Q&A with David Vassar, ConTex director of programs

David Vassar shares his vision for U.S.-Mexico partnership and UTSA's role in its success

David Vassar shares his vision for U.S.-Mexico partnership and UTSA's role in its success.

(May 25, 2017) -- The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is proud to be the home of ConTex, the joint initiative between the UT System and Mexico's National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT). David Vassar serves as the director of programs for ConTex.

Vassar arrived at UTSA six months ago to lead ConTex, which establishes academic and research programs that strengthen ties between Mexico and the U.S. Previously, Vassar served for nearly 10 years as international advisor and assistant to the president at Rice University.

Recently, we sat down with Vassar, who has high aspirations for the ConTex partnership and UTSA's role in supporting the program.

What attracted you to this position at ConTex?

It was the connectivity with Mexico and the ambition of ConTex. The UT System wanted to do something different. ConTex fully imagined is going to be more robust and have a bigger impact than any program of its kind in the country. The UT System dreams big, and I'm honored to be a part of that.

For instance, we recently closed our call for proposals for our collaborative $1 million research fund. We will open this opportunity up every year to scholars from Mexico and the UT System to collaborate on a research project they propose to us. The maximum award is $150,000, so we envision being able to seed large projects that will make a big impact.

What has transpired with ConTex since you arrived at UTSA?

We've focused a lot on the promotion of our programs, visiting campuses across the UT System and visiting with several campuses in Mexico. We've worked with the CONACYT office to promote our programs and share how they can help students succeed. We've launched three programs so far: doctoral fellowships, collaborative research grants and a postdoctoral fellowship program, all of which we exceeded our highest expectations in the first year.

Now we are in the evaluation process. Our office has reviewed proposals, making sure applicants meet all the requirements. Now, Mexico and U.S. scholars will review the proposals.

We also just held a groundbreaking meeting at UTSA. We hosted the directors of the CONACYT research center network for a scientific roundtable with the heads of some of the top research centers in Mexico. This meeting marked the first time the research directors held their annual meeting outside of Mexico. They came to San Antonio to learn about the research profiles of the UT System institutions, and were able to get to know the UTSA campus while they were here.

The Scientific Roundtable event was a key step in developing the binational network that is at the heart of the mission of ConTex and the purpose of the agreement between CONACYT and the UT System. More than 100 scientists and scholars participated and were clearly energized by this unique meeting.

Describe the relationship between ConTex and UTSA.

ConTex wouldn't exist without UTSA. We're not only housed here, but we also work with partners across the university to support our mission. Whatever support we need, UTSA has been there every time. It's a mutually beneficial relationship, and we are integrated with UTSA in meaningful ways. UTSA is a fabulous host and I'm thrilled to be working here.

Why is this relationship with the UT System and Mexico important?

The scientific communities in Mexico and Texas face a lot of the same issues – health, climate change, water, migration, education. By pooling our resources and knowledge together, we can come up with better solutions.

What is your impression of UTSA?

If you look across Texas, it's one of the places that has a future that's boundless. It's exciting to be at a campus like that. UTSA has already had a lot of successes but remains ambitious and strives to build on that excellence.

Tell us your vision for ConTex.

I'd like to help ConTex become an important and well-established feature of the higher education landscape between the U.S and Mexico. We have every opportunity to achieve that. I want us to be an integral part of the UT System and its relationship with Mexico. We'd love to serve as a hub of activity for our programs. I hope we can establish ConTex as the point of reference for other programs in Texas to help them reach their academic pursuits.

I can't stress enough how distinctive UT System's ambitions are for this center. These ambitions attracted not just me but, more importantly, Dr. Zenteno, our executive director, to the program. What the System envisions is really something we can all be proud of.

How do you feel about moving from Houston to San Antonio?

I love San Antonio. I'd been here quite a few times before on business and vacation. It's been fun to get to know the city on a personal level. It's possibly the most culturally distinctive city in Texas, which appealed to me. I've studied Spanish and Latin America since high school and I have a doctorate in Latin American literature, so to be in a place that embraces Mexican culture and Latin American culture as whole heartedly as San Antonio does is really exciting.

In your spare time, what do you do for fun?

I like to run. I ran my first marathon last November. I enjoy watching baseball, soccer and football. I also love hanging out with my wife and three children.


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