Dr. Joey Rivera, B.G.S. ’93, stood on
stage at the 2016 Commencement
ceremony, surveying the hundreds of
caps and gowns and eager faces in
front of him.
Rivera has been an anti-terrorist
specialist in the U.S. Marines and
a lieutenant colonel in the Army
Reserve. He holds a doctorate in
software engineering from the
prestigious Naval Postgraduate
School. He is the founder and
president/CEO of the Rivera Group
and provides expertise in cyber
warfare for the U.S. Cyber Command.
But the moment he rose to be
recognized as IU Southeast’s
Distinguished Alumni Award recipient
ranks among one of the most
significant accomplishments in his
“I was the guy that wasn’t supposed
to be standing there,” Rivera said. “I
was the guy that didn’t graduate from
SHIFTING INTO GEAR
It’s not something he talks about
often, but Rivera had a difficult
home life that resulted in him being
placed in and out of the foster homes
A ward of the court, he was a self-
described troubled child who bounced
around between family members and
members of his church.
At age 17, he was a runaway who was
brought before a judge at the Clark
County Juvenile Detention Center.
“I’m going to let you go home, and I
want you to come back tomorrow with
a Marine Corps recruiter,” the judge
When Rivera returned the next day
with a recruiter, the judge placed a
hand on Rivera’s shoulder, looked him
dead in the eye and said something
Rivera would never forget.
“Somewhere in here is a good kid,” the
judge told him. “Put him in the Marine
Corps and get him out of here as soon
The next thing Rivera knew, he was
on his way to Parris Island, South
What followed was what Rivera called
his “first introduction to structure,” as
he rose through the ranks to become
an anti-terrorist specialist whose
international travels enabled him to
gain global experience in places like
Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Australia,
Hong Kong and Malaysia.
The Marine Corps imparted a valuable
lesson that Rivera carried on into the
business world, a mantra that has
become a personal motto.
“When you think you’re done, you’re
not even close,” he said. “You have
gears left. You just need someone to
help you find them.”
He learned that lesson during a
decorated career as a drill sergeant.
It’s how he motivated his troops to
push through their training.
“Where they think their limits are,
that’s actually where they’re just
beginning,” he said. “The more you
teach that, the more you learn that
people have many gears in them.
There’s a self-realization there.”
In 1988, at the age of 22, Rivera left
the Marine Corps, earned his GED,
enlisted into the Army Reserves and
was accepted at IU Southeast.
His GI check had not arrived by the
time he started classes, so Rivera
lived out of his car for the entire
first semester. Armed with a travel
iron, an ironing board and a car full
of essentials, Rivera would park
by the athletics’ baseball field, run
physical training with the ROTC in the
mornings, shower in the gym, iron his
clothes and go to school. Because he
never finished high school, Rivera had
to take the “very, very basic classes”
at IU Southeast in order to learn
rudimentary sentence structure.
Having slept in the field five or six
By Rachel Terlep