mental health awareness is displayed in the work he began at Rider and continues to do today as a higher education professional.
Though Cone is undoubtedly leading an ambitious trajectory, his path to this moment was not linear. As a Black male who attended a predominately white institution (PWI), he admits to facing challenges in finding his place and his passion during his undergraduate years.
“I was always active on campus with different organizations,” he says. “But at one point, I started enjoying different things that I did on campus more than what I did in the classroom. Noticing this, I decided to focus on what I was passionate about, and that took about a year and a half. I changed my major twice until I found something that I could truly see myself doing.”
Cone later harnessed his knowledge and experiences to not only hone his leadership potential, but to help others and enact the change he hoped to see for students like himself. During his journey, he became active with Rider’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion and worked with the Counseling Center and the Educational Opportunity Program. Through his work with these offices, he led efforts to expand mental health outreach to students of color and students from other underrepresented groups to help them navigate the unique complexities they often face on the path to their degree.
Today, as Cone sets his sights on making a difference in higher education, he continues to draw inspiration from his experiences and brings what he’s learned at Rider to his new chapter.
Read the Q&A below to discover how Rider helped Cone find his path to success:
What are you doing now?
I currently serve as the assistant director of graduate admissions at Felician University. I am responsible for collaborating in designing and managing all graduate programs under our School of Business and Information Sciences, and implementing strategies to enable the University to meet specific enrollment targets. I also serve as the initial and continued support contact for prospective and returning students.
Alongside my work, I’ve been doing research on the impacts of effective diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives from a PWI’s counseling center to its students of color. I have been comparing that to the research that I completed in my own experiences as a graduate assistant at Rider’s Counseling Center. I’m working on submitting my findings to present at upcoming higher education conventions.
Rider is my home away from home. Working there after my undergraduate years gave me the experience and ability to give current students everything that I may not have received when I was in their position and so much more.”
How did Rider resources positively impact your success as a student?
Rider’s Multicultural Student Leadership Institute (MSLI) program introduced me to college and the meaning of being a student of color at a PWI. From my first year to my last year of graduate school, I was involved and worked closely with the MSLI and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Rider’s Educational Opportunity Program allowed me to work with them as a graduate assistant during my master’s program and continues to help me find opportunities presently. Rider's Counseling Center gave me a graduate assistantship that helped me strengthen my skills and learn new ones, along with a family within the office who I remain in contact with.
What experiences did you have at Rider to help you prepare for where you are today?
When I became a graduate assistant at Rider’s Counseling Center, I was able to make a difference at the school and in my personal life. I made it a priority to expand our mental health outreach efforts to as inclusive of an audience as we could, and we did it successfully. It taught me that it takes times of disappointment and confusion to stop looking for change to come and just become it. Mentoring students has been a passion of mine that I got to start doing at Rider with the Educational Opportunity Program. Knowing that I made a positive impact on their experience in college means a lot. It helped shape my path.
Utilize your time at school to figure out who you want to be. Embrace every moment and strive to ensure that the person you were when you stepped in there your first year has evolved when you step out.”
What is the key takeaway from your Rider experience?
College is truly what you make of it. I’ve been around others who could care less about the things that I cared so passionately about, but I learned to separate myself from surroundings that won’t help me grow. Eventually, it brought me to the group of people that I still connect with to this day. It takes times of discomfort to find your true comfort zone, but you have to want to get there. Utilize your time at school to figure out who you want to be. Embrace every moment and strive to ensure that the person you were when you stepped in there your first year has evolved when you step out.
Rider’s College of Education and Human Services
Rider University’s College of Education and Human Services will provide you with the practical training to set the foundation for your success. The connections you’ll make here will transform your potential and passion into a successful career leading and supporting others.