Jorge Vanegas’ successful tenure as dean of the College of Architecture is beginning to wind down. This means he’s on the lookout for new challenges that will help him collaborate with academics whose research findings are helping lead the way to sustainable communities and create high impact learning experiences for students.
It’s the job description of the head of the Texas A&M Institute for Sustainable Communities, a position he’s accepted and will hold in tandem with his deanship, which is scheduled to conclude in summer 2021.
At the institute, faculty, staff and students collaborate on work that solves critical societal challenges, advance research methods and sustainable design through science and technology, and help communities solve problems.
Recent IFSC projects include tracking post-disaster recovery on the Texas Gulf Coast to create better disaster research response systems, studying environmental toxicants in the Manchester community in Houston, and working in India, Brazil and the US border region to develop water security metrics addressing causes and solutions to domestic water and sanitization crises.
Vanegas said he chose to head the institute as a way to return to a long-time passion for sustainability.
“It’s been in my DNA,” he said. “I was on the front wave of sustainability when it was not even on people’s radars.”
Vanegas’s passion for sustainability grew while working at Georgia Tech in the late 1990s, where he was able to obtain nearly a million dollars in funding to develop a curriculum on sustainability for engineers.
He’s incorporated sustainability aspects into his papers, presentations, lectures and articles since.
“Sustainability isn’t just a concept that bounces around in the halls of academia or between environmental activists,” said Vanegas. “It’s about people, and right now I care more about people than anything else. I’ve have had a very blessed life and this is my chance to give back.”
Vanegas said he plans to work closely with college research and outreach centers that help small communities plan for their future, research natural hazards, and aid colonias residents on the Texas-Mexico border.
Vanegas’s many appointments and positions within the university will aid his mission to unite with other campus entities for more far-reaching sustainability endeavors and projects.
He currently holds courtesy positions with Texas A&M University College of Engineering as a professor in the department of Environmental and Civil Engineering, and as a research professor with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station.
He also represents all faculty and students as the only academic dean on the search committee for the next Texas A&M president.
An eventful deanship
Although there’s plenty of time left as the college’s dean, Vanegas has begun to reflect on what’s been an eventful, positive period for the college.
Vanegas began his tenure at Texas A&M in 2005 as a consultant for the Colonias Program and then took a position as a professor in the Department of Architecture the following year. In 2008 he was appointed interim college dean and formally appointed dean in 2009.
As the dean, he has overseen vast budgetary and enrollment growth, the addition of the Department of Visualization, the college’s 50th anniversary, and multiple recessions and a pandemic.
“When I started my deanship, there were all these problems to close the first few years. But I survived and learned,” Vanegas said. “After this round of uncertainties, I’m aiming to set a great stage for the next dean to take the college to a different, stronger vision. It is the circle of life and the timing is right.”
Vanegas’ continued presence on the Texas A&M faculty will bolster the university’s research, teaching and outreach mission.
In his scholarly activities, Vanegas focuses on applying creativity, innovation, design and entrepreneurship in multidisciplinary environments, implementing built environment sustainability, and advancing asset delivery and management in architecture, engineering and construction through integrated strategies, tools and methods.
Vanegas is a member of numerous professional organizations, among them the American Institute of Architects and the American Society of Civil Engineering, the Pan American Academy of Engineering, the Pan American Union of Organizations of Engineers, for which he is Chair of the Technical Council on Sustainability, and the National Academy of Construction, among others.
He has also worked as a consultant and advisor to a variety of businesses, governments and organizations throughout the world, including the International Center for Sustainable Development of the City of Knowledge in Panama and has received national and international awards for his education, research, and professional scholarly accomplishments.
Before coming to Texas A&M, Vanegas held academic appointments at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and Master of Science and Doctorate degrees in Construction Engineering and Management from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University.