In between conference calls, preparing for graduation and running the College’s new coffee shop, we sat down with Yeismarie Rivera, the student chief executive officer (SCEO) of Saxbys Café to figure out how and why she does it all.
Q: Yeismarie, tell us a little about yourself.
A: My name is Yeismarie. My parents are Puerto Rican natives, so my first language growing up was Spanish. I graduated high school in 2021 and originally, I had no plans for higher education. I actually wanted to join the military. But at the last minute, I thought, community college--I’ll give it a shot to see where I land. And, well, it kind of changed my life forever!
Q: How would you describe your journey at the College?
When I first joined CCP, it was normal. I was just taking my regular general education courses. Then, during my second semester, in a conversation with my [previous] English professor, he told me I was a brilliant writer. That made me switch my point of view of myself a little bit because I wasn't a strong academic student in high school. I decided to apply for the honors program. The coursework was rigorous! It was very difficult and something I wasn't used to, yet it was something that I absolutely loved. My degree in Liberal Arts - Honors is specifically made for students who want to transfer into more selective schools, so I kind of put that [as a] goal for myself. I wanted to be ambitious.
Q: As a Liberal Arts - Honors major, how did you become Saxbys SCEO?
A: I applied in the fall 2022 semester and was selected as the SCEO for spring 2022. It was something completely out of my comfort zone because every time I hear SCEO, I think of business majors, which I am not. I actually used that to market myself, saying, “I’m not your typical applicant,” and it worked!
Q: That’s a brilliant marketing strategy! What do you do as SCEO?
A: So, I run the café! I manage the profit and loss statements, the team and everything else that has to do with managing the café and I get [course] credit in return. So, I'm not taking any classes this semester because this is my class experience through the Saxbys ELP program [link: https://www.saxbyscoffee.com/the-saxbys-elp/]. I’ll receive 16 credits for this experience since that’s what I need to graduate. This opportunity has given me the opportunity to branch out into uncharted waters. It’s been very cool.
Q: Under your leadership, the College saw an increase in events hosted at Saxbys. How did that come about?
A: I was able to combine Saxbys’ outreach and advocacy and sustainability work with my volunteering efforts around the College through resources like the Women’s Outreach and Advocacy Center. We hosted a fundraiser [for the Center during Women’s History Month]. The Café has hosted the Catto Scholarship team and a Power Up information session, as well as multiple professors who’ve come in to teach their classes here. As SCEO, it was a decision based on being able to work with your team and headquarters to decide which [events] would be the most beneficial, and not just to the company, but for the community as well, and to make sure there was a lasting impact.
Q: So, let’s talk representation. What does it mean for you, where you come from and how you’ve grown up, to be where you are now?
A: I’ve had Spanish-speaking professors come into the shop and my ability to communicate with them in Spanish made them very excited because it just isn’t that common. The representation is not so much about me being Latina, but more of where I come from, my background and story. Traveling through Kensington, taking the El at 5 a.m. just to get here. I make sure I do it because you don’t hear that a lot. One of the first things I realized when I first started at CCP was if I waited for somebody else to be the first, I would be waiting a very, very long time. So, I decided that I would be the first. It's kind of breaking that mold of stereotypical low-income kids and what they do after high school. I’m making sure that I change that narrative.
Q: What have you learned in your position as SCEO, especially when it comes to serving as a professional role model for your employees?
A: I am learning a lot. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and being able to delegate, delegate things to your team members. And for my team in particular, it's mostly men, and older men at that. So, as an 18-year-old girl, it’s intimidating to have to put your foot down. But I know what I came into this position for and what I came to do, so it’s become more about having that confidence in myself, which I’ve developed more of since I started. My attitude toward delegating has improved because there are situations where you have to have tough conversations with team members who may be your friends, too. So, it’s really about finding that balance. I want to set them all up for success, so I had to set boundaries. Here at Saxbys, we practice servant leadership where it really becomes about asking, “What can I do for you?” As their leader, I see myself as just a catalyst for their development.
Q: How has CCP helped you? What role has it played in your development?
A: CCP changed my life in a way that it gave me a second chance to reevaluate my goals and who I wanted to be as a student. Education has come to mean creating a path for others that haven’t been educated before, or who had to sacrifice their education. When I say that, I think about my mom who had to sacrifice her education to get a better life. An education grants you that better life. So, it's so much bigger than I could have ever imagined, as it has led me to invest in things that I am passionate about like the Women’s Center, #CCPVotes, research, and being a full-time student. It has lent me this platform to change my own life, to completely transform how I view education and for me to be so passionate about it that I want to do the same for others. I want to open up doors for other people and let them realize how much that this can change their lives, too.
Q: What do you want to do after CCP?
A: My dream would actually be [for this] to come full circle and I become a professor at a community college to be able to teach and guide students like me.