Taking Her Shot

May 2, 2022
Pace women's basketball player Naya Rivera shooting over a defender

“If I had to give advice for someone who was coming into Pace, it would be this: you have to take risks, you have to put yourself out there, and you can’t be afraid of the results.”

These are the words of School of Education student Naya Rivera ’22, set to graduate this month with a combined degree—a bachelor’s in adolescent education-biology, and a master’s in special education. When Rivera walks across the stage at Commencement, she will do so as one of the more accomplished SOE students in recent memory. She’s been able to balance her exceptional academic pedigree (She will graduate with a near-perfect 3.97 GPA) with a wealth of impactful extracurricular activities—that range from education-based research, to tutoring, to basketball.

And by basketball, we mean that Rivera, amidst all her impressive academic achievements, was the co-captain and key member of the Pace Women’s basketball team—and helped lead the Setters move all the way to the Elite Eight this season, cementing herself and the team in Pace basketball history. Considering that Rivera tore her ACL in high school and was strongly weighing walking away from the sport, the very decision to play certainly qualifies as a risk; one that she is supremely glad she took.

“Basketball has been amazing for me,” says Rivera. “It gave me an opportunity to come to this school and gain these incredible experiences and make lifelong friends, faculty mentors, coaches, all of these things I didn’t know I was going to have.”

Off the court, Rivera has been deliberate about understanding what it takes to be an exceptional educator. She has gained a considerable amount of classroom experience as a technology teacher in the Ossining school district, where she started as a volunteer and withstood the many challenges of teaching during the pandemic first-hand. She’s also conducted invaluable research alongside faculty mentors including Jennifer Pankowski, EdD, developing teaching modules that explicitly raise social justice and race in the context of these interactions, aiming to elevate equity in the work of teacher education. For this work, Rivera was selected to present at the American Education Research Association, considered one of the premier conferences in the field.

“People are listening, you feel seen as a student, you get opportunities to see your ideas in action. And that has to do with the research as well,” says Rivera. “It’s very empowering to have people who believe in you, and take a risk on you, because you want change.”

“People are listening, you feel seen as a student, you get opportunities to see your ideas in action. And that has to do with the research as well,” says Rivera. “It’s very empowering to have people who believe in you, and take a risk on you, because you want change.”

As she moves from the student-side of the classroom to the educator-side, she hopes to tackle the research-to-education gap—recognizing that for all the great theoretical work being done, it’s not always easy to apply new teaching techniques into classrooms. Rivera is intent on changing this reality and is committed to taking applying novel educational techniques to foster lasting educational improvement.

“We have a huge research-to-practice gap,” says Rivera. “I want to see that work in the field. I want to be someone that institutes new things. I don’t want to be the type of teacher that continues to do the same things that do not work.”

As for the future? Rivera hopes to embark on her teaching career soon—and then, after many years of experience in the classroom and building lasting bonds with students, fellow educators, and the school community—moving toward school leadership as a principal.

“In five years, I could see myself still being a teacher, but down the line I want to be a principal. I want to take the time that I can to build those relationships. People are made through the interactions they have with people.”

With Rivera’s achievement in her Pace career combined with the penchant for leadership she’s already shown, it’s not difficult to envision her reaching all of her goals and then some. All of which she credits to simply putting herself out there—and being willing to try new things, no matter the outcome.

“Just coming to Pace, having the opportunity to put myself in a situation where I was uncomfortable, allowed me to grow so much as a person and as an individual. I love it.”

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