Alumni spotlight: Derick Rivers

Derick L. Rivers, M.S. Mathematical Sciences ’09 and Ph.D. Systems Modeling & Analysis ’14, enjoyed a number of teaching positions during the time he pursued his graduate education, but his next position with the Food and Drug Administration will give him the opportunity to educate an entire nation.

Derick earned his Bachelor’s in Mathematics from Morris College in South Carolina. Following school, he took a sales position with a computer equipment company and later a marketing position with M&M Mars where he oversaw impulse marketing strategies for the company’s Richmond market. As a part of that position, Derick spent considerable time directing product placement to influence purchasing at the convenience store level. While surveying these stores, Derick frequently encountered many high school-aged youth skipping school.  While he was drawn to share the importance of education with them, it was a conversation with a member of Richmond’s Urban League that convinced him that he could make a difference on young minds as an educator.

He remembers in his first teaching position as a high school honors geometry teacher being riddled with challenges, especially with the advent of the Standards of Learning assessments. Encouragement from his mentor Thomas, the assistant principal of the school where he taught, motivated Derick to find new ways to reach students and inspired him to pursue a graduate degree in education, even taking donations from fellow teachers to pay for his first class. Derick enrolled in courses at Virginia State University and VCU toward a Master of Education with a concentration in Mathematics Education, ultimately completing the degree at Cambridge College in Massachusetts. When Thomas accepted a job as a principal with a new school, he asked Derick to join him as a member of the faculty. In that position, Derick taught algebra using alternative methods and was so successful that the school system taped his methods to use in training other teachers.

In his next teaching assignment, Derick was the lead mathematics and statistics instructor at ECPI University in Richmond. During his six-year tenure, he developed the bachelor’s mathematics curriculum, was awarded most innovative instructor on four separate occasions, and was named instructor of the year and most effective instructor. Derick was also recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia Career College Association as an instructor of the year. After so much success in mathematics education, Derick knew that he wanted to hone his skills in his core subject and enrolled at VCU to pursue a doctorate in the Department of Statistical Sciences and Research Operations. “I did not want to look back and regret that I did not try.”

Even though Derick tirelessly dedicated himself to his studies, he continued teaching, this time as a statistics instructor to undergraduates in the department while also serving as a research fellow for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, researching methods to improve the calibration algorithms of microwave radiometers. All of Derick’s hard work paid off in December of 2014 as he completed his Ph.D. in Systems Modeling and Analysis. He will begin a position with the Food and Drug Administration as a statistician for the tobacco division this month. Though his new job will require Derick to become fluent in new areas, it will draw on his background not just as a statistician but also as an educator. “The work that I do is directly related to the consumer—informing them with the numbers. I want to be able to help individuals make a choice: continue harmful habits or make a change in your life.”


Written by Caitlin Hanbury