Rey Villanueva: A Roadrunner Making an Impact on Student and Faculty Success

August 23, 2021
Academic Strategic Communications
Rey Villanueva: A Roadrunner Making an Impact on Student and Faculty Success

Profile photo of Rey Villanueva

Rey Villanueva doesn’t just play by the rules, they’ve established their academic career on learning the intricacies of the entire game. Uniquely positioned as both a faculty member, staff member and graduate student at UTSA, Villanueva knows firsthand the importance of clearly defining and understanding the expectations required of you when entering into a new role. This attention to what the rules are and how they are interpreted not only informs their research, but allows Villanueva to help shape student and faculty success at UTSA. 

Receiving both their bachelor’s degree in anthropology and master’s degree en passant in anthropology from UTSA, Villanueva is now a doctoral candidate in anthropology. When Villanueva began their undergraduate studies in 2008, the Obama administration began its push for renewable energy, particularly nuclear energy. This push came to a sudden halt after the Fukushima incident in 2011, as society’s opinion on nuclear energy drastically changed. 

This change piqued Villanueva’s interest, and is the subject of their dissertation, exploring the impact nuclear development has on local communities. While Villanueva says San Antonio has no current plans to build new nuclear reactors, the city does have partial ownership of two reactors. These reactors are relied upon to fuel the city, though many civilians are unaware that this is one of their power sources. In areas where nuclear reactors are located and providing jobs for local residents, reactors are not only a known factor to civilians, they are a source of pride. 

The discrepancy in awareness and understanding of nuclear development is the cornerstone of Villanueva’s research, and brings to light certain realities of society, particularly when considering the extreme freezing temperatures after Valentine’s day this year that the Texas energy grid was ill prepared for, causing statewide power failures and tragic casualties.  

To Villanueva, true power rests in policies and the hands of those who write them. Knowing this, policymakers often allow for wiggle room in interpreting these policies. In the case of the events in February, this can have catastrophic consequences, as important weather-proofing actions weren’t taken to prevent the energy failure. 

“In 10 years when there’s another big freeze, energy will fail again; things are going to stay the same unless regulators and policymakers establish a law that says we have to do something different,” says Villanueva. 

For institutions like UTSA however, wiggle room encourages growth, as institutions can interpret policies set forth by the UT System to best align with their individual goals and communities. 

“UTSA over the past decade has really transformed in various ways, but in the end, all of that is governed by the policies that exist," says Villanueva. "As a student, staff and faculty member, I'm wrapped around these policies all the time, and I'm always watching for them to see how they're impacting people."

As a first-generation graduate student, Villanueva experienced the difficulty of navigating graduate school with little guidance. Understanding what policies and rules governed this process were crucial to Villanueva’s career development. 

While Villanueva has successfully established their academic career at UTSA, their interest in policy has propelled them to ensure their students understand the rules of graduate school as well, particularly if those students are also first-generation. 

“Being first gen with my unique perspective and my experience, I’m all about making things as explicit and transparent as possible so that we can support our first gen undergrads, especially whether grad school is right for them, how to get in, and how to actually succeed,” says Villanueva.

In their Intro to Cultural Anthropology course, Villanueva asks their students to read through the policies at UTSA and find something that doesn’t make sense to them. This practice encourages Villanueva’s students to pay greater attention to the rules that govern them, and how understanding these rules will help them graduate. 

Knowing the ins and outs of UTSA policy also helps Villanueva shape undergraduate success in their current position as a Teaching and Learning Consultant in the division of Academic Innovation.

“I love working with Rey! They are always willing to step in and take on a project when they see a need," says Shelley Howell, interim associate vice provost of Teaching and Learning Services. "Rey is patient and understanding and has a deep knowledge of pedagogy and technology that they easily share with others."

Villanueva uses their knowledge of UTSA policy, technological savvy and their large network of connections to create and sustain various programs that support faculty, staff and students. 

One such program, the iClicker, has been a notable contribution in wake of the pandemic. The iClicker allows for faculty to better navigate larger class sizes and receive instant responses from students via multiple choice, short answer responses and polling questions. 

Villanueva also served as a course facilitator for the ACUE Course in Effective Teaching Practices and Online Teaching Practices. Villanueva helped participating faculty in both cohorts implement the best practices learned and provided guidance and encouragement to improve the faculty learning experience. 

Their dedication to faculty success does not go unnoticed, as Villanueva frequently receives compliments for their work with Teaching and Learning Services. 

“Rey did a wonderful presentation for my class. I’m grateful that they were able to step up on such short notice. They’ve got a great presentation style and the students responded very well to them,” says Gregg L. Michel, associate professor of history. 

In their more than decade of time at UTSA as both a student, staff and faculty member, Villanueva is truly a Roadrunner at heart. Their research and interest in policy has not only helped shape Villanueva’s career, but it has allowed them to make a lasting, positive impact on student and faculty success at UTSA. 

Villanueva teaches the following courses:

  • ANT 1013 Introduction to Anthropology
  • ANT 2033 Intro to Biological Anthropology
  • ANT 2053 Intro to Cultural Anthropology
  • HON 3223: Radioactive Dreams? Facts, Fictions, and Futures of Nuclear Energy 

Read more Faculty Features about other interesting and accomplished faculty at UTSA.