LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — The sole finalist to be the new president of South Texas College says if instated he would be returning to his hometown roots in the Rio Grande Valley and he would make it a mission to improve the pathway “from learning to earning” on the border.
Ricardo Solis, current President and CEO of Laredo College, met with Border Report on Friday, a day after the South Texas College Board of Trustees announced he has been named the sole finalist for the position to replace STC Founding President Shirley Reed,
Reed retired earlier this year after 26 years at the helm at STC.
“We are excited to welcome Dr. Solis’ leadership as we enter the next chapter of South Texas College’s history,” STC Board of Trustees President Rose Benavidez said in a statement.
Benavidez called Solis “a visionary leader” and said the board believes his “work will further elevate this great institution.”
Solis gave Border Report a tour of the historic president’s home at Laredo College, where he has lived as leader of that institution for the past five years. The college sits on 200 acres of land in downtown Laredo that once was home to the historic Fort McIntosh, a military installation used in the 1800s to guard the border frontier. The president’s home was built in 1880 and was once the base commander’s quarters.
Situated on the Rio Grande, the campus of Laredo College is close enough to see traffic from across the river in Nuevo Laredo.
Solis said he loves the border region, the culture and the endless trade and economic development opportunities that this fast-growing part of the world offers.
He grew up in Brownsville, Texas, and has also lived in its sister border city of Matamoros, Mexico. During his professional career, he has lived many places and worked at several higher education jobs, such as executive director for international initiatives at Houston Community College System; vice president for student learning at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, Texas; dean of workforce instruction at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas; and as an executive director at Alamo Colleges, during which time he helped to recruit the Toyota Automotive assembly plant to San Antonio, he said.
For most of his career, he says, he has positioned himself in jobs that have enabled him to foster economic development, with an emphasis on cross-border trade.
This includes working at the Port of Brownsville, spurring economic development for Harlingen, managing industrial parks in Mexico, and his familial ownership connections with the Starr Camargo International Bridge, which leads from Rio Grande City, Texas, to Ciudad Camargo in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas.
He says leading STC is the perfect opportunity for him to marry those skill sets and help the college charge forward in the post-pandemic era to better equip the region with a skilled workforce that can meet the workforce needs that expanding border trade will bring.
“I see an incredible opportunity for the rapid growth on the border, especially in the economic development along the Rio Grande Valley. There’s going to be many opportunities, especially in the fastest-growing area along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Solis said.
Solis says he looks forward to seeing Title 42 border travel restrictions lifted to enable the border region to reach its economic potential.
“This is an ongoing issue with the opening of the borders and we’re confident that together Rio Grande Valley will be able to succeed and be able to open up those borders and the bridges throughout the entire Valley, providing opportunities to continue growth through commerce and industry,” he said.
Border restrictions were implemented in March 2020 to stop the spread of coronavirus during the Trump administration and have been extended month after month, so far, during the Biden administration.
“We’re going to be focusing on upscaling and re-training for the entire Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “Learning to earning — that is where our students are going to be able to succeed. And providing that pathway so they can move quickly and most importantly have the academic and basic skills so they can start immediately to earn, and then of course be able to come back for re-training — that’s the key that the community college, especially STC will be offering to the students of Rio Grande.”
STC has 45,000 students who attend classes at its five campuses throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Most campuses are expected to begin in-person learning in the fall, and Solis expects almost all classes to be offered in person by spring 2022. The college offers 22 associate degree programs and five bachelor degrees, including a competitive nursing program. It also has numerous workforce-related certifications and courses offered at its campuses in Starr and Hidalgo counties.
Reed, who began the school in 1994 as its first, and only president, so far, retired in January.
In March, she was honored bythe Hidalgo County Commissioners Court with the first-ever Spirit of the Valley Award for Hidalgo County. It is the “highest honor bestowed by the government of Hidalgo County” to “thank her for her tireless efforts on behalf of higher education in Hidalgo County.”
Solis’ contract with STC was still being negotiated on Tuesday afternoon, but he told Border Report he expects it to be signed soon and likely will start at STC in July.