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Keynote Speakers

Commencement Speakers 


Richard Vela, PhD

Dr. Richard VelaDr. Richard Vela is a professor in the English, Theatre, and Foreign Languages Department at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and one of the longest serving faculty members.

A scholar in Shakespeare and Early Modern British Literature, Vela has taught in the English department since 1971.

He is Area Chair for Shakespeare on Film and Television for the National Popular Culture Association of America, for which he recruits and organizes panels and reviews proposals.

Dr. Vela has been recognized for his book, “Shakespeare into Film,” and for his work with the 2002 National Endowment for the Humanities Institute, “Shakespeare’s Theaters: Inside and Out.” He studied Shakespeare’s staging for three weeks at the Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton, Va., and two weeks at the New Globe Theatre in London, England.

He frequently writes on Shakespeare, film, and the literary and filmic connections between Mexico and the United States.

At UNCP, Vela has served in many key leadership roles, including chair of the 2016 Provost Search Committee. He was also a member of the 2015 Chancellor Search Committee, the 2015 Dean of Arts and Sciences Search Committee, the 125th Anniversary Committee in 2012, and chaired the Dial Building Committee in 2003. 

He served as the university’s first director of Advisement and Retention in the 1980s. Vela has received numerous awards, including the UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence, Adolph Dial Faculty Award for Scholarship and Creativity, and the UNCP Outstanding Teacher Award. 

He was awarded the Ford Foundation Fellowship and the Danforth Foundation Fellowship.

Dr. Vela holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Dallas, and a Ph.D. in English from UNC Chapel Hill. 

Vela has published 38 poems and made more than 120 scholarly presentations on Shakespeare, film, Early Modern literature, contemporary and Latino literature.

A native of Del Rio, Texas, Vela delivered the commencement address at UNCP in 2000.







Mandy K. Cohen, MD, MPH

Mandy K. Cohen, MD, MPHSince being appointed as Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services in January, Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH, and her team have worked tirelessly to improve the health safety and well-being of North Carolinians. DHHS is a cabinet-level agency with approximately 16,000 employees and an annual budget of $20 billion. Among her top priorities are combating the opioid crisis, building a strong, efficient Medicaid program, and improving early childhood education.

Cohen is an internal medicine physician and has experience leading complex health organizations. Before coming to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services she was the Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). She brings a deep understanding of health care to the state and has been responsible for implementing policies for Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Federal Marketplace.

A graduate of Cornell University, she received her medical degree from Yale School of Medicine, a Master’s in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health and trained in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Cohen is married to Sam Cohen, a health care regulatory lawyer. The couple has two daughters, ages 3 and 5.