days a week while in the military,
Rivera kept his new life in perspective.
“Living in my car was like living at the
Taj Mahal compared to what I had
been through in the Marine Corps,” he
Rivera’s living arrangements beame a
lot easier when the GI check arrived,
along with all the back pay associated
with it. He was a part-time employee
of UPS, a U.S. Army Reservist and a
full-time student at IU Southeast.
“IU Southeast was so good for me,”
Rivera said. “Looking back at it, I was
so lucky – so lucky – that I had the
right professors that said, ‘If you help
yourself, we will help you.’”
He graduated in 1993 with a general
studies degree, taught himself
programming from a book he bought
at Barnes and Noble, and went
on to obtain a master’s degree in
computer resources and information
management at Webster University.
But Rivera still had hills to climb and
mountains to conquer. So he set his
sights on one of the most demanding
software engineering doctoral
programs in the world at the U.S.
Naval Postgraduate School.
OVERCOMING THE ODDS
Rivera was six hours into a grueling
second-year written exam at the Naval
The software engineering program
takes just 13 postgraduate candidates
each year from all civilian agencies
and active and reserve military
branches, and there he was, the only
Army reservist to ever be accepted
into the program, sweating over six
questions he was sure he didn’t know.
A woman from NASA stood up in the
cube next to him and began to gather
“Are you done?” a bewildered Rivera
asked her, glancing at his own
paper where just two answers were
“Joey, I’m a lost ball in high weeds,”
she told him. “I’m out of here. Good
Rivera would become the only person
in his class to graduate.
“I call myself a hill climber,” he said. “I
like to pick impossible tasks and just
go after them.”
After seven years of work, including
an ADD diagnosis that – once treated
– Rivera called a “game changer”
in his academic undertakings, and
countless nights of waking up at 4
a.m. to study his materials, Rivera
successfully defended his dissertation
in front of a committee in 2010.
“I’m not sure I could have gone
through that program had I not lived
in my car,” he said. “I was so grateful
for the opportunity that I refused to
allow effort to be reason why I lost the