With plans underway to fully reopen our campus for the fall 2021 semester, it’s worth remembering the herculean task that fell to the faculty and administrators of Texas A&M University-San Antonio one year ago. No aspect of the education mission was as significantly impacted by COVID-19 as campus-based, in-person instruction. The quick pivot by faculty members in March 2020 to move coursework online ensured students were able to keep pace with their programs.
The pandemic likewise did not dissuade Mike O’Brien, the university’s vice president for academic affairs and provost, from pressing forward in the search for new deans for the College of Business and the College of Arts and Sciences. “Our sense of urgency gave our faculty confidence that we are serious about building our future, serious about growth, and that we will not take our eyes off the goal to enhance academic rigor and success,” he said.
The academic leadership team O’Brien assembled shares his vision for advancing the full potential of the youngest and fastest-growing institution within the Texas A&M System. Now squarely in the build-up and build-out phase of the university’s academic development, leaders are focused on aligning the institution’s programming to the needs of the region and a burgeoning student pipeline, as well as leveraging the distinct opportunities afforded by the university’s geographic location and its industry and agency partners.
For a better sense of the strategic direction of TAMU-SA’s academic mission in the coming years, meet the team of leaders who are charged with moving the needle on the university’s teaching and research excellence.
Michael J. O’Brien
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost
Michael O’Brien, who was born and grew up in Houston, returned to his home state in 2016 with his appointment as provost at Texas A&M-San Antonio after serving for 36 years at the University of Missouri in various roles, including as professor of anthropology and culminating as Dean of the College of Arts and Science. Best known for his work in evolutionary archaeology and biology, O’Brien has authored or edited more than two dozen books and written more than 150 scholarly articles appearing in journals such as Science, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Journal of Human Evolution, and Journal of Theoretical Biology.
What drew him to TAMU-SA: the opportunity to build a great research university by transforming the culture of the institution through great academic leadership that models a passion for scholarship and teaching excellence.
“We are putting the right people and support structures in place and securing the resources to leverage the full potential of A&M-San Antonio as it matures into a world-class research institution.”
Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies
Vijay Golla arrived at Texas A&M-San Antonio in August 2019. His previous academic appointments include various research and teaching roles within the College of Health and Human Services at Western Kentucky University. Significant research efforts have focused on workplace health and human and environmental health, including a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pilot project for the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health looking at exposure impacts of contaminants traced to agricultural practices.
What drew him to TAMU-SA: “First and foremost, the opportunity to be part of the world-renowned Texas A&M University System.”
As the newest university within the system, and the only one in a large urban area, TAMU-SA’s location provides great opportunity and potential to grow and build a research and graduate studies program that can have wide impact. “We have lots of room to grow both in terms of physical footprint and in terms of collaboration with industry and agency partners to pursue applied research directly in our community.”
Golla is excited to help design a strong research infrastructure across the university that leverages grant funding to extend opportunities for more students to have first-hand, real-world lab and field experiences, and scholarship opportunities.
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
A chemist by training, and the newest member of Texas A&M-San Antonio’s academic leadership team, Debra Feakes arrived at the university in September 2020, fresh from her role as Dean of the Shaheen College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Indianapolis. While she is new to the Texas A&M family, Feakes isn’t a Texas newcomer by any stretch, having served for 24 years just up the road at Texas State University in San Marcos. Among her roles there, she served as associate chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry, where she was the first female tenure-track faculty member in that department, and as interim associate director of the LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research.
Her research interests include the synthesis of boron-containing compounds for potential use in the treatment of certain types of cancer and the impact of supplemental instruction on student success in general and organic chemistry courses.
What drew her to TAMU-SA: “The opportunity of working once again at a public institution to provide service to the state of Texas and its constituents.”
Throughout her appointments in public and private higher education settings and in large and small institutions, Feakes has maintained her passion for teaching. “I truly love helping students transition from high school to college and helping them mold their futures.”
She is excited to help design programs that complement and enhance the existing curriculum and leverage opportunities to meet the emerging needs of the region’s economy. Developing resources and targeted interventions to ensure student success have been, and continue to be, a priority for Feakes.
Dean of the College of Business
Rohan Christie-David began his new role in June 2020, arriving from his post as a tenured professor of finance at the University of Colorado Denver, where he also previously served as Dean of the Business School. Prior to that, Christie-David served in various teaching and research roles at the University of Louisville. An award-winning scholar, Christie-David’s research interests include corporate restructuring, market microstructure, risk management, and the intersection of politics, economics, and managerial decision-making. He holds a Ph.D. (Business Administration: Finance) from the University of South Carolina.
What drew him to TAMU-SA: opportunities for program growth and expansion, especially at the graduate level.
“Our location provides great potential to work with industry and to design a research program that provides real impact and opportunity not only for local industry, the city and the state, but also for our research to have national and international influence and impact.”
Additional reasons cited by Christie-David include a diverse workforce, a growing urban area that is becoming a magnet for cutting-edge industries, and a citywide focus on developing and sustaining a strong talent pool through a network of higher learning institutions. Part of his focus will include finding ways to provide students with more interdisciplinary programming, more experiential learning, more internships, and more student team projects.
Dean of the College of Education and Human Development
Carl Sheperis arrived at Texas A&M-San Antonio in February 2019 with a wealth of experience in professional counseling and teaching. Prior to arriving at TAMU-SA, Sheperis served as the Interim President and CEO of the National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates, where he worked throughout the world to advance the counseling profession.
His research interests include pediatric mental health and the neuroscience of autism. Previous academic appointments include Mississippi State University, Walden University, Lamar University, and the University of Phoenix where he served as Dean of the College of Social Sciences.
Sheperis has acquired national recognition for his scholarship, publishing more than 100 articles and authoring eight textbooks used by hundreds of universities throughout the world. He has the distinction of being the first counselor educator to work with the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine for which he was asked to chair a national meeting surrounding the social determinants of mental health and to contribute to its proceedings.
What drew him to TAMU-SA: “The University’s focus on equity.”
As a first-generation student himself, Sheperis understands access issues firsthand. He is particularly proud of the university’s commitment to supporting in-district charter schools focused on serving students from surrounding lower-income neighborhoods. “This is how we begin to move the educational attainment needle one zip code at a time.”
How the University can model equity, excellence, and engagement in all it does is a question that motivates Sheperis on a daily basis. In his two years with TAMU-SA, Sheperis has helped lay the groundwork for several exciting opportunities designed to increase access for underserved populations and extend the university’s reach through new and existing partnerships. These include efforts already underway to address the digital divide within surrounding neighborhoods and to improve education access and quality of life for individuals with intellectual disabilities.