Former UNM College of Education and Human Sciences Interim Dean Deborah Rifenbary died unexpectedly Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. She was a valued faculty member of the University of New of Mexico for 30 years. She was 71.

Rifenbary was born in Kingston, New York. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Rosemont College, a Master’s in the Art of Teaching (MAT) in English from Fairleigh-Dickinson University, a Master of Education degree in Counseling and Human Development from Vanderbilt University and a Doctor of Education degree in counseling from the University of Virginia.

Rifenbary joined UNM in 1990 as an assistant professor of Counselor Education. She retired in 2020 from UNM after a long career in leadership roles within and beyond COEHS. She served as Interim Dean of the COEHS from 2019-2020; associate dean for Curriculum, Faculty & Student Affairs from 2010 – 2019; and department chair of Individual, Family and Community Education from 2004 – 2010. A licensed professional counselor in New Mexico (LPCC), she was also a past President of the Rocky Mountain Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.

Her many friends and colleagues within the COEHS describe Rifenbary as a deeply caring person who brought hope and a special insight to the many lives she touched. Her long efforts for the COEHS made an indelible mark on students, staff and faculty, one that will not be forgotten. Her advice and guidance helped the college realize its enduring mission of enhancing the well-being of children and their families, both here in New Mexico and abroad.

In 2019, after being named interim dean, Rifenbary said her focus “has always been to create a collegial environment that promotes student success and faculty development.”

International education has long been a passion of Rifenbary’s. From her early career teaching at the John F. Kennedy German American School in Berlin, she maintained a connection with Germany and Austria. She has served as the coordinator of the Student Teachers in Austria Reach Success (STARS) program, a student teacher exchange between the COEHS and the Teachers College at the University of Vienna. The program included exchange of student teachers. She also hosted visiting German teachers in a cultural program.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the University of New Mexico Global Education Office Emergency Fund through the UNM Foundation.