A new president, a new level of accreditation, and a new year. Five years after it first opened its doors on the Southside, a fast-growing Texas A&M University-San Antonio is beginning a new chapter filled with exciting possibilities for the students and businesses of the Southside.
On Feb. 12, the University’s Board of Regents in College Station named Cynthia Teniente-Matson as A&M-SA’s second president. She follows Maria Hernandez-Ferrier, the inaugural president, who accepted a new post as the university system’s Director of Development and Mexico Relations.
“Dr. Matson is a proven leader who brings experience and a passion for excellence to Texas A&M-San Antonio,” said A&M System Chancellor John Sharp at the board meeting. “With her at the helm, we envision many years of stellar progress ahead.”
Teniente-Matson is a native San Antonian. She most recently served as vice president for administration and chief financial officer of California State University-Fresno. She also chaired the Fresno State Association, Inc., the President’s Commission on Human Relations and Equity, and the CSU Risk Management Authority.
The new president holds an undergraduate degree in management from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and a graduate degree in business administration from the University of Alaska-Anchorage. She earned her doctorate in educational leadership from Fresno State in 2013.
She is now taking on leadership of A&M-San Antonio at a pivotal moment for the university. A&M-SA obtained its accreditation as a stand-alone institution at the end of 2014. The accreditation will enable A&M-SA to grant degrees independently of its parent university, Texas A&M-Kingsville.
“Texas A&M University-San Antonio is poised for great things,” Teniente-Matson said in an interview last week.
The confirmation of Teniente-Matson promises to energize the university as it expands. Her plans to leverage the A&M brand will bring research opportunities onto campus, further equipping students for work and citizenship after graduation.
“We also want to bring business leaders into South San Antonio,” said Teniente-Matson.
She plans to capitalize on the recent accreditation to bring in greater resources to the school.
“(The accreditation) is the key to opening the front door,” said Teniente-Matson.
One of her first goals will be to fulfill the school’s legislative agenda, beginning with downward expansion. Once A&M-SA can offer the core classes required by freshmen and sophomores for degree completion, the campus can broaden its offerings considerably. From there she wants to see the research agenda and portfolio expanded to match the needs of local industry and academic excellence.
“We want to partner with the local community to understand research needs,” said Teniente-Matson.
A&M-SA now serves as the academic center of a changing Southside, working with area business leaders to align training and instruction with employment opportunities. Under the leadership of Dr. Ferrier, a partnership was forged with the neighboring Toyota truck manufacturing plant.
Teniente-Matson would like to see more such partnerships, especially in the realms of water conservation and management and cybersecurity. Both fields lend themselves to research across STEM fields, a major area of the university’s focus. Teniente-Matson plans to uphold that emphasis, while continuing to support the concept of a broader liberal arts education.
“There’s room for all kinds of discipline,” said Teniente-Matson.
In many ways the endorsement system put in place by House Bill 5 makes an ideal pipeline for a schools like A&M-SA. Students who have their eye on regional job markets and a focus on honing advanced skills will find what they are looking for at the university and its partnerships with the Alamo Colleges. Keeping those students in the education system continues to expand their opportunities, even within their chosen field.
“There should be a time for exploration and discovery,” said Teniente-Matson.
Teniente-Matson sees room in the endorsements for that exploration and discovery as students realize their unique talents and interests. The new courses also invite businesses to get involved early, providing internships and service learning opportunities, the very kinds of relationships she plans to foster at the college level.
Connecting business and higher education is about more than good scholarship programs and a tailor-made workforce. As Teniente-Matson sees it, this united front strengthens the cultural value of education. Students can break free of the “job vs. education” dilemma, as they see a clear path to employment.
This is a particularly important message for families the Southside, where higher education has historically not been part of the family equation. Most A&M-SA students are the first in their families to go to college. Even more ground breaking will be those who graduate from a four-year university or earn graduate degrees.
When a first-generation college student hangs in there because she knows there’s a good job waiting for her, she probably has little siblings at home taking note.
“It helps feed a college-going culture in the home,” said Teniente-Matson.
A&M-SA’s presence on the Southside serves as a symbol of change an opportunity, and now with a new president, another example of a Mexican-American woman who left home to pursue a higher education and now has returned as an education leader.