Chuck Villanueva, an alum of UCI, joined the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing in 2020 as director of finance. Last month, he became its assistant dean. His career at UCI has spanned decades.
As we celebrate the contributions of Americans with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America this Hispanic Heritage Month, Chuck shares more about his life, career, who inspires him and lessons learned.
What is your role at SON?
I am responsible for the administration, operation, and financial health of the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing. I serve as the chief of staff and advocate for the staff in the school.
How has your Hispanic heritage impacted your life?
I am 4th-generation Mexican-American, but my ancestral roots and family traditions are closely tied to my outlook and worldview. Growing up in a lower middle-class home in El Paso, Texas, and being first generation in my family to graduate from college came from a strong work ethic and look to a better future for myself and my family.
My positive outlook and “looking for the best in people” view also comes from my family, who I am very close to. My grandmother, who recently passed at 103, worked hard to provide for her family during her youth but was strong-willed and great example of hard work and love for her family.
My mother and father, who only had a high school education, also were great examples to me of how common sense and hard work also go a long way.
What do you wish you had known while attending school?
I struggled with food insecurity and lived with extended family while I was in college. I didn’t get to experience the traditional college experience of living in a dorm and meeting people from all over the U.S. and world. I wish I knew a little more of what to expect from the college experience. It was quite a culture shock coming from Texas, where my experience was Caucasian or Latino peoples. I met so many different students from so many different cultures around the world. That culture shock, separation from my family, and having to learn to study while working at the same time was a hard lesson and rough start to my college career.
I graduated from UCI in the early ’90s. Back then there were fewer underrepresented minorities and not many programs for them, so I didn’t get to see too many people like myself around campus.
UCI did have a wonderful program called Freshman Challenge that brought commuter students together, some of whom were first-generation. That helped bring non-traditional students together. I made great college friendships from that program. It made up a little for not experiencing dorm life.
But overall, although my grades suffered as I had to work to support myself, I had a great experience at UCI. I am still here and I love being an Anteater!
What are the strengths you bring to your role at SON?
My empathy and ability to look at different viewpoints helps as well as my many years of experience working with different staff and faculty colleagues. My work ethic is tied to doing what I can to get the job done. I love working as a team and building and promoting teamwork as best as I can. And my family experience with using common sense and respect for people has been helpful.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and conquered?
I think early in my career, working through some difficult interactions with faculty or staff who weren’t acting as collegially as they should but instead of taking a defensive, passive, or even aggressive approach, I would invite them into my office or space, sit down and listen to what they had to say.
We all have bad days from time to time and vent and want to be heard. I don’t profess to be able to solve every problem but listening is always the first step. But still, it’s always a challenge when you have to call out bad behavior without demoralizing the person you are trying to help. That is still a skill I am learning every day.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Graduating from college and then my career at UCI. I’ve been very lucky and have worked with many wonderful people here. I am proud of being one of the first recipients of the Excellence in Leadership Award presented by the UCI Staff Assembly – my staff in one of my first departments nominated me.
Funny story, the summer I received it, I was on vacation and my supervisor had to accept it on my behalf at the staff picnic. I was bummed to have missed that honor. But I still have it in my office.
Who or what has been most instrumental in your success?
Everyone from my former supervisors, department chairs, other managers, and staff have all had a part in sharing their knowledge and experiences with me. It truly is a team effort and I am thankful to everyone.
One of my first supervisors, Carol Cirillo Stanley, my director of student affairs in Social Ecology for eight years, was really one of my first mentors and a great role model.
She had a great outlook on work-life balance. She stood up for faculty-staff respect, was honest and had integrity, but always found ways for her team to bond and have fun. When she retired, she became a fine art photographer and artist. She has a whole new life outside what she did for “work.” She is truly amazing. I want that kind of retirement.
Congratulations, Chuck! We were so sad when you left your position in the School of Social Ecology many years ago, but knew your trajectory would be up, up, up. Thank you for sharing your personal story in the bio you provided.
With warm regards,
Great to learn so many things about you, Chuck. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments. I look forward to working with you in the role of Assistant Dean:)
Nakia C. Best, PhD, RN