Board names Vela president of this college

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Dr. Robert Vela

Dr. Robert Vela

Vice president learns of appointment from congratulatory phone call from chancellor.

By M.J. Callahan

On his drive home last night, Dr. Robert Vela, vice president for student and academic success, received several text messages, but it wasn’t until he received a call from Chancellor Bruce Leslie that he learned he had been named president of this college.

Leslie called to congratulate Vela after the Alamo Colleges board of trustees approved him to replace Dr. Robert Zeigler, who is retiring in August. Vela did not attend the board meeting.

The board also chose Dr. Ric Neal Baser, vice president and chief academic officer at Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma, to replace Dr. Jacqueline “Jackie” Claunch, who also is retiring at the end of this academic year.

When Vela arrived at his home in New Braunfels, his wife and three daughters weren’t there to share his good news, he said in a phone interview today.

Knowing the board would make the final decision that evening, however, they had baked him a cake to show they were proud of him whether he got the top spot at the college or remained in the No. 2 position, he said.

In addition to the congratulatory text messages Vela did not check while driving, Zeigler called him shortly after he got home to also congratulate him on the position.

Vela said Zeigler has left a strong foundation for the college and he wants to build on it.

Leslie was unavailable for comment today, but Dr. Federico Zaragoza, vice chancellor of economic and workforce development, said the chancellor recommended Vela to trustees because of the development and growth Vela has shown since coming to this college in 2008 as dean of student affairs.

Vela was chosen president from four finalists who came to campus for interviews and public forums. The others are Baser; Dr. Lawrence Brandyburg, vice of instruction and student success at Lone Star College University Park in Houston; and Dr. Leslie Navarro, former president of Morton College in Cicero, Ill.

David Mrizek, vice president of college services and co-chair of the search committee, detailed Vela’s strengths in a phone interview today.

He knows the college, the people in it and the direction education is going, Mrizek said. Vela has helped build this college into what it is today, Mrizek said, expressing his confidence the college will thrive under his leadership.

Vela said his main focus is student success and he wants to continue working with faculty, staff and students to improve success rates.

He wants to target students in “our own backyard” and increase the numbers who attend college.

“This college is here for them, holding them by the hand through graduation,” he said

One initiative he is excited about is the creation of a welcome center in Fletcher Administration Center that will be patterned after an Apple Store and be a one-stop-shop for entering students.

He wants the customer service generated there to continue through every aspect of the college.

Before coming to this college, Vela was dean of student development at San Jacinto College-North Campus. He has an Ed.D. in educational leadership from a joint program at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and is a licensed professional counselor.

In 2010, he served as the interim director of the district’s center of student information.

Although he came to this college as dean of student affairs, he was promoted to vice president of that division nine months later. After Dr. Jessica Howard left her position as vice president of academic affairs, Zeigler opted to combine the two vice president positions into one, which Vela assumed in July 2012.

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