Meet Fernando Rivera: Baseball, Family Inspire Sociologist
Fernando Rivera is an associate professor in sociology. His specialty is mental health, race and ethnicity, the family unit and disaster research. He has a particular interest in Latino communities and in the intersection between race, class and gender. Rivera fell in love with sociology because it’s the study of what happens in everyone’s life and how it impacts society. For him, much of his life’s journey has been about combining two cultures: life on the mainland and in his native Puerto Rico.
Rivera joined UCF eight years ago and since then has worked on a host of projects from the role Latino men play in their community to how prepared rural communities are to handle natural disasters. So how does a professor who studies such serious topics relax? Baseball, of course.
What do you do for fun?
I am an avid baseball fan. Currently I am on the quest to attend a game in every Major League Baseball stadium. So far, I have attended games in 18 different venues with 12 to go.
What is your dream job?
Major League Baseball player
So how did you end up studying sociology?
In a sense, baseball is similar to the study of sociology. For instance, like society, baseball has a structure –9 players in each position, set numbers of innings, outs, etc. It also has a hierarchy of authority from ballboy/girl, manager, to commissioner of baseball. It features traces of inequality, where some teams have more revenue and spend more to have a better chance to win championships, such as the Yankees. Finally, as with society, there is a chance for upper mobility. Small-market teams like the Tampa Bay Rays have a legitimate chance at the championship, but there’s also a chance for downward mobility, for example the Mets.
What do you most love about your job?
The uncertainty of it, every day is a new day with new challenges and opportunities.
Of all your accomplishments, which has meant the most to you?
Professionally, I am honored to serve on the advisory board for the Minority Fellowship Program for the American Sociological Society. I was a recipient of the fellowship as a graduate student and was delighted when they ask me to serve on the board.
How do you keep motivated to continue with your research, especially when funding becomes tight?
I study the association between different social indicators and issues such as social support, discrimination, social integration and their association to different health outcomes with an emphasis on Latinos and Latinas. My motivation comes from the very real health consequences that they are experiencing, which touches very close to home.
Share something very few people know about you.
In high school I used to play electric guitar and was an avid thrash metal fan.
What is your ideal vacation?
Time with family with no access to any electronic device.
What’s the most common question people ask you about UCF when they realize you work here?
Do you get free tickets to UCF football games? No. Can you help with admissions? No.
Do you do any community/volunteer work?
I currently serve on the board of directors for the Hispanic Health Initiatives Inc. They are interested in serving the health needs of the underserved in Central Florida, and I get to see the very real examples of the health issues experienced by the Latino and Latina community.
What is one thing you want people to know about you or your work?
Social inequality has very real and profound effects on the well-being of individuals, communities and the nation.
Who was your childhood hero and why?
My dad. He made a lot of sacrifices when I was growing up to make sure that I had the best of everything. My dad grew up in poverty-stricken Puerto Rico in the 1940s. As the oldest of 18 kids he had to quit school during the sixth grade and work hard from an early age. As the Puerto Rican economic situation got better, he was able to get his GED and reach upper management ranks at the Puerto Rican Government Water Authority, for which he worked for 30 some years. Without a doubt, his history inspired me to work hard and appreciate what I had from an early age.
Who is your hero today?
My dad. He continues to be my hero, particularly as I get older and understand better the sacrifices he had to make in order for us to have a safe childhood. Things pose a challenge for me as a father of three children. The balance of work and family life is the single most difficult aspect of my career, but having the backbone of my dad’s example allows me to manage and contextualize the challenges of parenthood.