Undergraduate Research and Creativity Alumni Profiles 

Joshua Oliver, B.S.W. '05

Clinical Social Worker, Entrepreneur
Major(s): Social Work 

What research or work have you done since graduating from Buffalo State?

After graduating, I completed my master;s at Case Western Reserve University and earned a master of science in social administration (accredited MSW). From there I worked as a clinician in hospitals, correctional facilities, and schools. I later ran a private practice and served in school and clinical administration.

To fill my entrepreneurial spirit, I pursued a career in real estate, became a leading sales consultant, managed a real estate office, and started his own real estate company.

He now owns four successful businesses that encompass my passions for business and mental health. My companuy, Living Matters, is focused on building a world which is less isolated and more connected by way of redefining business and changing the face of mental health.

I also consult and present in a wide variety of settings around what it means to be human in today’s world.

His company, Living Matters Coaching and Consulting provides consultations, seminars, workshops, Fireside Chats, retreats, and training programs on a wide variety of business and mental health topics such as grief, depression, parenting, and redefining the sales process.

His company, Living Matters Wellness, co-founded with his wife, Erin, provides a wide range of physical well-being services such as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation.

His company, Living Matters Real Estate, provides real estate services with a focus on a humanistic, authentic, and "non-salesy" approach; committed to moving people's lives forward rather than the real estate transaction itself.

As a whole, Living Matters Companies utilize the above array of services to provide a platform of professionals to redefine business and change the face of mental health by leveling the silos and building a world-wide team for global change.

Can you translate your work for the general public?

Born, raised and educated in Buffalo, Josh is a true Buffalonian who has been working full-time since age 13. He has an extensive background in clinical therapy, working in schools, private practices, hospitals, and institutional settings. He has owned multiple successful businesses and has been a sales leader within his chosen professions. His constant exploration around what makes people the best version of themselves and his vast experience has established him as a thought leader in human functioning and potential. Josh consults and presents in a wide variety of settings around what it means to be human in today’s world.

He owns Living Matters Companies - Living Matters Coaching and Consulting, Living Matters Wellness, and Living Matters Real Estate. His companies serve as a platform for health and business professionals to build careers and businesses in a collaborative environment with a global vision for redefining business and mental health. Joshua believes a rising tide lifts all boats and his company aims to to build a world-wide team for global change by leveling the silos that often exist in health services.

He is a thought leader around redefining mental health and making mental wellness a part of our everyday lives. He has found that a lack of a collaborative business platforms has been the biggest barrier and is leading business and health professionals to this shared mission, vision, values, and beliefs. This vision would profoundly alter the world’s ability to access health services in a consistent, comforting, and welcoming way.

Why did you decide to get involved in undergraduate research?

To me, the importance of relationships and connections are integral to anyone becoming and maintaining the best version of themselves. In order to grow, learn, and live fulfilling lives we need other people. My involvement in undergraduate research was no different. It started with a relationship; my undergraduate mentor, Louis Colca. He was one of the first professors to inspire me to become a better version of myself. His passion and vision for Adventure Based Counseling (ABC) resonated with me and I dove into this experience whole-heartedly. When I saw the way a ropes course and ABC impacted the lives of such diverse groups of people, I was immediately inspired and curious about the implementation at a systems level. I was enthralled by the level of trust, resiliency, communication, and “human-ness” it brought to students, professionals, families, schools, etc. One of Lou’s other passions was foster care and he afforded me the opportunity to work closely with a foster care agency for which he and his wife Carole were involved. It was one of the best experiences of my life. While I was actively engaging on a clinical level, simultaneously, I was working with two other local agencies that often worked and collaborated with foster care agencies. This sparked my systems level intrigue and eventual disappointment, for the way children in the foster care system are often integrated into a foster family and then the level of on-going service once living with their new family.

While I had all of these active thoughts, it was Lou who recognized my thinking and pointed out the opportunity to act. Candidly, the written application process for the undergraduate research program was overwhelming to me at the time, but again, my relationship with Lou pushed me past this discomfort and led to action. A side note of gratitude to Lou, as this helped a long journey for me which has led to most of my success: “How do you take thought and put it to real world action?”; thanks Lou!

As I dove into building an actual framework for how I would implement something actionable, measurable, and achievable, I found myself reeling with ideas, narrowing my focus, and becoming a better version of myself. In reflecting back, I became involved in undergraduate research through a relationship and what was, at the time, an unharnessed passion for changing the world.

How did your undergraduate research experience influence your career path?

It’s funny, I hadn’t reflected back on this experience in a long time, but as I answered the above question, I realized just how profoundly influential the undergraduate research experience was on forming who I am and what I’m doing. Prior to college, I was not the greatest student. I had a relationship with “the system” that was “I don’t need this” and “I don’t need you to be successful”. I think it was the fact that I had to pay for college and the ability to have autonomy in my choices that led me to approach college very differently. That said, meeting Lou and participating in Undergraduate Research was really a turning point in my life. Until that time, I has always been a hard worker, driven, and passionate, but I always operated “under the radar” in an academic setting. I’d gained recognition at work for a long time, but I never thought of myself as a strong student. It was Lou who was one of the first people in the academic world to recognize my talent.

I finally saw a pathway for myself within the academic world. I became profoundly focused on gaining my masters and gained an even deeper passion for Social Work. In my initial work with Lou and his wife, it was mainly focused on areas where I felt confident; clinical work, physical activity, critical thinking, problem solving, etc. But, when Lou brought up Undergraduate Research and I knew what was involved, I was immediately thinking “oh boy, now he’s going to see the real me”. To that point, putting my critical thought into sustained, actionable, and especially written content was slim to none. When I’d write papers I’d fake it and count on my adrenaline showing up at the last minute to harness my thoughts and produce a reasonable product for a good grade so I could continue on. But, this was different. Now, I needed to actually show up and take something I cared about deeply and put in a different kind of effort. Candidly, I was scared and concerned if I’d live up to the challenge (which I don’t think Lou ever knew, as I didn’t want to disappoint).

I’d wake up each day thinking about how I take all of my thoughts and harness them into something focused and measurable. For me, on a topic I was so passionate about, it was very difficult; it was like pushing an ocean through a straw. I pushed though it differently this time, I actually set aside time, I left time for edits, I consulted with people, I cared differently, and I couldn’t do it at the last minute. I was unsure if I’d pull it off, but then I did and this moment for me literally changed how I identified myself. I started to believe I could make my passions real, I could speak in front of people, I could lead, I could be successful in school, I could make my thoughts into a reality, and I could change the world.

It may sound inauthentically profound to say the undergraduate research experience is what got me a full paid scholarship to grad school, solidified my career path, had me presenting colloquium, and helped me believe I could profoundly change the world, but it’s not inauthentic at all. It was a defining moment in my life and it is a big part of the reason I lead a business that it taking on such a large vision for changing the world; because I believe my passionate thoughts can become a reality. 

Describe the research you did and if you presented it at any professional conference, juried art exhibit, or other off-campus location.

The research I did was using Adventure Based Counseling (ABC) and specifically a ropes course to determine if participation would help build and maintain trust within foster care families. Essentially, we had families participate in a Two-Day Intensive using ABC to eliminate barriers to trust and habilitate and/or rehabilitate communication and relationship skills. We gathered qualitative and quantitative participant feedback pre and post intervention. Overall, it was identified that initial and ongoing intervention was profoundly impactful for building and maintaining trust within foster care families.

I continued to present my findings in gradudate school, at my places of employment, and to this day in workshops and speaking engagements. Because of my research, I developed and implemented ABC programs to 3 different school and correctional settings. I continued to use it in my private practice as well as in my executive and organization coaching. Currently, I use it in my own businesses for building and maintaining trust within our organizations.

My research provided me the legitimacy to have influence over the systems I entered and businesses I led to establish and implement interventions consistent with my findings. I continue to reference my findings when I speak about the need for system improvement within the way mental wellbeing is delivered.

Undergraduate Research Mentor: Cristina Pippa