New Academic Senate President’s
Diverse Upbringing Led to His Career 

Mario Rivas portrait copyGrowing up in a low-income North Oakland neighborhood, Dr. Mario Rivas would have probably been considered the least likely to succeed. He hung out in the streets, barely achieved a 1.5 GPA after a year-and-a-half of attending Laney College, and was a self-described “ light-weight thug.”

But the things he instinctively learned during that time — about diversity and respect, tolerance and perseverance, his personal strengths and his worst fears — would end up not only shaping his life but contributing toward the self-esteem and success of thousands of students whose lives he would touch.

“My mother was a single parent who cleaned houses from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day and wanted me to do something with my life to help poor people,” says Rivas. “But it wasn’t until I flunked out of Laney College and was in the Air Force that I knew she was right.”

After the service, Rivas entered Cal State Hayward as an EOPS student and earned a B.A. in psychology. He went on to receive an M.A. in counseling at SF State, and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology at the University of Minnesota, where his dissertation was on an academic and psychological intervention for underprepared minority students and his job in the Martin Luther King advising office at the University of Minnesota was serving as the primary advisor for students of color.

Landing back in California his career began taking shape. He taught Psychology classes at CSU Hayward, was Director of Advising Services and started a learning center at SF State, then served as its Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies, then left to become VP of Student Services at BCC for seven years. Today at Merritt he is a much-loved psychology instructor where he is passionate about his work and his students. He also regularly speaks throughout the country on improving the achievement and learning success of students of color.

One of Dr. Rivas’ most prized achievements was his 5-year training at the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco. Here he published a chapter called “Gestalt Educational Counseling,” wherein he articulated how applying Gestalt methods as a teaching tool with students can free individuals to experience confidence and clarity of mind as they work toward achieving their academic and career goals.

As the new Academic Senate President, Rivas says he will continue to encourage and support Merritt’s dedicated faculty as they help students in this diverse institution achieve their goals in the classroom as well as to develop the skills necessary to serve as leaders in making a difference throughout the community.

“Many of the kids at Merritt are from the inner city just like I was and grew up learning what I did on the streets, so I can identify with them,” says Rivas. “My high school counselor told me I was never going to make it. I would never do that to students. They need guidance and support to be successful, and that’s what I love to do.”

 —By Susan May, Editor of The Merritt Connection