RTC Leadership Profile: Angel Reyna

  • Published Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Angel Reyna can blame boredom for many of the key changes in his life.

At six years old, for example, he started picking asparagus with his family when he found idle time between lugging water to other farmworkers.

“I would get bored, so I picked up the knife they used to dig up asparagus, and I started working,” he recalled. His parents saw what he was doing, noticed he was doing it well, and just added him to the family rows.

A similar thing happened many years later in high school. In spite of a childhood spent chasing the harvest, Angel had developed into a solid student who would often finish his work early at school, leaving him enough free time to get bored.

“I finished my homework at little quicker than most. So I started to help others with their work,” he said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to help others.”

That revelation eventually brought Angel to his position today, as vice president of instruction at Renton Technical College. Angel is responsible for leading and planning the professional education, basic studies, workforce training and college preparation of more than 10,000 students.

He has held that position since December 2015, and it hasn’t left him any time to be bored. So far, he has taken on an administrative reorganization, a new academic plan and a review of programs to make them more responsive to the needs of the community.

Angel’s journey to Renton begins in Armería, Mexico, where his family lived before emigrating to the United States when he was four years old, the youngest of seven children. They came to work in the fields of Washington state, picking apples and cherries near Yakima, berries, cucumbers and other vegetables in the Skagit Valley.

The family moved year-round for many years, but eventually settled in the small town of Mabton, near Yakima, a place Angel calls home. He recalls a childhood of hard work, of going to different schools depending on where the harvest took place.

“School was easy because I was sitting down and resting,” he recalls. “Out in the fields we worked from 6 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m., full weeks. You would go home to sleep.”

He graduated from high school in Mabton and went on to Washington State University in Pullman, where he earned a B.A. in history and education. He used that degree to work as an instructor at Yakima Valley College, before returning to WSU to complete a master’s degree in education administration.

He continued teaching at Yakima Valley College and moved up the ranks to a director position, while also winning elections as a city council member and as mayor of Mabton. He also serves on the Washington Board of Health.

In 2013, he was selected as the dean of workforce education at Walla Walla Community College, but he still commuted 100 miles from Mabton.

That’s where he was when he accepted his current position at RTC. For a small fraction of time, he considered commuting to the Puget Sound from the other side of the mountains, but then came to terms with relocating.

Angel is excited by the opportunity to help RTC become more responsive to its community. He would like to improve outreach efforts, and beef up support services for students. He would also like to break barriers between departments at the college, and find new ways for faculty and staff to “work together and more intentionally fulfill our mission to serve a diverse population and prepare people for work.”

He is particularly interested in better ways of showing students how to align their course work with their job goals, a concept known nationally as “guided pathways.” Part of that effort involves creating meta majors, a term for the grouping of degree and professional programs by areas of work, so that students can move faster through school and get better results afterwards.

Like his own experience shows, he wants students to know that education will help them improve their lives.

“That’s why I value education,” he said. “I have seen the results myself.”