Student Profile: Ryan Rivera Spends Breaks Alternatively, Helps Peers Do the Same

When Ryan Rivera began his undergraduate studies at Columbia four years ago, he had no idea he would soon leave his pre-med program to pursue a new passion: economics. He had a hunch, however, that in choosing Columbia, he had chosen a future full of hard work, challenges, and new discoveries—about himself, and about the world outside of his hometown.

Rivera grew up in rural New Hampshire and came to New York City in search of something completely different. When he visited Columbia, he knew it would provide the experience of a lifetime.

“I wanted a school that would challenge me academically,” he said. “I went to a public high school and felt like a big fish in a little pond. I needed a school where that wouldn’t be the case.”

A Class of 2015 Economics major, Rivera spent a portion of his undergraduate years traveling the world in the name of civic engagement. It began when he travelled to India for an internship at an NGO during the summer after his freshman year – the first time he’d been in an unfamiliar country completely on his own.

“I had this project I wanted to do, and it let me be independent,” Rivera said. “It also shaped my trajectory away from the clinical pre-med route and more toward a public health, sustainable development focus, which eventually led to economics.”

Upon returning to Columbia for his sophomore year, Rivera enrolled in his first economics course and was surprised how at home he felt. He began to take higher-level courses to “get a better feel for the program,” but by the time junior year rolled around, his mind was made up.

“It’s real-world and quantitative,” Rivera said of economics. “It’s modeling different behavioral scenarios, and it’s always changing, so it’s very exciting.”

Through his interest in travel, Rivera also got involved with the Alternative Break Program (ABP). With the help of the Office of Student Engagement, ABP gives students grants to organize a service project abroad. A participant in a trip to Cairo, Egypt as a first-year student, Rivera returned to campus and promptly joined the ABP Board. The next year, he traveled to Ecuador to fight for indigenous labor rights.

“My spring breaks have been very non-traditional,” Rivera said. “But it’s been great. Everyone comes back excited and really changed, and I look back on my trips and remember feeling the same way.”

Now the Chair of the program, Rivera stays on campus to help organize the growing number of trips; last year there were 13 trips, and this year there are nine.

“We have communities all over the world,” he said. “We help the students financially, but we also help with logistics and support, to help them plan trips and work through any hurdles they may come across. Often, the students leading these trips may not have done it before.”

Rivera is also involved in Columbia College Student Council (CCSC) as a Class of 2015 representative. In addition to planning events like Class Day, Senior Week, Degree Events, and other Graduation essentials, he sits on the Finance Committee where he oversees issues like fundraising and alumni giving.

While planning for Graduation with the CCSC, Rivera has also made arrangements for his personal post-graduate trajectory. He has accepted a full-time position with Morgan Stanley, and will spend the next two years working with the company’s Capital Markets Group. After that, Rivera said, he might set his sights on graduate school – perhaps a PhD in Business, or a degree from Columbia’s Graduate Economics program.

“I really like to study, so I’m hoping that’s where life takes me,” he said.

But if there is one thing Rivera has learned from his time at Columbia, it’s that the future is never set in stone. He wouldn’t have it any other way, though, and he credits Columbia for allowing him to pursue his interests while providing opportunities to try new things.

“I never thought I would become an Economics major, but Columbia’s structure inherently gave me the option to take classes outside of my chosen field,” Rivera said. “It gave me a chance to find out that I like economics, and gave me the opportunity to travel abroad — there’s so many opportunities I don’t think I would have had anywhere else.”

These opportunities have stretched Rivera’s comfort zone and helped to grow his confidence, he said. With his experiences abroad and living in New York City, he feels he can handle whatever life might throw at him.

“It’s prepared me for anything, and has really defined me as a person,” he said. “It’s weird when I go home to New Hampshire — it’s like everything slows down and gets quieter.”

by Jamie Nash

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Available Date(s): 
Thursday, April 16, 2015 to Friday, May 15, 2015