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Abel A. Chávez. Photo Credit: Western Colorado University
Abel A. Chávez, vice president for enrollment and student success at Western Colorado University, will be the next president of Our Lady of the Lake University. Photo Credit: Western Colorado University

OLLU has named its first Latino president

Abel A. Chávez will officially become Our Lady of the Lake University president in July.

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Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio will have its first Latino president in July when Abel A. Chávez officially takes on the role.

In May 2021, current OLLU President Diane Melby announced plans to retire, leaving the 127-year-old private Catholic university in search of her successor. Melby has served as president since 2015, and helped launch OLLU’s largest fundraising campaign last year, which aims to raise $55 million by the end of 2023. 

Chávez currently serves as vice president for enrollment and student success at Western Colorado University, where he has worked since 2014. 

“Dr. Chávez brings a record of outstanding leadership in higher education,” said OLLU board chair Paul Olivier, in a statement

Olivier also credited Chávez’s strong business skills and global experience for making him “the right person to move OLLU forward,” he added.

Prior to Chávez’s current role, he served as WCU’s associate vice president for academic affairs, dean of graduate studies and associate professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability.

He didn’t begin his professional career in higher education, however, cutting his teeth in the business and entrepreneurial world. 

Chávez founded a consulting company in Denver, and worked for Anheuser-Busch in Houston and Dow Chemical in Freeport. He also served an international business residency in Beijing and Singapore. 

Chávez is a Denver native, and the son of Mexican immigrants. His family encouraged him to pursue a higher education, and he became the first in his family to graduate from college.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado in Denver, and a master’s of business administration from the University of Houston. 

Years later, Chávez returned to Colorado’s capital city to obtain his doctorate degree in civil and environmental engineering. 

As a first-generation college student, Chávez is well-aware of the experiences many other first-generation students are facing. According to the university, 43% of OLLU students are first-generation, while 78% are Latino, making it an HSI. 

“We, as a university, have to mobilize and ensure that we are attracting the resources necessary to fulfill some of the needs of our students,” Chávez said. “That might be mentorship. It could be advising. Sometimes it could be affordability. Those challenges range rather widely, and we will listen, and we will do everything that we can to close those gaps,” Chávez told the San Antonio Report. 

Chávez is joining OLLU at a point in time where there is a nationwide trend of declining college enrollment, in part due to the pandemic. He plans to use a data-driven approach to this reality, examining where students are coming from, providing them with valuable resources needed to complete their degree programs, and listening to the concerns of students, parents, and families. which he uses in his current role with WCU. 

Throughout his tenure in the higher education sphere and particularly in his current role with WCU, Chávez has established himself as a valued mentor to Mexican students, connecting them to a scholarship program funded by the Mexican government. 

That is what led him to be receiving the Ohtli Award, a prestigious honor given by the Mexican government to those who have provided assistance to Mexican citizens.

“Dr. Chávez cares deeply about students, especially the underserved,” said Steve O’Donnell, OLLU trustee and co-chair of the search committee. “He is an agent of transformation, a leader who has provided life-changing experiences for students. I believe he will be an outstanding president.”

Chávez is aware of the challenges that await him when he transitions to his new president role this July, and is eager to face them.

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