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Getting to know Dr. Christopher J. Rivera

I have lived in…

Elizabeth, New Jersey; Fayetteville, NC; Charlotte, NC; San Antonio, TX; and Greenville, NC

My favorite teacher is…

Mr. Hopper my 11th grade History teacher. Best teacher I ever had. I almost became a History teacher because of him.

My favorite place to eat or favorite food to eat / prepare is…

Nothing beats my mother's Puerto Rican rice and beans, with fried plantains.

What are some cultural experiences that make you who you are?

I grew up in a particularly poor area in Elizabeth, NJ before my parents moved to NC seeking a better place to raise children. My sister was born prematurely and, as a result, suffered many complications. These hardships brought about their challenges, but I can honestly say that they impacted our family dynamics in a positive way. I got to witness my parents go through adversities and face them pragmatically without fear. It is these experiences, and many more, that have shaped me into who I am today.

Dr. Christopher J. Rivera's Biography and Background

Christopher J. Rivera is an Assistant Professor in Special Education and is a part of the Special Education, Research, and Foundations Department. His research interests include working with diverse students with moderate and severe disabilities, technology in education, and teacher preparation.

Dr. Rivera received his Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and his M.A.T. in Special Education from Fayetteville State University. He has been a faculty member at ECU since 2013. Dr. Rivera is also a member of the Division for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Exceptional Learners Professional Development Committee, Council for Exceptional Children; on the NC CEC Advisory Board; Faculty, a Faculty Advisor for SCEC-East Carolina University; and the North Carolina DADD State Co-President.

Professional Work

How do your beliefs about diversity, social justice, and equity manifest themselves in your research, teaching, advocacy and/or service?

Culture is so much more than the color of one's skin or heritage. It is an intricate fabric of occurrences in each life that allows people to share in particular experiences. It is this mindset that drives my research, teaching, and advocacy. I try to move beyond cultural barriers by attempting to truly understand and know the people I work with. It is through building these relationships that, in my opinion, allows for successful collaboration and teaching to occur.

Share with us an example of that kind of work that you are proud of or committed to.

I've been a part of some great projects. I've had the opportunity to work on several grants; I've co-founded and opened an autism center in San Antonio, TX; but nothing compares to the research I do involving young children with disabilities. Any study I've conducted allowing me to go into classrooms and connect with young students is something that I am very proud of. To see their faces and know that I'm making a difference in their lives brings me so much joy.

Whose work or research do you draw on to inform or support your work in areas of diversity, social justice, and equity?

I'd have to say that the works of Dr. Diane Browder and Dr. Alba Ortiz have been the foundation of my research. Dr. Browder has been an advocate for children with moderate and severe disabilities for a long time. She's fought for equality for this population and has demonstrated that they too can learn and benefit from academic instruction that goes beyond teaching daily functional skills. Dr. Ortiz has been a leader in the field of English languages learners and disabilities and severed as a mentor of mine while I was in San Antonio. Together, their works have pushed me into seeking effective ways to educate culturally and linguistically diverse students with moderate and severe disabilities.

Who are your collaborators in this work? Who - in the field, at ECU, and/or in the College of Education - also does diversity and equity work that you respect?

I've worked with many great colleagues, while at ECU. Drs. Alana Zambone, Stacy Weiss, Melissa Hudson, and Sandra Warren have all been partners in my research endeavors. I admire and respect them very much. All the work they have done has sought to enhance and advocate for the appropriate education of individuals with disabilities.

How do you hope your field and society might change as a result of your work and that of others doing similar work around this issue?

While the field of special education has certainly improved over the years, I still feel that small populations of students who may be considered twice exceptional (e.g., English language learner, moderate severe disability) are grossly disregarded. There isn't enough research to demonstrate appropriate instructional strategies for culturally and linguistically diverse students with moderate to severe disabilities. Furthermore, there are no real discussions about how to not just better assist students but to support special educators who are often monolingual. It goes beyond research and teaching. It's an issue of social justice and I hope my work brings these problems into light, allowing for responsible discussions that will facilitate change.

Selected Publications

Rivera, C. J., Jimenez, B. A., Baker, J. N., Spies, T., Mims, P. J., & Courtade, G. (In Review). An academic culturally and linguistically responsive framework to support students with students with moderate and severe disabilities. Manuscript submitted to Physical Disabilities: Education and Related Services.
Rivera, C. J., Hudson, M. E.,Weiss, S. L., & Zambone, A. (In Press). Using a multicomponent multimedia shared story intervention with an iPad® to teach content picture vocabulary to students with developmental disabilities . Education and Treatment of Children.
Stone, J., & Rivera, C. J., & Weiss, S. L. (2016). Preparing a rich literacy classroom for students with severe developmental disabilities . Young Exceptional Children, 1-13.doi: 10.1177/1096250616674330
Rivera, C. J., Jabeen, I., & Mason, L. L. (2016). The effects of a self-directed iPad intervention on the literacy development for a student with an intellectual disability. Interaction Design & Architecture(s), 28, 85-102.
Rivera, C. J., Spooner, F., Wood, C. L., & Hicks, S. C. (2013). Multimedia shared stories for diverse learners with moderate intellectual disability. Journal of Special Education Technology, 28(4), 53-68.
Rivera, C. J., Wood, C. L., & Spooner, F. (2012). Comparative effects of Spanish and English vocabulary instruction for English language learners with moderate intellectual disability. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13, 42-55.
Rivera, C. J., Hicks, S. C., & Cuero, K. (2012). Using culturally responsive shared stories to increase literacy skills for students who are emerging bilingual with disabilities. Perspectives, 34(4), 5-8.
Spooner, F., Rivera, C. J., Browder, D. M., Baker, J. N., & Salas, S. (2009). Teaching emergent literacy skills using cultural contextual story based lessons. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 34, 102-112.