A World of Difference

student poses with international location in background

Diego Rivera, E’21, mechanical engineering, aims to find engineering solutions that meet the pressing challenges of climate change

While growing up in South Florida, Diego Rivera, E’21, was always drawn to science and math. But it wasn’t until he took a physics class in high school that he began to see a clear career path for himself. “I loved the idea that scientists could take concepts from the natural world, like mechanics and kinematics, and use those to solve complex problems,” says Rivera. “It was the first time I realized that science had practical applications. That’s when I began to think about an engineering career.”

At Northeastern, Rivera quickly gravitated toward a major in mechanical engineering, including courses in materials science. “Mechanical engineering manifests a lot of physics concepts and it involves experimentation, which I’ve always enjoyed,” he explains. “Materials science is fascinating because it reveals the connections between materials characteristics at the microscale and the way materials behave at the macro scale.”

Joining a global community

In two co-ops―with startups Form Energy and Via Separations―Rivera studied ways to improve manufacturing processes, including materials-related tasks such as coating and annealing. He learned that material choice not only impacts product failure rates and durability but also affects the environment. Both companies valued sustainable practices alongside positive business outcomes. Always passionate about the environment, Rivera realized his own career could have a positive impact on the world’s ecosystems.

“I’ve had an awareness of climate change my entire life,” notes Rivera, “but the prospect of global warming seemed abstract, daunting, and scary. In working for these startups, I discovered there’s a whole community of people who are driven to combat climate change. And I want to be part of that community.”

A critical aspect of Rivera’s time at Northeastern has been his involvement in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). “I moved here from Florida and didn’t know anyone,” he recalls. “While touring the campus, I saw the SHPE booth and immediately felt at home. It’s a tangible group of people who share similar experiences and support each other. My membership in SHPE is an integral part of my experience at Northeastern.” In his second year Rivera served as SHPE’s community outreach chair, and the next year he was elected president.

Rivera also took a leadership role in Northeastern’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, an annual week-long service project where students perform hands-on work to support housing security, food security, LGBTQ+ advocacy, healthcare access, and other social issues. Rivera planned trips and recruited volunteers.

“My time at Northeastern has demonstrated the importance of belonging to a community and giving back to that community,” he emphasizes. “No matter where my career takes me, I’ll always try to integrate community service into it. I want to help improve the world in both my professional and personal life.”

Ultimately, Rivera sees himself working as a senior scientist doing experimental work that supports environmental sustainability. This summer, he’ll intern at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado, an opportunity he pursued through the National GEM Consortium. A recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, in the fall Rivera will enroll at Stanford University in a PhD program in materials science.

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Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering