The Society of Behavioral Medicine, or SBM, is a multidisciplinary organization of clinicians, educators and scientists who are improving knowledge and applications in the areas of human behavior, health and illness. SBM honors full members who have made outstanding contributions to advances in the science and practice of behavioral medicine with the distinction of fellow.
In 2020, only 157 of 2,304 SBM members have achieved fellow status, representing less than 7% of members. Rivera, who has been a member since 2011, is the first ASU engineering researcher to be distinguished with this honor.
Rivera has made a career in applying control systems engineering — looking at change over time and managing variability for optimized outcomes — to many fields, including behavioral medicine. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate students this important concept in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.
“The topic of optimized behavioral interventions is a non-traditional problem in engineering,” Rivera says. “Both becoming involved in the field and being able to contribute over a sustained period of time are necessary requirements for qualifying for fellow status. I am glad that the SBM fellowship committee believed that my contributions were meritorious.”
Though engineers and computer scientists work in behavioral medicine, not many are members of organizations like SBM. However, Rivera says there is an increasing interest in this field in the benefits of obtained from engineering approaches, and control systems in particular.
Behavioral medicine is inherently interdisciplinary, so joining a society not focused on engineering is advantageous to Rivera’s work.
“Our ability to learn both practical and fundamental aspects of behavioral interventions, as well as meaningfully communicate the benefits of our work, requires that we actively communicate with communities outside of engineering,” he says. “SBM, and its journals and annual meeting, have been an important resource in this regard.”
Rivera was nominated by Linda Collins, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at the New York University School of Global Public Health, and Eric Hekler, an associate professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego. Collins served as Rivera’s mentor for a National Institutes of Health K25 Mentored Quantitative Research Career Development Award. Hekler is a former faculty member in the ASU College of Health Solutions with whom Rivera has collaborated.
They noted his sustained, influential publication history over a period of more than 15 years, his mentorship of students who have contributed to the field of behavioral medicine and his commitment to the activities and goals of SBM.
Rivera is particularly proud of the paper he co-authored in the inaugural issue of the research journal Translational Behavioral Medicine in March 2011 — which has been cited more than 1,000 times — among other developments.
“We are pleased with our efforts in casting behavioral theories, such as the Theory of Planned Behavior and Social Cognitive Theory, as dynamical systems, which has in turn facilitated the use of control engineering approaches, such as Model Predictive Control, for optimizing behavioral interventions,” says Rivera, who has recently worked on multiple research projects to improve mobile health applications.
Rivera believes this award validates the contributions he and his students and collaborators have made, and that engineering has an important role in this field.
“Engineering can play a role in so many important societal problems,” he says. “Being elected as SBM fellow validates the enriching experience that this work has been for my 31-year career at ASU, and the experience of five PhD graduates, and multiple MS students, who have done thesis and dissertation work in behavioral medicine under my supervision.”
Going forward, Rivera believes this fellowship will give his students, collaborators and himself greater confidence as they address the challenges of their current and future research.
Rivera will be recognized during the 2021 SBM Annual Meeting, which will be held virtually April 12–16. SBM members and non-members can register to attend this event, learn about the field and celebrate Rivera’s accomplishments. Rivera will be honored during the closing ceremony on Friday, April 16.