COS Remembers Dr. Vela, Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences | College of Science

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January 28, 2021

COS Remembers Dr. Vela, Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences

G. Roland Vela, 93, of Denton, Professor Emeritus of biology whose long career included international recognition and the discovery of a bacterium, died Jan. 5.

Vela joined the microbiology faculty in 1965 and went on to serve as associate dean of science and technology in the College of Arts and Sciences and become the first Latino professor to be awarded tenure at UNT. His research on bacterial physiology and nitrogen-fixing bacteria included discovering a bacterium that was named after him -- Paenibacillus velaei. The bacterium is surrounded by a large capsule and its polysaccharide could be used in the food and pharmaceuticals industries.

He also was a Fulbright lecturer, a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, an industry consultant, an expert witness and a textbook author. He wrote 75 scientific papers and lectured around the world. During his 35-year tenure at UNT, he supervised 20 doctoral students and 40 master's students.

Vela received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Texas at Austin.

In this 2014 North Texan article, alumni from around the world hosted a reunion in his honor to describe the impact he had on their careers - he even allowed one bedridden pregnant student to defend her dissertation at home. In an article for the Denton Record-Chronicle, doctoral students said they also had to give him a picture of themselves - which he then placed on his home's walls. He also was the first Hispanic member of the Denton City Council. He served on the Texas Municipal Power Agency and the Denton Airport Board.

For his service, the G. Roland Vela Athletic Soccer Complex at North Lakes Park in Denton was named in his honor.