As the new academic year gets under way, Lone Star College-CyFair’s Dean of Student Services Dr. Rito Silva and Dean of Humanities, Math and CIT Claire Phillips are settling into their new administrative roles.
Dr. Silva and Phillips may have taken different routes to filling the two vacated leadership positions at LSC-CyFair, but both are passionate about education and excited about this new opportunity to serve the students and community.
Dr. Silva’s career in higher education started with “accidentally” enrolling in college. His father dropped out of school in eighth-grade and his mother in 11th-grade, so college wasn’t really on his mind. However, he said he did go with friends to orientation at Texas A&I, more in a jealous boyfriend mode rather than with interest in enrolling. The whole registration and financial aid process, from standing in lines to enroll in different classes to the lingo, was intimidating and when frustration took over, he told his friends he’d wait outside.
“While sitting outside the second floor registration area, an elderly man stopped and talked to me … Somehow, he convinced me to go back inside, helped me register, introduced me to financial aid director and asked if I wanted a job … It turns out he was I. Q. Vidaurri, dean of students,” said Dr. Silva. “I didn’t see how big a moment that was until I graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration/finance. He took me under his wing for four years. I saw how much he helped me. I idolized him. I decided I wanted to do what he did. What a great job to do and get paid for – helping others enroll in school.”
Dr. Silva graduated in May 1990 and got a job as an advisor at Texas A&I’s new freshman college that July. In addition to helping others in the educational field, he had a political life serving his hometown community as the youngest mayor pro-tem for the City of Alice, Texas from 1997 -2001, Mayor from 2001-2003 and again in 2009. Then this past April, with a master’s in counseling, Ph.D. from Texas A&M University at College Station and nearly two decades of higher education experience, including most recently as director of the Alice Campus of Coastal Bend College, he joined the LSC-CyFair family.
“My job now is to offer that hand that was extended to me a long time ago. If me being here and sharing my story makes a difference in a student, regardless of color, that’s important to me,” said Dr. Silva, who is proud of his Hispanic heritage and actually did his dissertation on the Hispanic growth and success in education and politics.
Challenges related to opening LSC-CyFair’s new student services building next fall while addressing the current and continued student population explosion, being understaffed and working with budget constraints, will require creative solutions. But Dr. Silva said he thrives on challenges. Among his goals for the Student Services Department this year are community outreach as well improving processes in advising and including more students in decision-making.
Phillips said her goals in the short-term for LSC-CyFair’s Division I, which includes Math, English, Computer Information Technology and the Humanities, is to provide continuity in the division and to assess what type of leadership is needed to respond to student demand, particularly with the dramatic enrollment LSC-Cy Fair is experiencing. In addition, as Phillips transitions into her new role in this division, so do new personnel in the coordinator position and three department chair positions. However, with her background and past experiences, she feels there will be a minimal learning-curve for her.
“I’m a problem solver. I think I can mediate between the needs of administration and faculty,” she said. “I think I’m innovative in coming up with and proposing creative solutions. And I’m not afraid to ask questions.”
Phillips said the dean’s position was a natural progression in her higher education career. When she started at LSC-CyFair in 2003 as founding faculty, she brought with her a background of 20 years of real world experience in industry, 12 years of teaching business classes, with substantial online teaching experience both at LSC-Cy Fair and LSC-North Harris. She went on to earn a Faculty Excellence Award and serve as the business department chair, as well as taking on a special assignment as director of the Faculty and Staff Excellence Center.
She chooses to be involved to effect change, serving on committees and task forces in the area chamber (currently chairing the Education and Workforce Development Committee) and at the college and system level (most recently on the Quality Enhancement Project (QEP) for the System’s SACS accreditation as well as faculty credentialing.) She enjoys putting community and college contacts together, assisting students with intern placements, launching new classes and developing curriculum (playing a key role in the development of LSC’s new entrepreneurship program.)
“My interest in working at a higher level has been long coming because I love working with students directly and I’ve been very happy being faculty. So it was a hard decision for me to move back into a management role as I had previously done in business,” said Phillips. “But as I looked at both at my long-term goals and my passion for the Cy-Fair community, I really wanted to do something for me by returning to school for my doctorate and do something that would give back to my community at a higher level of service I knew I was capable of.”
She returned to school to earn her doctorate in higher education at Texas A&M, driving weekly to College Station for four years while working at the college and has only one chapter of her dissertation to complete before graduating. The availability of a dean’s position as she completes her education was just good timing.
“As a department chair in this division, I worked with world languages, CIT and philosophy so I knew much of the internal workings of the division, but it was from a different perspective,” said Phillips. “Now new disciplines to me, like American Sign Language and the Interpreter Training Program, are a learning experience. It’s exciting.”
For information on Student Services, Division I or LSC-CyFair, go to LoneStar.edu.