As word spread that Ivette Rivera-Dreyer had passed away December 14 at the age of 58, many of her friends and colleagues spoke of their sorrow, and sometimes shock, at the loss of someone they considered a very special person, a passionate advocate for education and a professional with great expertise in college financial aid and community development.
Ivette’s “contributions were unparalleled,” said Dr. Wilfredo Nieves, president of Capital Community College in Hartford. “She was a powerhouse and beautiful person who wanted students to excel and have opportunities,” he said.
Ivette, who was born in Puerto Rico and came to the U.S. in her early 20s, had been director of financial aid at Manchester Community College since 1997, but her influence and activism spread throughout central Connecticut. She was active in many community organizations and a member of several local, regional and national professional associations. She also led college aid workshops throughout the region.
“Ivette was involved in all types of Latino community organizations, said Dr. Estella Lopez, who retired in July as provost of the Connecticut State University System. “She was seen as somebody who helps all students,” Lopez said.
Nieves said that Ivette was “very much involved” in the community and helped people in the Greater Hartford area. “Her concern and love of people made her an advocate for all people.” Calling her a renaissance person, Nieves said that her interest in economic and community development was also unparalleled.”
The CCC president recalled that Ivette had worked as a financial aid counselor at CCC before he came to that school seven years ago, but when he previously was president of Middlesex Community College, she had reached out to help him.
Yvette Melendez, who is now vice chairman of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, met Ivette Rivera-Dreyer “many years ago when we were both involved with the Connecticut Association of Latinos in Higher Education (CALAHE), an organization dedicated to improving access for Latinos within higher education.
“Ivette was especially passionate about helping to retain Latino students in our community colleges and was devoted to providing them with the support they needed to complete their education,” said Melendez, whose board oversees the community colleges and four state universities.
It was through Ivette’s dedication and professional expertise that numerous families and students, especially Latinos, learned that a college education was attainable. Moreover, she often took a personal interest in navigating them through the sometimes vexing process of obtaining the needed financial support.
“She would visit with parents and students in their homes and in their communities to explain how to afford college and the advantages of a college education,” said Dr. Gena Glickman, president of Manchester Community College. “Every recommendation or decision she made was in support of students financial well-being,” she added.
The impact of Ivette’s involvement in helping Latino students and families is evident in some figures cited by Dr. Glickman. “When I consider that nationwide less than 35 percent of Latino students apply for financial aid, and that at MCC over 70 percent do so, I know it’s because Ivette took a personal, as well as professional, interest and advocacy role in promoting higher education for Hispanics.”
Among Ivette’s greatest assets was her professional expertise. “She worked in a very specialized area where you have to know what you are doing,” said Dr. Lopez.
Carmen Sierra, assistant treasurer for the City of Hartford who has known the Bloomfield resident 20 years, said, “Her priority was making sure kids went to college and she made it happen for them,” Sierra said. “She helped students and parents understand financial aid.”
Six years after she arrived in Connecticut, Yvette received an undergraduate degree in management and business Administration from the University of Hartford and a M.S. degree in administration and human services from Springfield College in 1993. Her obituary states that she was “heavily involved in empowerment of Latino community services and educational outreach” and “dedicated her life’s professional career to assisting thousands of students with the ability to attend college.”
Many of those individuals who, through online guestbooks and Facebook comments, combined sadness with her passing and praised her contributions were people she helped obtain financial aid and now embodied her passion for education and, in a sense, they’re are part of her legacy.
Two of the dozen comments at the website of the Carmon Funeral Home, which is handling Ivette’s funeral services December 17, were from women who expressed thanks for having helped and guided them “so much” while students at Capital Community College.
Ivette’s interest in students extended beyond her work at the University of Hartford, CCC and MCC, said Ray Escalera, who has been a friend since they both were in their early 20s. “We double dated, gave each other our blessings when we found our respective spouses and raised our children together, who were of similar ages,” he said.
Escalera recalled: “I actually did not meet her in the context of her work at the University of Hartford or Manchester CC. But I can tell you that one Christmas Ivette hosted a party at her home and over 20 international students came. She had gifts for each one of them. She loved the holidays and had so much compasión for the students that were away from home that she hosted a Christmas party and made each of them and all of us feel like her extended family.”
Ivette also was remembered as an intelligent woman with a great sense of humor. “Whenever you saw Ivette, the first thing you would take note of was the smile that seemed to be permanently etched on her face,” Yvette Melendez said. “What I remember most about Ivette was that it didn’t matter how long it had been since you saw her, she always greeted you with tremendous warmth and sincerity,” she said.
“We all mourn her passing and will miss her laughter and camaraderie,” said Dr. Glickman.
Obituary information is available at Carmon Funeral Home.com