After an extensive search, Dr. Zeak Naifeh was selected as Texas A&M-University-San Antonio’s new associate vice president and dean of students. He joined the university Jan. 13.
Naifeh accepted the position after speaking with his family and said it was a very exciting time.
“I took the job because I met a bunch of the students (and) fell in love with the students here on my visit,” Naifeh said in an interview Feb. 10. “Y’all have not disappointed. It’s been great since I’ve been here. It was exciting to be able to go to a place that is growing and developing and lots of opportunities and great students to engage. I decided to take it.”
Naifeh was previously dean of students at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. He will report directly to Mari Fuentes-Martin, vice president for Student Success and Engagement.
“Given the type of leadership, guidance and support I need in managing all the responsibilities of the division, Zeak came up as the top candidate,” Fuentes-Martin said in a phone interview Dec. 9. “When I shared with folks after Thanksgiving that he had accepted, there was a lot of excitement.”
Faculty and students had the opportunity to meet Naifeh Nov. 19. He was one of four finalists for the position. The dean of students is committed to promoting the overall well-being of students and their families, according to A&M-San Antonio’s website. The position oversees offices including the Student Counseling Center and Disability Support Services.
“I’m very excited about the leadership that Zeak brings to this position,” Fuentes-Martin said.
“I’m very excited about the leadership that Zeak brings to this position,” Fuentes-Martin said. “He has a broad range of experience. He’s also a scholar in publishing and presentations. Probably his best characteristic is how student-centered he is. The way that he talks and makes decisions — I think he will be a really strong leader for the university.”
Naifeh was at his last institution for almost 16 years. Since his arrival, he said his main goal has been meeting with as many students and departments as possible and getting up to speed on everything going on around campus.
“I’ve just really been trying to dive in,” Naifeh said. “What I’ve intentionally done since I’ve been here is try to meet with as many students as I can. I’ve also been meeting with all the departments whether within our division or outside our division. Part of my role as I see it is to really be able to connect students to the resources they need.”
His long-term goal is to increase “meaningful student engagement,” he said.
Naifeh said he is here to help students succeed. He is committed to knowing and understanding what it takes for them to flourish.
“My message to students is get involved, make the most of your college experience and ask for help when you need it,” he said. “We’re here to make sure you’re successful in and outside the classroom. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Although Naifeh has only been in San Antonio a short time, “it already feels like home.” He doesn’t mind the 30-minute commute to the campus each day. That time allows him to “prepare mentally” for the day.
He hasn’t found a favorite taco spot, but said he’s had some great pizza and Mexican food and is taking all recommendations.
Naifeh replaces Jo Anna Benavides-Franke, who resigned Aug. 2, 2021. Joni Baker, the university’s Title IX coordinator, was serving as interim dean of students.