To build on the newly created partnership between Western Governors University (WGU) and the state of Utah, the online, non-profit university has named Ismar Vallecillos its first-ever Director of Utah Operations. In his role, he will help guide the strategic direction of WGU within the state and execute the shared mission of expanding access to high-quality, in-demand degree programs for more Utahns.
Vallecillos will focus specific efforts supporting low-income, rural, and some-college-but-no-degree students across the state. As an immigrant from El Salvador, Vallecillos grew up working for his father’s landscaping business before earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He believes in the power of education to improve lives and strengthen communities.
“My own experience shows that education is the great equalizer in society,” Vallecillos said. “WGU has a unique role to play; there is this important work here in Utah, and WGU is in a position to help Utahns who have not been able to achieve their educational goals.”
“Ismar is a seasoned operations leader devoted to creating pathways to opportunity through education,” said Gene Hayes, WGU Senior Vice President, Regional Operations. “He is a living success story of the transformative power of education as a catalyst for a better life and will be an impactful asset to the organization.”
His appointment reflects WGU and the state of Utah’s joint support of the Adult Learners Grant Program. The state legislature created the program earlier this year to increase financial aid opportunities for adult Utahns who pursue postsecondary credentials and degrees through eligible online programs. WGU pledged $1 million in WGU scholarships to bolster the program’s positive impact on individuals statewide.
Vallecillos’ leadership will be guided by a nine-member advisory board, including:
- Ben McAdams, Former U.S. Representative, Utah State Senator, Salt Lake County Mayor
- Rich Kendell, Former Commissioner of Utah System of Higher Education & Deputy for Public Education, Higher Education and Economic Development
- Jacque Lee, Director of Government Verticals, T-Mobile
- Ryan Smith, Chief Information Officer, Intermountain Healthcare
- James Jackson III, Supplier Diversity Program Manager, Zions Bancorporation, Founder of the Utah Black Chamber
- Kristen Cox, Former Executive Director, Governor’s Office of Management and Budget
- Lew Cramer, CEO, Colliers – Utah
- Silvia Castro, Executive Director, Suazo Business Center
- David Utrilla, CEO and President of U.S. Translation, Honorary Consul of Peru
Vallecillos joins WGU from BYU-Pathway Worldwide, where he spent over eight years leading international operations in 25 countries, helping thousands of students break the cycle of poverty and advance in society.
He received a master’s degree in educational leadership for higher education and community colleges from Northern Arizona State University. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in multicultural/multilingual education from Arizona State University.