Miguel in class.

Giving Students the Chance to be Successful

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When Miguel Rivera was a young boy in Ponce, Puerto Rico, he knew three things: he wanted to be just like his father, who was a professional baseball player, he needed to learn English, and he needed to study hard. Successful in each of these areas, his interest in math and numbers led him to discover a passion for teaching and making a difference in the lives of his students.

At 17 years old, Rivera received a full scholarship to play baseball at George Fox University in Oregon. “All of my teammates were pursuing sports-related degrees, but I knew that wasn’t for me,” he said. Still working to improve his English, Rivera admits it was his first challenge; however, “Learning English was my ticket to the land of the free.”

Realizing that the physical appearance of numbers is the same in Puerto Rico and the United States, he requested he be placed in math classes. “I decided that I may not know what the professor is saying, but I can follow along with what he was writing on the board,” he said.

While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting from 1987-1991, Rivera became a standout player on the baseball field. Playing second base, he received All-Star Player of the Year and All-American. His abilities in baseball led him to play professionally for the Santa Isabel – Broncos in countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico.

“The money I made while playing professional baseball, I put back towards paying for graduate school,” he said. Continuing to play baseball, in 1996, he enrolled in the graduate program at Inter-American University of Puerto Rico to pursue a MBA in finance, which he earned in 2000.

Making the decision to retire from baseball in 2004, he moved to the United States in 2005. Already pursuing his Ph.D. in accounting with a specialty in forensic auditing from Catholic University of Puerto Rico, he completed his degree at the University of Sarasota-Argosy in 2008.

While going to school and playing baseball, Rivera expended 16 years as an external and internal auditor, including eight years with Merck Sharp & Dohme. “I always enjoyed understanding the law and applying it to numbers,” said Rivera.

When approached about a position at Hodges University in 2012, Rivera was familiar with the classroom atmosphere having taught at universities in Puerto Rico and the United States. At the time, he and his family were living in Orlando, but when the call came about Hodges, his family believed him to be crazy for considering the job.

“I had a solid career in accounting; however, when I was asked to join the faculty at Hodges, I viewed it as an opportunity to be in the classroom and impact students. This is not work for me. It is my passion,” he admits.

Serving as a full-time professor in the Johnson School of Business, he quickly moved into the position of vice chair of the accounting program in 2013 before becoming program chair in 2015. Currently, there are 125 students enrolled in the accounting program, which is accredited both nationally and internationally. “Also, since our curriculum has been approved by the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants, we have the benefit of providing our students with the ability to sit for the state exam upon completion of their bachelor’s degree. If they pass the exam, they can earn their license upon completion of their master’s degree,” he said.

Although he serves as program chair and much of his time is spent working on the administrative side of the degree program, his passion for the classroom never ceases. “I have the opportunity to create a program that will impact students in a way that will hopefully provide a better life for themselves,” he shared.

Realizing that many students lack the confidence needed to enter the program, he sits down with potential students in an effort to determine if the program is a right fit. Explaining that the program offers different tracks, he sees many students who know about the CPA track, which allows him to explain the other options, including certified management accountant (CMA), certified internal auditor (CIA) or certified fraud examiner (CFE). “One of my biggest challenges is convincing these students that they are better than what they think they are, and I want to make sure they are in an area where they can excel and succeed.”

Going into the classroom, his objective is to provide his students with the chance to be successful in the professional world, vowing a “lifetime guarantee” that when they go out into the real world, they can always contact him for any questions they may have. “My greatest reward is when my students come to me and tell me they passed the state exam.”

“Students who enter our program have to make the choice, but I encourage potential students to trust our system. What we do best is provide the necessary tools you need to pursue your goals.”