My personal story has many different aspects to it. In addition, people looking for information about me will have different reasons to do so. To accommodate both my complex background and different people’s information needs, I emphasize different aspects of my personal background on different websites that I maintain:
I was born in 1956 to Sophie Koltko and Odilio Rivera, at the old Manhattan General Hospital on Stuyvesant Square in Manhattan. Our family lived in the Bronx for the first two years or so of my life, before moving to 70 St. Mark’s Place, in the East Village section of the Lower East Side region of Manhattan. My mother raised me and my younger sister alone after my parents separated, which occurred when I was about four; they later divorced in Mexico, and I saw my father only intermittently until the middle of my high school years, after which he disappeared from my life entirely.
As you will see from the pictures below, i started off life looking more like my mother's side of the family, and grew to resemble more my father as I got older.
For elementary school, I attended St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, Elementary School at 104 St. Mark’s Place (in the building now occupied by the George Jackson Academy). I was a good student in my academic classes, although I did fail penmanship for six years straight (we’re talking D’s and F’s here). I think they only upgraded me to C’s in 7th and 8th grade because it was an embarrassment for the school. In any case, my handwriting has definitely not improved.
I liked learning about science, math, and social studies. I really enjoyed the individualized reading program (“SRA”), which allowed me to read ‘way past my grade level in class without getting into trouble. I did get a slap across the face for correcting my fourth-grade teacher about whether the moon rotated on an axis or not. (It does.) From a very early age, I had a habit of sticking to my guns when I knew I was right. (Some things don’t change.)
I was told by the other boys at school that, because I was Puerto Rican, if I so much as tried out for the bowling league, they would break my arms and legs, so sports was not a big part of my life. Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts were important parts of my life, though. Hiking and camping were my favorite Scouting activities.
We were very poor for most of the time as I was growing up. Child support from my father was spotty at best. My mother had a high school education; she was told as a child that she could not go to college because, as her family put it to her, “girls aren’t supposed to go on to school.”
But Mom, having ambition and mouths to feed, moved her way through a series of progressively better-paying jobs in Manhattan: sorter at a stamp-collector supply house; keypunch operator at Statistical Tabulating Corporation; receptionist at IBM. She often worked a second job on nights and weekends to support us. Then she went to night school to learn shorthand, and became a legal secretary at different firms, ending her career as the secretary to a senior partner at Shearman and Sterling (still a leading white-shoe law firm).
What Mom passed on to us kids from all this experience were a few core principles that have continued to be important in my own life:
And Mom walked the walk. I have vivid memories of her sitting with me at the kitchen table, where she drilled me on spelling (“Angle! Angel! Quiet! Quite! Quit! Quick!”) and on the multiplication table through the 9s. She checked my report card very carefully; she put up with the lousy grades in handwriting, but I faced the full Wrath of Mom if I earned a single grade under 90 in an academic subject. (She did let me slide a bit in Polish studies. But Math, English, Science, Social Studies: these had to be 90+.)
Somehow, Mom scraped together the cash to buy a full set of the Encyclopedia Americana. At around the same time, my elementary school installed a library in a former storage room. Mom warned me not to start at Volume 1 of the encyclopedia and work my way through, and not to read my way from one end of the library to the other. (Okay—so I skipped around a lot in each one. This kind of ‘learning by jumping around a lot’ came in very handy many years later, when the Internet came along.)
My self-directed studies were helped along by the fact that we lived just a few minutes’ walk from the Fourth Avenue neighborhood, which even in the 1960s still had remnants of its earlier reputation as ‘Book Row,’ a haven for second-hand bookstores. I had learned to read very early, Mom having taught me to read from the comics pages in the New York Daily News; I, in turn, read them to my loving Nany (Mom’s mom), whose English was always a bit sketchy, as opposed to her Polish. As I got a little older, I picked up a lot of second-hand books on Fourth Avenue, and publisher’s overstock at bookstores on St. Mark’s Place. And so I read. And took long walks. And read some more.
The upshot of all this is that I became a rather well-read kid, following my interests across a broad landscape of knowledge. (I have thousands of books today. Again: some things don’t change.)
For high school, I went to Regis, an all-boys school which was directed by the Jesuit order of Catholic priests, many of whom taught at the school. Regis was (and remains) a high-quality college prep school, where admission is by competitive examination and interview, and where all students attend on full-tuition scholarship.
Regis was my way out of poverty. It offered a rigorous, demanding education, full of students who were among the brightest boys in their elementary schools. I also grew socially, as I participated in Student Council, the Regis Dramatic Society, and social activities with students at the all-girls high schools in the area.
At Regis, I sharpened my writing and analytical skills. I wrote papers—and then more papers. I made presentations that were critiqued by my teachers and classmates. From what I hear, Regis was more challenging than some of the colleges that my friends went to.
I read—a lot—and it all led me to grow intellectually in a major way, in a more focused fashion than my self-directed studies could have done. Regis—and, later, Haverford—gave me a capacity for in-depth, focused study. This capacity has served me very well as an adult.
After high school, I attended Haverford College. Whereas many of my friends at other schools were taught by teaching assistants, I was taught almost exclusively by people with completed doctoral degrees, published professionals who set high expectations and demanded a lot from their students in terms of mastery of knowledge, excellence in writing, and care in analysis.
I am very grateful for the education I obtained at Haverford, although it took everything I had. I still use much of what I learned at Haverford today. (For example, I often return to Margaret Mead’s dictum that “A clear understanding of the problem prefigures the lines of its solution,” a principle passed on to me by the late Douglas Heath, Ph.D.—who made me memorize this and then recite it perfectly to him. Three times.)
At Haverford, I majored and conducted research in psychology; I also took many classes at nearby Bryn Mawr College, where I lived for three years in the official dormitory exchange (meal card at left).
Before my final semester of college, I went on a two-year mission to Japan for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; I am the second from the left in the photo, which was taken at Miya Jima, near Hiroshima. (I had converted in college—and, no, Haverford is not affiliated with the LDS, being a secular school with Quaker roots.) I returned even more focused and independent for my last semester.
After graduating from Haverford, I entered a period where I went to graduate school part-time in counseling (MS in Ed., Fordham) and counseling psychology (Ph.D., New York University), while working full-time in the corporate world in a variety of capacities (marketing; systems analysis). In addition, for 16 years I conducted a part-time practice in psychotherapy and counseling, variously in New York and New Jersey.
As part of my doctoral training, I served as predoctoral intern on the psychology staffs of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center (pictured) and the outpatient mental health clinic at Lutheran Medical Center (Brooklyn)—one year at each location.
In May 2000, I received a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University. It was the culmination of years of part-time and full-time study.
My dissertation research involved the development of an instrument to assess selected aspects of personal worldviews (the assumptions that people make about life and reality)—which in turn required me to develop a comprehensive theory of the psychology of worldviews. This has been an ongoing interest of mine for many years.
The photo at left of my late mother and me was taken at my doctoral hooding, which occurred a few days before Commencement.
After completing my doctoral degree at NYU in 2000, I moved to Winter Park, Florida. I shortly began teaching on an adjunct basis at the University of Central Florida. In short order, as the Director of Research in a small firm that I partly owned, I obtained a contract to develop a screen for major psychiatric disorders from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. I went on to conduct further research under contracts from the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) and other components of DoD.
During this period of my life, I made a number of contributions to the discipline of psychology that were recognized in one fashion or another. I published some celebrated and much-cited papers, including “The Psychology of Worldviews” and a paper on Maslow’s theory of self-transcendence. I was elected a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, and received awards from three of its divisions (one in the photo at left). (Many of my published papers are available through my page at ResearchGate.)
One of the highlights of this part of my career was delivering a paper I had co-authored at a “NATO Secret” conference in London at the Ministry of Defence (pictured), the United Kingdom’s equivalent of the Pentagon. (The existence of the conference was not secret; some of the presentations were classified, although not mine.) The paper was titled “Psychological Strategies for the Defence Against Terrorism.”
After eight years in Florida, on Labor Day weekend in 2008, I moved back to New York City (photo at left by Eric Kilby). I was in line for a job as the resident psychometric expert on a poverty initiative with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office.
Then the Dow Jones dropped 750+ points in a day.
This happened at a time when this sort of point-drop represented somewhere around 8% of its value, lost in a day—and this was just the beginning. It was the opening blast announcing the beginning of the Great Recession (which had been in the works for some time, in retrospect).
The poverty project evaporated. Hospitals closed, flooding the local job market with psychologists. Faculty, their retirement funds now reduced severely, clung to their positions.
I made some money from adjunct teaching and a visiting professor appointment, from television appearances in connection with my knowledge of esoterica, from a couple of book contracts, speaking engagements, and other short-term projects—even a film project (photo).
I did not anticipate a career reboot at this point in my life, but as John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
Yes, all this was a shock—but I’ve taken it on the chin and moved on. I learned in my childhood to simply not give up. I learned as a young adult that life is a series of choices. As a young professional, I learned that a fixed, set-in-stone future does not exist, that we choose the future that we want, and then work to create it.
I decided to rebuild a career based on my demonstrated strengths and passions. In terms of demonstrated strengths, I have shown in multiple settings that I am an excellent problem-solver, communicator and teacher, quantitative and qualitative analyst, and counselor and consultant. My overriding passion is to make the world a better place, in a world of increasingly grim challenges, yet bright opportunities.
So it is that I have reoriented my professional life to focus on working as a writer, speaker, and consultant in the areas of applied futurism and social criticism. I invite the reader to learn more about what I do on my “What I Do” page, accessible through the navigation bar, above.
The discerning reader will notice that I have said nothing about matters of marriage or family; indeed, I have mentioned no personal name for anyone now living (other than myself). The reason for this is simple: much of what I write and say is controversial, and I don’t wish anyone I care about to be targeted.
Suffice it to say that I have been married (although I am now divorced). My children are now grown, graduated from college, married, productively contributing to society in their various spheres, and raising children of their own (one of whom, in the photo, is hanging tightly onto my pinkie—because that is as much of my hand as he could grasp).
I love them each and all, very much.
Copyright © 2019 Mark Koltko-Rivera, Ph.D. - All Rights Reserved.