Mary Ann Villarreal, Ph.D. is fueled by an unwavering commitment to ensure the doors to receiving a degree remain open and the table is set for everyone to participate. As the inaugural vice president for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the University of Utah, she provides leadership and strategic oversight of diversity and inclusion initiatives across the University’s academic and health sciences campuses.
Through difficult and meaningful conversations with people representing a variety of perspectives and diverse communities, Villarreal aims to foster a shared commitment to cultural transformation in practice, policy, and processes at the U and in higher education. In doing so, she also serves on the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ Board of Directors and the executive committee of the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities’ Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence.
Prior to her current role, Villarreal served as the associate vice president of strategic initiatives at California State University, Fullerton; the associate dean at Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver; an assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder; and an instructor as well as an assistant professor of history and ethnic studies at the University of Utah. She has authored articles and book chapters, and her book Listening to Rosita: The Business of Tejana Music and Culture, 1930–1955, won the South Texas College Américo Paredes Book Award.
Adopted and raised by her grandparents in a small Texas town at the junction of Texas Highways 239 and 35, Villarreal’s grandmother and sister worked extra jobs so that she could participate in extracurricular activities—a practice that made her a strong believer in creating equity in access to high-impact practices. Villarreal enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and became the first member of her family to earn a degree. She holds a bachelor’s in women’s studies from Mount Holyoke College and a Ph.D. in history from Arizona State University.
When not working, Villarreal enjoys the quiet moments of drinking coffee on the deck with her partner and the laughter when they play board games with their two children and her grandmother. She starts each day knowing she stands on the shoulders of brave and courageous mentors who set her on the path to learning and growing in social justice work and the field of oral history; this path has taught her to enter spaces with a responsibility to make room for others. She believes education can change the trajectory of a life—since it remarkably changed hers.