Outgoing SBS dean reflects on his time at UTPA
Posted: 07/07/2010
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Five years of leadership and accomplishments by Dr. Van Reidhead, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) at The University of Texas-Pan American, were celebrated at a July 7 reception at UTPA before he leaves to become provost and vice president for academic affairs at East Stroudsburg University in East Stroudsburg, Pa.

An anthropologist, Reidhead served on the faculty for 29 years at the University of Missouri-St. Louis before coming to UTPA in 2005. He will start his new position Aug. 1.

Dr. Van Reidhead, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, was bid goodbye by a number of academic colleagues during a farewell event held July 7 at UTPA. Reidhead (second from right) is pictured left to right with Dr. Hector Ochoa, dean, College of Education; Dr. Farzaneh Razzaghi, dean, UTPA Library; Dr. Ana Maria Roridguez, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; and Dr. Edwin LeMaster, dean, College of Science and Engineering.
"I am going to miss the sense of excitement and the tangible destiny of UTPA and this region. Being here one feels one's self at the center of the future of the country," he said. "The face on that are the people. You come here and you hear it in the voices of the people, you see it in the step, you hear it in people's ideas and it's infectious."

Reidhead praised his office staff, his department chairs and the deep friendship he developed with his fellow deans and the provost he served under while here.

"This group of deans really loves one another. It is because we have been able to make little sacrifices for one another. Over the last several months, led by Hector Ochoa (dean of the College of Education) we have been working on a bilingual research center proposal - involving the colleges of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Arts and Humanities and Education. Being involved in those types of collaborations is the wave of the future," he said.

His success with establishing collaborations and partnerships across disciplines within the University and with other higher education institutions and government and non-governmental entities is extensive. The SBS Research Center, which he established in 2006, will, through a partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture, house the USDA's regional director for Hispanic Serving Institutions, who will help faculty and administrators identify resources and pathways to internships and jobs for students. The Integrated Global Knowledge and Understanding Collaboration, an umbrella home for global and national security programs and projects he initiated, involved collaborations across the six UTPA colleges and with several arms of the federal government.

"That is a program that is creating a whole new set of opportunities for students in all kinds of information analysis fields. I'm proud of the relationships we built with federal agencies around that," Reidhead said.

Reidhead said he was also proud of the new master's degree program in psychology and behavioral analysis and the collaboration his faculty built with the Department of Biology in establishing it.

"It promises to be a transformational program for mental health in the Valley and lays the foundation for our future Ph.D. program in psychology focusing on Hispanic mental health for the region and the country," he said.

Reidhead has high hopes as well for the Community Historical Archaeology with Public Schools (CHAPS) project that began in fall 2009. This project engages K-12 teachers and students through an investigation-based curriculum using the research discovery process to teach skills in math, science, reading, writing, group communication and technology.

"If CHAPS is successful, in 30 years the Rio Grande Valley will be the heritage tourism destination for anyone interested in Mexican-American heritage," Reidhead said.

Among his many service activities at UTPA, his chairmanship of the Distinguished Speakers Series Committee brought him sheer pleasure, he said, as well as one of his most memorable moments at the University - holding hands with former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, who spoke at UTPA in 2007.

During a reception held July 7, Mari DeLeon, a UTPA alumna and graduate student in UTPA's Master's of Public Administration program, bids an emotional farewell to Dr. Van Reidhead, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, who has accepted a position as provost at a university in Pennsylvania.
"I was guiding him through a crowd at a reception after his speech and he just reached out and took hold of my hand and followed me through the crowd. That is definitely a memorable moment. You don't expect a man of his stature to be that human of a person," Reidhead said.

Several of his colleagues said they would miss Reidhead and his leadership, including Dr. Kristen Croyle, assistant dean and associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Anthropology, who has been named interim dean.

"Van is one of those rare leaders who has the ability to envision great possibilities for our faculty and students, and then follow through with the hard work of bringing people together to successfully bring that vision to life," Croyle said. "He has also been firmly committed, since his first day on the job, to supporting our faculty members' best efforts and our students' success at UTPA and in their careers."

In his 20 years at UTPA, Dr. William Turk, associate professor of political science and director of the Master of Public Administration Program, said he never worked for a better dean, describing Reidhead as an "honest broker" and an "excellent communicator."

"He initiated more services, programs and activities than all the other deans combined. He will be missed in SBS," Turk said.

Thirty-six year faculty member, Dr. Gary Montgomery, assistant dean and a professor in the Department of Psychology and Anthropology, also called Reidhead the best dean he ever worked for, citing Reidhead's fairness and reasonableness in working with others.

"He is great at networking with the community and other UTPA colleges. He is melding the talents of behavioral sciences with other disciplines and with resources in the community. He is a constant ambassador for our college, outgoing, willing to consider different ideas and perspectives," Montgomery said.

Reidhead, who said he recognized his abilities late in his career to bring together people with diverse interests to develop a collective vision that serves them all, has only a few words of advice for his successor.

"Work with people and follow your strengths and passions," he said.