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September 1, 2022
Reach High: Stories of Leadership | Pedro A. Rivera
Pedro Rivera is passionate about education’s role in creating pathways to success, especially for students from underserved and underrepresented communities. Pedro, the President of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, has first-hand knowledge of the barriers to education. Raised by a single mother in a lower-income section of Philadelphia, he experienced some of the same struggles his students face— poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. “Even as fortunate as I was—having a great family supporting me—the educational system was difficult to navigate. Those experiences made me want to become an educator,” Pedro said.
After getting his education, he taught and became an administrator in the community where he grew up before moving to Lancaster to become the superintendent of schools. He then went on to become Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education and was named President at Thaddeus Stevens in 2020. Almost 15 years later, Pedro is still committed to facilitating a holistic approach to education. “To have this opportunity to lead an institution whose sole mission is to provide a pathway to prosperity through education and training for a highly skilled job is a culmination of everything I’ve dedicated my life to and everything I’ve experienced,” he said.
As the President of Thaddeus Stevens, Pedro regularly meets with faculty to support student academic progress and partners with other organizations in Pennsylvania to meet the students’ basic needs (housing, food, and sometimes even clothing). Thaddeus Stevens College is a holistic mission college that connects students to resources, and Pedro sees the impact investing in his students can make. “If we can help our families become self-sufficient, whether it’s with affordable housing, access to childcare, addressing food insecurity, or training through a traditional two-year program, we’re creating the conditions that allow them to invest in themselves, their families, and their community. That’s how you create generational wealth and transform communities,” he added.
By empowering the faculty and staff he leads and partnering with other organizations in the commonwealth, Pedro is leaving a legacy of leadership that will transform the community of Lancaster and beyond.
He has three pieces of advice for aspiring leaders and world-changers:
1. Who you are is good enough.
“Knowing who you are is the only thing that will allow you to grow in leadership authentically. When you are yourself, you enjoy reading about what you’re doing and surround yourself with people who will develop you to be better.”
2. Be an advocate in a world full of activists.
“I remember one of my mentors pulling me aside and saying, ‘We have many activists holding up picket signs and yelling, but we don’t have as many advocates with a pen, making decisions and listening.’ As a community systems leader, I know that my role is to listen and be that advocate.”
3. Communicate with authenticity.
“Whenever I’m speaking, I make sure that I’m not using a word that only half of the people in the room understand, and I make sure that I’m inviting folks to the table who have been historically left out. For us to be successful in this space, we must be inclusive, authentic, and communicate with people effectively.”
Pedro encourages all leaders to readjust, reimagine, and recenter their “why.” He believes that if more leaders remember why they are working and listen to the people they serve, they can leave a better community for future generations.
Reach High is a series brought to you by High Foundation that introduces you to business and nonprofit leaders who are thoughtfully innovating with a spirit of servant leadership. Find out more about their mission to be a Bridge to Opportunity for the Lancaster community at highfoundation.org.