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By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition June 2019

I am one who believes that a leader is not born, it’s made. But that leader cannot be made if he does not have the ingredients for a proper formation. When I say ingredients, I mean vision, passion, and integrity. I believe that these essential elements are needed to achieve the trailblazers, men or women. Over time, other qualities will develop to produce a leader that inspires, directs, and creates.

Through the years, I have met many leaders. Today you will read about one that has fulfilled all the areas of leadership. He is a leader who is not selfish, who gives of himself, who shares his friendships, and brings together businessmen and businesswomen to engage in business. In short, he is a connector.

I am talking about Mario Reyna, he is currently the Dean for Business, Public Safety, and Technology at South Texas College (STC). He joined the College almost 23 years ago, he has won recognition among his peers and the respect of the community. 

Dean Reyna is a native of the Rio Grande Valley, born in Mission, Texas. He is married to his lovely wife, Elsa, for 41 years; they have a daughter Lydia, 39, and a son Mario, 31. Lydia lives in San Antonio and works at Wells Fargo. Mario works with Melden & Hunt Inc.; he is an engineer.

Mario Reyna, April 1988
Mario Reyna, April 1988

He said, “I grew up in Mission and joined the Air Force in 1976. After attending Military Basic Training School at Lackland AFB, Tx and Lowery AFB, Co, I received orders to proceed to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.” He was stationed there from November 1976 to February 1982.

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After that, he was stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas from February 1982 to February 1985 where he was selected to attending Officer Training School at Lackland AFB, Texas and was commissioned in May 21, 1985.  After being commissioned, he received his orders to move to Loring Air Force Base in Maine where he was stationed from June 1985 to April 1987. While at Loring AFB, Me, he was proposed to move to Guadalajara, Mexico to be part of the Mexican Air Force Academy or move to Spain.  He decided to move to Spain because as he recalls Guadalajara is just down the road, a beautiful city though.

Zaragoza Air Base Spain, in the Aragon region, became part of his Air Force career, but after serving from May 1987 to May 1991 returned back to San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base, and his final assignment was with Headquarters, Air Force Special Operations Command at Herbert Field in Fort Walton, Florida from August 1994 to December 1995

Being part of the mighty U. S. Air Force is to not be idle. Members of the Air Force are moved steadily and given different assignments which are expected to be executed to perfection. His travels continued as he said, “In between all those bases, I was stationed on what we call a temporary duty at Lowery Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado. I’ve been to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, at Sheppard AFB, Texas, I’ve been to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, Izmir, Turkey, and Ramstein AFB Germany. So, I had all kinds of experiences.”

His academic career was growing parallel to his career in the Air Force. He did not waste time, always seeking to make improvement in all aspects of his life.

Since he first joined the Air Force, he started attending school at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. Dean Reyna graduated from that school with a degree in an associate in business. Then he went to the University of La Verne, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and graduated from that university with a Bachelor of Science in Management.

Dean Reyna pointed out that while he was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, he attended Webster University, and completed his Master of Public Administration degree. When he was at the Headquarters USAF Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field, Ft Walton, Florida, he was told about South Texas Community College now STC. 

“Initially I was informed that if I wanted to teach, I needed 18 hours in graduate accounting and I already had 6 hours, so I went to the University of Northwest Florida in Pensacola, Florida to get the 12 hours needed,” he said.

When he arrived at STC, the dean for instruction at that time told him that he needed a director for the college’s division of business. “Since then I’ve been doing things related to the development of programs in business, public safety, and technology,” Dean Reyna said,

Through the years, his position was recategorized and he became dean of business; and then the dean of business, math, and science; and then dean of business math, science, and technology; and then the dean of business and technology; and later it became dean of business, public safety, and technology. 

He told Texas Border Business that he has always had a curiosity for learning. “I can remember as a young man I would subscribe to magazines like Fortune, Forbes, Businessweek, Time, and Newsweek, and I would read extensively. I enjoyed reading.”

He added, “When I was in elementary school, I would go to the library. I would read about countries, comparing the armies, the size of the army; how many TV stations they had, how many radio stations, and how many airports. I mean, total nonsense for a kid in the sixth grade, but that’s what I would do.” Until this day, the curiosity has never stopped, he continues to be that way. 

During the time at the Air Force, he was taught never to lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate anyone that does. “I believe in the things that I say. For example, the people that work with me. I’d tell them that we should be concerned about the mission, we should be trustworthy, and we should be loyal. I believe in those things,” he said.

A few years ago, I met Pilar Gonzalez, (no relation) she is the founder and CEO of ‘Dip It by Pilar®’, a small manufacturing company that makes cream cheese, yogurt-based dips, and cooking sauces. She participated with her idea and products in a program called Ruby Red Ventures, a $10,000 small business fund that aims to nurture entrepreneurial spirit and promote the creation of innovative businesses in the City of Mission.

Pilar said that she did research about the judges at Ruby Red Ventures and learned that Dean Reyna was one of the judges and the toughest in that panel. Today she says, “People like Dean Reyna that believed in our product and gave us the tools, the courage, and the inspiration to go above and beyond our dreams.” She continued, “I’m proud to say that today, ‘Dip It by Pilar®’ is in 178 HEB stores, 50 Spec’s liquor stores, and dozens of ‘mom and pop’ convenience stores in the state of Texas.”

Pilar stated that she is fortunate that people have supported her company and have provided education that has contributed to her success. She said, “Dean Mario Reyna’s support and dedication extend beyond a vote at a contest. He has provided us with endless training at STC, professional advice from teachers, and even assigned projects at the school to students to help us grow the business and become who we are today.”

Pilar said, “My sincere thanks to Don Mario Reyna. I will always be grateful to have a mentor, adviser, and a friend like him,” she told Texas Border Business.

Dean Reyna says that everything goes back to the idea that you have to understand the mission in detail and how it connects to the community. “If you understand the mission, then you should be able to sell it. I’m fortunate that the Air Force took six weeks, 240 hours of instruction, and they taught me four words, which are attention, interest, desire, and action. Those are the salesmanship guides of how you do anything in any organization.”

He said that at South Texas College everybody participates, everybody understands the mission, and that’s why South Texas College is very successful. “We’re everywhere, we promote the mission. One of our strategic goals is to create a college-going culture. This past weekend we had six graduation ceremonies, and three of them were for the high schools. We graduated maybe 1500 high school students before they even finish high school this weekend,” he stated.

It is true, this reporter can attest to that, South Texas College has been a real game-changer for the region, it is almost palpable. It continues to grow in the right direction guided by a team from top to bottom that has resulted in opportunities for everyone. 

To give an example, Dean Reyna said that when he started at STC, it was a new school and there were very few programs like they have now. “I spearheaded the development of the business program that transfer 100% to any university in Texas, and the transfer program right now probably has 25 or more full-time faculty. We started the welding program, which has another 20 full-time instructors. We started the electricity program, which has about 10 instructors. The manufacturing program was not doing well, now it also has about 10 full-time instructors. And the diesel program was not doing well, now it is one of the most successful programs,” he said. 

Dean Reyna emphasized that every decision made at South Texas College requires maximum participation that starts with Dr. Shirley Reed, president of the college, administration, faculty, and staff, with the board of trustees having final approval on all programs.

Other undertakings where he has been heavily involved is that the College has working relationships with the institutions in Mexico, according to him, they are in the development stage. 

Concerning the internal parts of the College, he led the process in the development of Law Enforcement Program that with a Police Academy, the Fire Science Program, which also includes the Fire Academy; all those programs led to the development of the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence. He said, “Those are some of the projects that have been significant accomplishments.”

Another meaningful participation is the role he played in having the early discussions about adding the bachelor program available. “I started the initial conversations about the bachelor’s program, and those degrees are doing extremely well,” he said.

One of his co-workers was Dr. Juan E. Mejia, he left STC to undertake a position of leadership in another college, Texas Border  Business contacted him to ask his opinion about Dean Reyna and he said, “Dean Reyna is a stellar leader who can create a perfect intersection between higher education, business, and industry. He is very involved and engaged in the communities represented by South Texas College, and this brings him a high level of credibility and expertise.”

Dr. Mejia is currently the President and CEO of Tyler Junior College. He said, “I am fortunate to have worked with Dean Reyna for several years, and I hold him in high regard as a professional and as a dear friend.” Dr. Mejia attests that a significant number of the College’s academic and workforce programs have been positively influenced by the value-added and expertise of Dean Reyna.

Life has no meaning if you don’t have challenges, in his case, the big challenge was establishing a police and fire academies. “Those were challenging because we needed a lot of cooperation from multiple entities.” He continued, “We finally received that cooperation from Pharr and McAllen. Former Pharr Chief of Police Ruben Villescas was instrumental in helping us start the Police Academy, and in McAllen, it was Roy Rubio, former Chief of the Fire Department in McAllen.” Dean Reyna credits these individuals for helping to get those programs started. 

Dean Reyna explained, “The programs are managed by program chairs. We have an individual that supervises each program and all its activities. Then we have faculty that teach in those areas. The faculty for fire and police are individuals that were employed by fire and police departments and have the credentials to teach in each area as required by the state and the academic credentials to teach in a college environment. As far as the police, they were police officers, they are certified by the Fire Commission or certified by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to be there because these programs are sanctioned by the state. We cannot do this on our own,” Dean Reyna said.

He went on to say, that in the case of the police department, they use the Pharr police license for the academy, and that the support of the City of Pharr has been instrumental in the development of all public safety program that includes police.  He also stated that the McAllen Fire Department played a key role in the development of the fire science program.

Dean Reyna says that South Texas College has played a significant role in the development of the Rio Grande Valley. “I know we’re not the only reason why things are going well. They need to be a lot better, but when South Texas College first started, the unemployment levels were about 24%. Compared to today, a lot has happened positively,” he finalized by stating that the confidence that Dr. Reed has on her team and the Board of Trustees support for all the program is one the reasons for South Texas College leading the transformation of the Rio Grande Valley.

Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year, and a 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Fellow award recipient

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