Mike Rivera’s dad worked a lucrative job at a Gary steel mill.

“For Christmas, whatever we wanted, we got,” Mike recalled

Then, when Mike was in fifth grade, his dad left. Suddenly, his mother was raising three children alone. Two years later, she suffered a heart attack that left her permanently unable to work. The family survived on public assistance.

Like many Latinos, Mike grew up with a focus on the family, and was especially close to his mom. So, as a teenager, he felt an urge to spread his wings, leave home, and challenge himself.

“I knew I needed to get away and become my own person,” he said.

After graduating from Merrillville High School, he attended Ball State through the 21st Century Scholars program. At Ball State, Mike flourished. He came out as gay. He joined the cheerleading team and Latino Student Union. He served as a residence assistant and a multicultural adviser.

In 2013, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in child development. Two years later, he graduated with a Ball State master’s degree in adult and community education.

Now, he works as a home visitor with Head Start in Lake and Porter counties. He meets with low-income families to make sure their children, ages birth to 5, are reaching developmental milestones.

The first in his family to graduate college, Mike is among many 21st Century Scholars who have chosen a selfless career path.

Why? Mike says the answer is simple.

“A lot of us have been given an opportunity to advance ourselves, and we want to give back,” he said. “We want to help those who don’t have a voice.”

Closing the Gap in Educational Achievement

Ball State University’s 21st Century Scholars have been vital to closing the achievement gap, curbing the brain drain, and more. Want to know how this program has made a difference for our students? Read more of their stories.

Follow Us