Vess settles into role in academic affairs office

After Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart was appointed to the position of Amarillo College president, the search to fill his former position, vice president of academic affairs, began.

On Jan. 12, Dr. Deborah Vess was named the new VPAA.

Although Lowery-Hart had the final say, there was a process to find the best possible candidate.

Cody McGehee | The Ranger Newly appointed vice president of academic affairs Dr. Deborah Vess settles into her new office in Lynn Library.

Bob Austin, vice president of student affairs, chaired the search committee during the process, which included bringing candidates to Amarillo.

“Based on conversations with Dr. Lowery-Hart, we initially determined that we narrowed the field to five people. Two of the people were internal,” Austin said. “After some conversations, we decided it made sense to bring in the people we didn’t know.”

The search for the new VPAA was a detailed process of examining each candidate and looking at different areas, primarily student success.

“We went through a pretty detailed process of identifying candidates that had direct experience leading student success initiatives, and through the evaluation process that the committee created, Dr. Vess rose to the top pretty quickly,” Lowery-Hart said.

Vess was one of two finalists before being chosen, Austin said. She’s already begun making an impression on campus.

“What I already appreciate and value about Dr. Vess is that she’s really smart and observant and thoughtful,” Lowery-Hart said.

Vess is a native Amarilloan. She holds a Ph.D. in European history from the University of North Texas, a master’s in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh and a pair of bachelor’s degrees – in music (piano performance) from the State University of Pennsylvania and in philosophy from Indiana University.

From 1997 to 2011, she served as special assistant to the provost at Georgia College and State University. Following that, Vess served as associate provost for undergraduate studies and academic programs at the College of Staten Island, New York, from 2011 to 2013.

Most recently, Vess was the VPAA at Rivier University in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Much of Vess’s past work concentrated on areas that AC has focused on recently with the No Excuses initiative.

“I did a lot of work that concentrated on ways that we can be creative in the classroom that will really impact teaching and learning that will foster student success,” she said. “I worked on a lot of initiatives much like our No Excuses initiative.”

Many of those examples and more are reasons why Vess said she initially was interested in the position at AC.

Vess also said she had been looking for a position back at home in Amarillo.

“I had been looking for a while for an opportunity to have a leadership role back in my home state,” she said. “I went to graduate school here but had never really been able to work in Texas. I was just interested in coming home after spending a lot of years in the Northeast, and I just thought it was time to come home. This intrigued me just because so much of my family is from here and it’s a special city to me.”

Along with her personal reasons for returning to Texas, Vess had many reasons for wanting to be a part of the AC professional community. Many of them had to do with leadership, student achievement and the progress that AC has made as an institution.

“The college itself is interesting because it has done a lot of good things with student achievement,” she said. “It’s a Leader College, which is really quite an honor, and under Dr. Lowery-Hart’s leadership it has made a lot of progress in terms of addressing issues that often keep students from progressing and excelling in college. And those are the kinds of things I have spent my career working on; I think it’s a good fit.”

Austin and Lowery-Hart agreed that it is a good fit for Vess and AC.

“I’m really excited that she’s here, and being a longtime employee of AC, I’m flattered that she chose us because being a person of experience, she has a lot of options,” Austin said.

Lowery-Hart shared in the sentiment.

“It’s exciting to have her come full circle and come back home,” he said. “I think she’s exactly what we need in that position to propel us forward as an institution.”

Vess shared some of the vision she has in mind for the college.

“I want us to work effectively as a team and really focus on student achievement and for us to really do a good job in that area,” she said.

“I think that we need to have faculty consider creative approaches in the classroom.

“A lot of my career has been spent on faculty development, introducing faculty to innovative pedagogy and especially to addressing the needs of the 21st century learner.”

Vess said she’s glad to be back in her hometown.

“I really am, especially on days when you can walk around without a coat on in January,” she said.

“Yes, I’m very glad, and I realize every day just how much I’ve missed Texas. It just feels very natural.”

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