Dr. Tom Rivera

Dr. Tom M. Rivera, or "Dr. Tom,” as he was commonly known, had over 47 years of experience in education, including at the elementary school, community college, and university levels. Rivera served as a Counselor/Human Relation Coordinator at San Bernardino Valley College from 1970 to 1972. He retired from California State University, San Bernardino in 2011, after serving nearly 40 years as an administrator. There he initiated numerous programs to motivate underrepresented students to graduate from college.

Rivera had a life-long history of commitment to the community. He was elected to the Colton Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees and served on the boards of the Rialto Teachers Association, United Way, Easter Seal Society, Omnitrans, Catholic Charities, and Rolling Start. He served on the San Bernardino County Bilingual Task Force, the San Bernardino Valley College EOPS Program, the San Bernardino Drug and Gang Task Force, the University of California, Riverside Chancellor’s Chicano Advisory Committee, the Boys and Girls Club of America, and Sister Cities International Mexicali-Villa Hermosa. In 2003, Governor Brown appointed Rivera to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Santa Ana Region. Rivera was especially proud of his charter member status since 1967, with the Kiwanis Club of Greater San Bernardino, where he served as president for two terms.

Rivera pointed to three major community projects as his most gratifying accomplishments. In 1984, along with 4 other educators, Rivera co-founded the Inland Empire Future Leaders Program, a leadership training program for 8th and 9th graders designed to address the dropout rate of Hispanic students. To date, the organization has graduated nearly 4,200 participants; it boasts a 99% high school graduation rate and a 90% college-going rate. The organization has operated with a 100% volunteer staff for its entire history.

In 1994, the Lucky Farms Corporation and the Tzu Chi Foundation approached Rivera to help found a free health clinic in San Bernardino. Since then, the Foundation has offered quarterly health clinics, a monthly food pantry, adopted several San Bernardino schools, and provided financial assistance to victims of area fires. The health clinics have served over 13,000 low-income residents. Tzu Chi Foundation credits Rivera for being able to institute all its projects in our community.

In 2013, in partnership with CSUSB Pfau Library and fellow educators Frank Acosta and Henry Vasquez, Rivera initiated the South Colton Oral History Project, a study of life in a segregated community from the 1890s to 1960s. The team taped 70 interviews of long-time South Colton residents. Known as “The Mexican side of town,” the 1.3 square mile area had its own businesses, churches and schools but had no representation in the Colton City Council or school board, and its residents were not allowed to purchase property in the north part of town. The study documents lives enriched and demeaned by the social, cultural, and legal realities of the time.

Rivera attended Colton schools. He attended SBVC from 1958 to 1960. He received a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from CSU Los Angeles and a doctorate from UCLA. He earned teaching and administrative credentials from CSU Los Angeles and a counseling credential from UC Riverside.

Rivera and his wife Lily were married for 52 years, have 3 children, and 2 grandchildren. In a wheelchair for 36 years as a result of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Rivera was often asked if his condition had been a hindrance. He responded, “It would be, but I’ve been very fortunate to have many good people inspire me and help me succeed.”