McALLEN, Texas – Manny Vela, the incoming chief operating officer of Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen, says he knows the difference A&M can make to the lives of students from Rio Grande Valley colonias. 

In his new role, Vela will help with the colonias program Texas A&M has been running for many years. He referenced the program in his speech from the podium during a news conference held to announce his joining A&M.

Vela said: “I’ll also tell you this. I am very excited to join the Texas A&M Colonias Program, which was established to help improve the lives of folks living in colonias along the border. As many of you know the health and well-being of our communities is of paramount importance to me having been part of the great professional family at Valley Baptist for almost 20 years. As I join this program I get to continue working on the health and well-being of some of our residents. But, I get to do it in a different way by using different tools. I can tell you this, it troubles me greatly to think that in 2023, some of our fellow Texans still live without basic necessities that we take for granted such as clean running water, electricity, plumbing, sewer, paved roads, curbs and gutters. There is a lot of good that has been done over the last couple of decades. But there’s work to be done in that regard as well and I’m proud to be joining that cause.”

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, Vela referenced a young A&M student who was born and raised in a colonia. 

“I met Belinda Bernal when she was working at the Hidalgo County Health Department. I believe she has a fellowship program going right now. And Belinda is a graduate of this A&M Center here in McAllen. But I love her background. It’s very compelling,” Vela said.

“Belinda was born and raised in a colonia environment and has made her way through those challenges. Now she’s at a point where she is thinking about going to medical school. And I see Belinda is a prime example of folks from the Valley are so incredibly talented. They just need an opportunity as to where to put those talents to work. For her was here at Texas A&M. For others it might be somewhere else.”

Vela said he does not mind which university Valley students go to, as long as they achieve their potential.

“I’m here overseeing this particular campus and we’ll be promoting this as an opportunity, an option. But, I’ll be promoting every opportunity that exists across the entire Valley. I think it’s time for us to think regionally and make sure we’re all driving in the same direction,” Vela told the Guardian.

“I told somebody just earlier that my rivalry is poverty, inequity when it comes to educational opportunities. Those are the things that are going to motivate me. Now, having said that, I’m going to do everything I can to ensure that the students here at A&M in McAllen have the exact same or as close to the exact same experience as the students in College Station do so they can leave here fulfilled, with a great sense of appreciation for Texas A&M, but also having been just immersed in the real, solid traditions that Texas A&M is known for.”

Here is the video interview:

Manny Vela, incoming COO of Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen


Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Belinda Bernal and Manny Vela.

Editor’s Note: The above audio story is the third in a six-part series on the Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen. Click here to listen to part one, which features former U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa. Click here to watch part two, which features Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and Texas A&M University President M. Katherine Banks.

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