Rio Salado College Welcomes New Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Stella Perez


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Thursday, December 9, 2021
Dr. Stella Perez at Rio Salado Tempe headquarters near colorful Leadership meeting rooms

Rio Salado College Welcomes New Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Stella Perez

Tucson, Arizona native Dr. Stella Perez began her tenure as Rio Salado College’s Vice President of Academic Affairs (VPAA) on Nov. 8, 2021, a role she accepted to continue and expand upon her life-long work as a higher learning advocate, administrator and leader.

“I am humbled to join a dedicated team of visionary minds preparing and serving community and global learners,” said Perez, who was selected by Rio Salado and the Maricopa County Community CollegeDistrict (MCCCD) after an extensive national search. “Being part of the Rio Salado College Family is a chance to be part of the legacy and future of higher education innovation.”

As VPAA, Perez will oversee the college’s Faculty, Curriculum, Assessment, Academic Support, Course Production, Corporate and Government Partnerships and Dual Enrollment departments.

“Dr. Perez is an accomplished leader in higher education and we are excited to welcome her to Rio Salado,” said Rio Salado President Kate Smith. She brings a depth and breadth of expertise, deep passion for student success, and relentless enthusiasm for purpose-driven innovation. She shares the values of the college, and a passion for our mission, especially as it relates to redefining ‘the educational experience by anticipating the needs of our students and future workforce.’” 

Perez has more than 25 years’ experience in higher education leadership. Prior to accepting her new role as Rio Salado’s VPAA, Perez served as Executive Director of Audere Consulting, focused on national research projects in student success strategies and exploring emerging academic and post-pandemic trends. During this time, she was also named a 2021 National Community College Hispanic Council (NCCHC) Leadership Fellow.

Perez also served as the CEO for the Santa Cruz County Provisional Community College District (SCCPCCD), leading all strategic planning, technology developments, budget formulation, foundation leadership, accreditation initiatives, and facilities services, as well as representing the Board of Governors as legislative liaison to state, national, and international relations. During her tenure, district growth doubled, with enrollment development and college engagement expansion through workforce development, industry partnerships, and bi-national relations.

Prior to her role at SCCPCCD, she served as the Interim Vice Chancellor of Operations at Pima Community College leading accreditation and enrollment management strategies. Earlier, as a founding Board Member for Coconino Community College in Flagstaff, AZ, she served as Representative to the AZ District Governing Board Members Association.

Her work on a national and international levels includes service as Senior Vice President of Communications and Advancement for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), and Chief Operations Officer (COO) at the League for Innovation in the Community College. She has also served as principal investigator (PI) and the primary contact for federal grants and private foundation projects, with budgets exceeding $20M, and with endowment resources beyond $50M.

A first-generation college student, Perez earned a Bachelor of Science degree from The Eller College of Business, at the University of Arizona. She graduated summa cum laude, with a Master of Arts in Education from Northern Arizona University, AZ and holds a Ph.D. in Education Administration, research focus on Education Technology, from the University of Texas, Austin, TX.

“I have devoted my life and career to community college education knowing how it changes lives— including my own,” said Perez. “I am committed to helping Rio Salado College fulfill its mission, and supporting each and every student achieve their unique educational goals and recognize everlasting achievements.”