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Dr. Robert H. Vela Jr. officially takes office as Texas A&M-Kingsville president

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KINGSVILLE (November 29, 2022) — Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s campus and surrounding communities joined in celebrating the official installation of Dr. Robert H. Vela Jr. as the 22nd President of the university on Tuesday, Nov. 29. Vela has been in the role since June.

 

Speaking from a stage in front of the university’s College Hall and iconic clock tower, Vela said, “For generations of South Texans, this tower has reflected the hope that this institution has embodied for nearly a century, lighting the way for students and our communities—iluminando el camino. As we stand here this evening, we do so on the shoulders of the pioneers whose courage and grit have made this moment possible.”

 

During his remarks, Vela spoke about one such pioneer: Humberto Gonzalez, the first Hispanic graduate in the university’s first graduating class of 1927.

“Humberto embodied the spirit that has come to define the javelina experience. Humberto understood well the power of one—the idea that it only takes the courageous decision of one person with determination to change the trajectory of their family and community forever.

“Humberto, who returned to his home in Zapata, TX, and became a beloved educator, helped light the way for generations of his descendants, many of whom have earned degrees from our university, becoming educators, engineers, lawyers, accountants, and business leaders.”

 

Vela then recognized two current Texas A&M-Kingsville students in the audience, Angelica Alvarez and Jacob Douglas Gonzalez, Humberto’s great-grandchildren.

 

“Through the decades, our university has been a light for the families and communities of South Texas—in some instances, serving as the only institution of access and opportunity for students of the region,” Vela said. “Whether as South Texas State Teachers College, Texas College of Arts and Industries, Texas A&I University, or Texas A&M-Kingsville, this university has been the place for our communities to advance their education and their prospects for a brighter future.”

 

“That’s what Texas A&I and Texas A&M-Kingsville did for me, a young man from a small ranchito in Alice, TX. As a first-generation college graduate, school wasn’t always easy—it required self-discipline, determination, and the mentorship of faculty, administrators, and staff who ensured I stayed the course, keeping my vision firmly focused on my future,” Vela said. “There were times when I didn’t know if college was right for me. But having Texas A&M-Kingsville in my backyard meant the tower behind me called to me as a beacon of hope—I knew my future had to come through Texas A&M-Kingsville. 

 

As part of his installation address, Vela announced the Javelina Relight Program for undergraduate students who have earned 90 college credits and who have paused or stopped their educational journey in the last five years.

 

“I am committing to awarding eligible students working toward graduation up to $2,500 in scholarships,” he said. “Our commitment to our students doesn’t end because life may throw them curveballs, and they find themselves sitting out a semester or two or three. We are here to fulfill our promise to them—doing everything we can to help them graduate and set them on a path toward a brighter future.”

 

Vela sees reigniting campus pride as one of his most important goals for the future of Texas A&M-Kingsville.

 

“I want to bring back that sense of pride and tradition here at Javelina Nation and for us to understand that we are the university of choice for a lot of families, especially those that are first-generation college students,” Vela said. “I want to ensure we are an opening, welcoming institution and that we are able to provide the resources the students need to not only enter through our front doors but also cross the finish line with their baccalaureate degrees and more so they can begin to transform themselves, their families and future generations to come. It’s a game-changer and we are up for the challenge.”

 

“We want to insure our students come here and have the resources and engagement opportunities they have with the quality instruction made up of amazing faculty and staff. They will be fully prepared to tackle their careers,” Vela added.

 

John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, conducted the investiture of the new president and presented Vela with the medallion. James “Randy” Brooks, a member of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, presented Vela to the audience.

 

Vela’s family participated in the ceremony, presenting him with a custom crafted university ring commemorating his presidency. Kleberg County Judge Rudy Madrid and Kingsville Mayor Sam Fugate shared community greetings.

 

Video greetings from the presidents of several university organizations were shared: Dr. Tanner Machado, Faculty Senate; Sari Flores, Staff Council; Tyler Larraga, Student Government Association; and Monica Hysquierdo, Javelina Alumni Association.

 

Immediately following the formal ceremony, Vela flipped the switch on the university’s holiday lights, officially turning them on for the season.

 

The evening ended with a concert featuring performers Clarissa Serna of Corpus Christi and Robert Ray, a Texas A&M-Kingsville alumnus and Alice native.

Dr. Robert H. Vela Jr. began serving as the 22nd president of Texas A&M University-Kingsville on June 15, 2022. His career has been dedicated to promoting access and opportunity to higher education across the state. 

 

Dr. Vela previously served as President of San Antonio College—one of the largest community colleges in the nation— from 2014-June 2022. Under his collaborative leadership, Dr. Vela developed a strategic plan that advanced the Alamo Community College District goal of transforming San Antonio College into the best community college in the nation. 

 

In 2021, the college earned the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence--the nation’s premier recognition of achievement and performance among America’s community colleges.

Dr. Vela launched his career in higher education at Texas A&M University-Kingsville in 1997 and served in various roles at the university, including Upward Bound Program Coordinator and Director of the Teacher Development Center. 

 

In 2021, Dr. Vela joined the Board of Directors of Excelencia in Education, an organization that accelerates Latino student success in higher education to address the U.S. economy’s need for a highly educated workforce and civic leadership.

 

A nationally-recognized leader in higher education, Dr. Vela has also served as the President of the National Community College Hispanic Council and on the American Association of Community Colleges Board of Directors. In 2018, he was an integral part of a team that received the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

 

He has taught courses in higher education administration and leadership, educational leadership and counseling throughout his 20 plus years in higher education. 

 

A native of Alice, TX, Dr. Vela earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Texas A&M-Kingsville. In 2015, he received the Javelina Distinguished Alumni Award. 

LINK: View inauguration photos

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