From its academic programs to its community partnerships, Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) takes pride in being an innovative, collaborative and inclusive college.
So, when Dr. Ernest Lara — outgoing EMCC president — announced his retirement in February, the Maricopa County Community College District began to look for a successor who could carry out those very same principles.
After a nationwide search, longtime educator Dr. Rey Rivera emerged as a successful candidate and was named EMCC president in mid-June. He will assume his position July 1.
Rivera, who has held a number of leadership positions at EMCC, boasts more than 23 years of higher education experience.
“I actually started in 1996 teaching mathematics here at Estrella Mountain. I did that for about 15 years, and then I had the opportunity to become the interim dean of occupational education,” Rivera said.
Rivera, who went on to work at South Mountain Community College in 2012, returned to EMCC in 2016 after taking on the role of vice president of learning.
“I came back home, and I’ve been here for the past three years in that role — overseeing all the academic areas which involve instruction; learning support; curriculum development in our performing arts center; and of course our great innovative spaces, like nursing and our maker space,” Rivera explained.
“And then I had the opportunity to apply for this position, and I was fortunate enough to be selected.”
Rivera said he will continue EMCC’s initiatives to encourage students to transfer to local universities.
“We have very innovative faculty, staff and (programs). For example, our nursing program. Just last year, we had a 100% completion on the NCLEX exam, which is their certification exam. And that’s just one of many programs we have here at Estrella that focuses on workforce — in terms of transferring to a four-year institution,” Rivera said.
Strengthening current partnerships and building new ones is also on his agenda, Rivera said.
“We have a really great partnership with APS and Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station with our energy program. We are training power plant technologists to replace the workforce that’s retiring at Palo Verde,” Rivera said.
“These are all areas that we want to look at and expand. And of course we also want to continue our partnerships with our university partners to increase the numbers of pathways to four-year institutions.”
Rivera said EMCC, which is a federally designated Hispanic Serving Institution, will continue to embrace its diverse population of students.
“It’s not just the Hispanic population, but we have a very strong veterans’ presence here on our campus. We have returning adults; students with disabilities. Everything that we do is to ensure that we are meeting students where they are and we’re creating the best learning environments for them,” he said.
As a first-generation college student, Rivera understands the importance of inclusivity. He still remembers his undergraduate experience.
“I was the first in my family to go to college, and I went to the University of Texas at Austin. I remember stepping on that campus for the first time and feeling so overwhelmed. Luckily, I had a lot of mentors; a lot of friends that helped me navigate the environment there. Because of that, I believe I was able to be successful,” Rivera said.
“That’s the same type of environment I want to create here at Estrella, so that every student, every community member that steps on our campus feels welcomed; feels that they’re supported; and feels that we’re going to help them attain their goal.”