July 1 holds special meaning for Dr. Rey Rivera. It was one year ago today that the former Vice President of Learning was appointed President of Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC).
Dr. Rivera brought more than 23 years of higher education experience to his current role, spending 15 years as a full-time EMCC mathematics faculty member before taking on the Vice President position. While teaching mathematics, he also served two terms as EMCC’s Faculty Senate President.
He has held several leadership positions at EMCC, including Division Chairperson of Science and Mathematics, Principal Investigator for two National Science Foundation grants, and Interim Dean of Occupational Education. He was recently selected as a 2019 Aspen Presidential Fellow. He currently serves as the EMCC representative to Western Maricopa Coalition's (WESTMARC) Education and Workforce Development Team and was recently elected to the Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors. Additionally, he serves as one of the EMCC Higher Learning Commission (HLC) Tri-Chairs for Reaccreditation and is part of HLC’s Peer Reviewer Corps.
The Texas native is a first-generation college student, earning his Ed.D. in higher and post-secondary education at Arizona State University, his Master of Science degree in mathematics at Purdue University, and completing his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics at The University of Texas at Austin.
We recently sat down with Dr. Rivera to ask him about his biggest accomplishments over the past year, find out if he would have pursued the role of president knowing then what he knows now about COVID-19, and get his take on one of the biggest “Star Wars” debates of all time, just to name a few. Read on.
Q: What have been some of your biggest accomplishments since taking on the role of president?
A: I consider any accomplishment a team effort as so many employees are involved in creating positive partnerships or learning environments for our students and community. With that in mind, I am particularly proud of the following: our enrollment efforts as we had the highest fall enrollment (10,120) to date, redesignation as a Center of Excellence in CyberSecurity by the Department of Homeland Security, our partnership with Intel Corp. to create the only two-year artificial intelligence degree/certificate program in the nation, and our Holiday Helping Hands food drive that provided more than 175 boxes of food to families in need. However, the greatest accomplishment of the year was how quickly the employees and students of the college moved to a remote environment once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. There was a tremendous amount of work and collaboration to get the college to a remote environment in a matter of days. Great team effort!
Q: What do you enjoy most about being president of EMCC?
A: The continuous advocacy for the students and employees at EMCC. No matter who I meet or where I go, I'm trying to find ways to bring resources to assist our students and employees.
Q: What has been the most difficult part about being president? How have you overcome it?
A: Finding work/life balance. This position places a large demand on your time. However, I asked our senior leadership team to model the way and find time to re-energize and reconnect with family and friends on a consistent basis.
Q: So how do you manage your work/personal life balance?
A: I always tell my leadership team that we cannot serve and give our best to our students and community if we are not at our best. Thus, it is important that we practice work/life balance in order to ensure we are at our best when our students need us the most. I try to model the way and find the time to run, cycle, or exercise consistently. This allows me to provide the best version of myself for the students and employees of the college. I ask all employees of EMCC to find those activities that provide them the best work/life balance — it is critical especially during these stressful times.
Q: What would you like people to know about your support staff?
A: I would like them to know that our support staff goes above and beyond to assist our students and provide them the greatest opportunity for success! They truly believe and practice our service motto “your success is our success.”
Q: If you had had a crystal ball at the time you were applying for the role of president and saw the COVID-19 pandemic change our way of working and learning only seven months into your new position, would you still have pursued it?
A: Yes, without a doubt. I’ve always wanted to serve and support our students, community, and employees. Even though we are in the midst of a pandemic, I have seen the innovation and collaboration of our employees to create the best learning environments for our students and community. This has validated my decision to pursue the presidency of EMCC.
Q: What makes EMCC so special?
A: Without a doubt the employees of the college. We started back in 1992 with a handful of students and employees. However, more than 25 years later, we serve over 10,000 students with just over 300 full-time employees. The employees make the college a special and welcoming place for our students and community members.
Q: What do you think is the single most important thing EMCC has to accomplish in the next five years and how is the college already working toward achieving that goal?
A: Meet the transfer and workforce needs of our growing population in the West Valley. EMCC serves some of the cities that have the fastest rate of growth in the nation — Avondale, Goodyear, and Buckeye. Additionally, the West Valley is becoming a hub for technology with several data centers in Goodyear, Avondale, and El Mirage. The Interstate 10 and Loop 303 corridor also provides several distribution centers that serve the western United States and lends itself to an increasing demand for manufacturing positions. As most community colleges, EMCC needs to be nimble enough to respond to emerging workforce needs while staying true to its mission of access and transfer for the majority of our students.
Q: It’s no secret you’re a huge “Star Wars” fan. So who shot first? Han Solo or Greedo?
A: Lol … it depends. The original version of “Star Wars” had Han Solo firing first. The updated version actually shows Greedo shooting first. I’m a fan of the original trilogy, so Han shot first.
Q: You have two children. What has been your proudest parenting moment?
A: That my kids turned out to be nerds just like me! The Force is strong in my family!