UNC Asheville Names Yvonne Villanueva-Russell as Next Provost

Yvonne Villanueva-Russell

Yvonne Villanueva-Russell will join the University of North Carolina Asheville as Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, effective July 1, 2024.

An internationally recognized keynote speaker and award-winning teacher, she brings broad experience in student access, success, and retention strategies for first-year, graduate, and non-traditional students across all disciplines.

Villanueva-Russell is also a successful fundraiser. Over the last five years, she obtained $2.6 million in grant funding for course development, new degree creation, and wrap-around student support and tuition assistance.

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The UNC Asheville Board of Trustees Executive and Governance Committee unanimously approved her selection on March 28, following a nationwide search that began in December 2023 and attracted a deep applicant pool with many talented candidates.

Villanueva-Russell said she was initially attracted to the size, location, and liberal arts and sciences mission of UNC Asheville.

“During my campus visit, I met with students who are passionate in wanting to leave their mark on the world, and met faculty who are committed to experiential learning and research,” she noted. “After meeting the campus community, the senior leadership team, and hearing about Chancellor van Noort’s vision, I am convinced the University of North Carolina Asheville is poised for innovation and ready to bring new energy to impact the campus, the community, and the surrounding region.”

She added, “I am committed to collaborating with internal and external stakeholders to create interdisciplinary experiences for students to become three-dimensional global citizens. I am also committed to providing leadership and advocacy to faculty, to ensure they, themselves, are lifelong learners who can bring their best selves to the campus community.”

Villanueva-Russell currently serves as Dean of the College of Innovation and Design at Texas A&M University-Commerce, a doctoral-granting comprehensive university of 11,000 students in East Texas outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.

She began as an assistant professor of sociology at Commerce in 2002, eventually earning tenure and promotion to full professor. Starting in 2008, she began a series of administrative appointments, first as department head for Sociology & Criminal Justice. Villanueva-Russell then served as assistant dean for the Honors College; associate dean for the College of Humanities, Social Sciences and Arts; and dean of the University College.

As the University College dean, she helped set a new record for fall to spring freshman retention at 92.5 percent, developed a peer mentor program, and integrated the Design Your Life curriculum pioneered at Stanford University into a new freshman success course.

Villanueva-Russell was then asked to create the College of Design and Innovation, where she has served as founding dean since 2019 and is responsible for six direct reports and more than 150 full-time and adjunct faculty. The College serves as an incubator for new initiatives and degrees that transcend single disciplines or departments. Given a significant 264 percent increase in enrollment over the last five years, the College of Innovation and Design now enrolls 2,000 students and is the second-largest academic college at Texas A&M-Commerce.

Given her record of success, Villanueva-Russell was appointed in 2023 as Special Assistant on Innovation to the Chancellor for the entire Texas A&M System.

Chancellor Kimberly van Noort co-chaired the search committee and is delighted to have someone with Villanueva-Russell’s background and experience to lead academic affairs at UNC Asheville.

“Yvonne was the ideal candidate for this key senior position for many reasons, not the least of which is her primary focus on a student-centered approach to learning, as well as her stellar record of accomplishments as both a faculty member and an innovative academic leader,” said van Noort.

“She has also been a champion for undergraduate research and for integrating student success and career-readiness into the educational experience through her work with the Stanford University Life Design Lab,” van Noort added.

Villanueva-Russell has served on the advisory board of the Stanford Life Design Lab and as a coach and facilitator since 2018. She plans to continue these roles in her new appointment at UNC Asheville.

This was one of many things that impressed Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Meghan Harte Weyant, who served on the search committee and also leads UNC Asheville’s strategic enrollment management efforts and oversees admission and financial aid.

“I am confident that Dr. Villanueva-Russell will be an excellent partner with student affairs and enrollment,” said Harte Weyant, “She recognizes the intentionally designed connections that are critical to assuring student success both in and outside of the classroom.”

Harte Weyant also sees Villanueva-Russell’s background and experience at Texas A&M-Commerce as ideal.

“To have someone with such strong classroom and leadership credentials, along with hands-on strategic enrollment experience,” emphasized Harte Weyant, “aligns perfectly with our current institutional priorities.”

Professor of Music Brian Felix co-chaired the search committee with Chancellor van Noort and echoed these sentiments.

“I was particularly impressed by Dr. Villanueva-Russell’s innovative approaches to curricula and program development at different levels of leadership,” Felix said, citing her many administrative roles over the last decade.

“She has a demonstrated track record of student-centered academic policies, a strong commitment to faculty development, and a deep understanding of the value and importance of the type of liberal arts and sciences education that we foster at UNC Asheville,” he added.

“What impressed me most about Dr. Villanueva-Russell is the value she places on honesty, integrity, and compassion, and I am confident she will work well with all campus constituencies as Provost at UNC Asheville.”

Villanueva-Russell graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in sociology from Western Illinois University, where she also earned her master’s degree. She then completed her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

In addition to work at the Life Design Studio for University Educators at Stanford University, Villanueva-Russell’s subsequent professional development includes a Women in Leadership Certificate from Cornell University, and study at the Academy of Innovation and Higher Education Leadership at Georgetown University and Arizona State University.

She will be joined in her new role at UNC Asheville by her husband, Eric Russell, a licensed chiropractor and educational consultant.

Villanueva-Russell will succeed Herman Holt, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and former dean of graduate and social programs, who has served as Interim Provost since January 1, 2023.

Written by UNC Asheville.