Dr. Robert Vela - Vice President for Academics and Student Engagement
Dr. Robert Vela: The Road to SAC Vice President
From probation officer to vice president of a community college – that’s a trajectory that few people might find logical but that is the path that Dr. Robert Vela followed.
That path has now lead him to be named San Antonio College’s Vice President for Academics and Student Engagement.
In high school Vela thought he wanted to be a law enforcement officer. He graduated from Texas A&M University - Kingsville (TAMUK) and took a job as a probation officer. Eventually he earned a master’s degree in counseling and guidance and used his desire to help people to a job as program coordinator for the Upward Bound program.
“We helped kids become college ready,” Vela says. These were low-income, first time in college students in a rural setting.
Vela earned his master’s degree in counseling and guidance from TAMUK, and a doctoral degree in a joint doctoral program in Educational Leadership from TAMUK and A&M-Corpus Christi.
A native of Alice, TX, Vela grew up in a dual language household. While he spoke English at home with his brothers and parents, his grandmother spoke only Spanish. The Vela family history is Spanish and Italian on his father’s side and Mexican on his mother’s side.
In 2008 Vela joined San Antonio as Dean of Student Affairs and in April 2009 he was named Vice President for Student Affairs.
He spent eight months as district director for the Center for Student Information. “I went there to get it started – the hiring process and developing their processes,” he said.
As the new Vice President for Academics and Student Engagement Vela believes his focus will be on student retention, faculty development, and graduation and transfer rates. All the things that spell student success.
“Above all, I want to be accessible and responsive to the needs of SAC – ensuring that they (faculty and staff) have the resources to do their jobs.
“I want to be an advocate for the college and be sensitive to the changing academic needs,” he said.
What does he see as the No. 1 complaint of students?
“Students not having the financial resources to be successful at college,” he said, adding that this only adds to the student stress and panic. “This means having the money not only for textbooks, but for a laptop and reliable internet service.”
On a blind date in college Vela met his wife, Annalisa. The couple now has three daughters: Allison, 16, a varsity cheerleader in 11th grade; Madeline, 11, a 6th grader who plays competitive volleyball; and Emma Grace, 3, called the “strong-willed one of the family." Mrs. Vela is a 9th grade guidance counselor.
In his spare time, Vela said he enjoys spending time with his girls. He also does some deer hunting in season; and he enjoys fishing.
We wrapped up the interview with questions to Dr. Vela like those posed by Vanity Fair Magazine (which are borrowed from the Proust questionnaire):
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness for me is being with my family in a place with no stress, no deadlines, no anxiety.
What historical figure do you most identify with? And why?
Martin Luther King – is somebody that I really admire. And the reason why is I think is because he was able to tie in the passion and emotion for a cause with the intelligence.
Which living person do you most admire?
It would have to be my parents (Robert Sr. and Nora Vela). I don’t think I was a very easy child to bring up.
What is the trait you most deplore in other people?
Lack of sensitivity.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
I’ve always loved Aquaman.
If you had a super hero power what would it be?
The ability to survive both on land and water.