CMHC staffer helps students organize and navigate UT system

Elizabeth Hlavinka

Editor’s note: In 300 words or fewer, this series spotlights people in our community whose stories typically go untold.

Over the past 15 years, Michelle Rivera helps hundreds of students passing through UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center keep their appointments, prescriptions and paperwork straight — honing her skills as an organizational queen.

As the assistant supervisor of the front desk and referral office in the CMHC, Rivera coordinates groups and appointments for counselors and the CMHC’s clinical director. Midway through her college career at UT, Rivera started working for the University, first as work-study and later in various positions to pay for her living expenses and education.

Outside of work, Rivera spent much of her time back home, helping her father, who was not a U.S. citizen, fight a deportation suit that began in 2007. For six years, Rivera went to every court meeting, translated his Spanish to English and collaborated with lawyers to keep her father in the U.S. 

Rivera saw this as an opportunity to repay her father for all of the opportunities he provided for her. Finding work as a welder, her father moved to the United States to join her mother so Rivera could receive citizenship and a college education.

“When you see something you have to fight for, you do it,” Rivera said. “It consumed a big part of my youth, but it was worth it.”

Rivera, who was a first-generation college student, said once she realized that going to college was an option in the ninth grade, UT became her dream school.

Rivera was often overwhelmed by the responsibilities involved with her financial aid as a student, and she said secretaries at the Dean’s office helped her stay on track. The most fulfilling part of her job, she said, is providing similar services and opportunities to students, and “paying it forward.”

“I’ve spent most of my lifetime here,” Rivera said. “[It’s] home.”