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With three degrees from Emory, Teresa Rivero invests in community

Growing up, Teresa Rivero attended 10 schools in 12 years, leading her to need a higher level of support in college. She found it at Emory, earning three degrees from the university. Now, she gives back as a volunteer and philanthropist.

— Kay Hinton, Emory Photo/Video

Teresa Rivero and her brothers hadn’t yet been born when their parents fled Cuba. The family settled in Miami but moved frequently to improve their circumstances; as a result, Rivero attended 10 different schools over a 12-year period.

“I needed a higher level of support when I started college,” she says. “Fortunately, I found Oxford, and Oxford found me.”

Rivero flourished at Emory’s Oxford College, earning her associate’s degree in 1985, and later at Emory’s Atlanta campus, where she earned a BBA in finance in 1987 and an MPH in health management and policy in 1993.

She mentions professors such as Judy Greer and Hoyt Oliver 54Ox 56C and Chaplain Sammy Clark as being particularly supportive.

“They were some of the giants who helped me and every other student at Oxford focus on being a student while also becoming involved in the Oxford community.”

Emory is important to Rivero, and she has supported the university consistently, both as a volunteer and through philanthropy. A member of the Emory Board of Trustees since 2007, she currently chairs the campus life committee and serves on the governance and executive committee. Rivero was president of the Emory Alumni Board in the early 2000s. Her service helped her “to understand the institution from a governance perspective, and it has been an honor to be that engaged,” she says.

Rivero’s philanthropy includes the Rivero Family Scholarship. The need-based scholarship was created for students attending Oxford who demonstrate potential but may not have the highest GPAs or test scores.

“Promise isn’t something you can really place a score on,” she says, citing her own experience navigating multiple schools as a child. “My grades weren’t the highest, either.”

After serving in the Peace Corps, Rivero worked in community-based health education for several organizations, including Emory. Now a senior program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she focuses on initiatives to improve public education from kindergarten through high school. “Our aim is to create more education systems that work for all students,” she explains.

Rivero’s varied life, work and service experiences led her to a personal philanthropic mission: “What’s the need? I always go back to that,” she says. Rivero believes “the community knows what’s best for the community. I try to apply that philosophy in my philanthropy.”

With that in mind, Rivero “trusted Emory and didn’t place a lot of requirements on the scholarship I created — other than it be need-based.”

In addition to her work for Emory, Rivero also supports Hispanics in Philanthropy, the American Immigration Council and the Tomorrow Fund, which offers need-based scholarships for students in North Carolina. She cites a common theme among the three: need.

“Access to education is a game-changer,” she notes. “My siblings and I were the beneficiaries of what an education in this country means. Lack of funding should never be a barrier to receiving a good education.”

Rivero’s commitment to ensuring educational access for students with need resonates through her philanthropy, her volunteer work and her professional life.

“I think of Emory as a community, and the people who came before us — we stand on their shoulders,” she says. “We can be those people for the students who come after us. We can create opportunities for years to come.”

To inquire about making a gift to support scholarships, contact Kevin Smyrl, associate dean for advancement and alumni engagement, Oxford College of Emory University, at 770-784-4637 or   

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