For Beth Rivera, the Computer Science department’s Graduate and Undergraduate Program Administrator, Rice means family. In addition to shepherding all the CS students through their academic requirements, she also has a lot of relatives working on campus. Rivera said, “My dad, a few aunts and several cousins have all worked here. It’s fun walking across campus because you never know which family member you’ll run into.”
An aunt in Rice University’s Human Resources department recommended Rivera apply for the university’s temporary clerical pool and soon she was working in the Transportation Department. “I got to know the bus drivers really well. That was helpful for getting around campus later,” she said. Rivera’s next temporary role was in the Financial Aid Office, when a family friend across campus changed roles in the CS department and encouraged Rivera to apply for the vacant position.
When she received the offer for her first non-temporary job at Rice, she was excited but felt nervous making the move. She said, “I had never worked in an academic department before. I thought I’d never make it, because everyone in CS is so smart. But the faculty were really nice and everyone was helpful.”
Rivera spent several years on the front desk in CS, and then worked as an accounting assistant before she began managing the department’s academic processes in 2013. As the Graduate and Undergraduate Program Administrator, she ensures all academic aspects of CS are running smoothly. Rivera works with CS students from start to finish, processing newly admitted student forms, final graduation applications, and all types of requests and petitions in between.
T.S. Eugene Ng, chair of the Computer Science Graduate Committee, appreciates her interest in each student’s success and her organization skills. He said, “Beth is like the ‘cool aunt’ of all the students! She helps them with everything from getting oriented in the department to finally filing for graduation. Beth also helps me with all the administrative aspects of running the graduate programs. She is particularly instrumental to organizing the doctoral student recruiting weekend, which is one of the most intensive events the department does each year!”
Most of her work revolves around graduate students, but she also keeps track of the undergraduate students. She said, “In the two or three years I’ve been coordinating the program, we went from 122 declared CS majors to 316.” Although the surge might seem overwhelming, Rivera says that undergraduate advising and graduation requirement tracking is actually easier now, thanks to Degree Works. “Degree Works is a new online system that helps expedite advising. Rather than creating paper folders for each student and handing that off to faculty members, just look online. It tells you what requirements are outstanding and what steps have been completed. Now all parties can see exactly what is left.”
In the last year, the MCS program has grown more than 500% – from 12 students to 68, and the high number of international students is turning Rivera into a VISA application process expert. “95% of our current MCS students are international,” she said. The number of students admitted to the department’s PhD program decreased for fall 2016, but 60% of them are also international. “Although most of the new PhD students completed bachelor degree programs at U.S. universities, they are still considered international students and their paperwork originates in their home country.”
Rivera enjoys her work in the CS department, particularly following graduate students from application, admittance, and then graduation. She says the most rewarding aspect is “taking this journey with the students, watching them grow and become doctors, and then seeing them go on to bigger and better accomplishments.”
–Meg Brigman, CS Summer Project Intern