Dr. Engel-Silva takes over a first female CEO for Proteus

Proteus, Inc. announces Dr. Michelle Engel-Silva as first female CEO to take the lead of their nonprofit organization that serves farmers

VISALIA – For the first time in over 50 years of operation, Proteus, Inc. announced Dr. Michelle Engel-Silva as their first female Chief Executive Officer to direct the company in its goal to provide a better life for farmworkers.

Dr. Engel-Silva was announced as the official CEO on Sept. 9 at the Proteus, Inc. 55th Anniversary Gala, where the nonprofit organization celebrated their 55 year legacy of serving farmworker populations. After starting her career with Proteus, Inc. 27 years ago, Engel-Silva said through making herself visible, volunteering for extra work and seizing opportunities as they came, she is honored to have been chosen as the Proteus CEO.

“It’s just an honor to just lead the company, female or not. It’s kind of fun [because] I have two daughters, so I feel good about them seeing a woman that has come to this position,” Engel-Silva said. “I’m glad I’m a role model for them. And then all the other women just reaching out [to me] have kind of made me feel honored that I’m in this position to represent.”

Proteus, Inc. serves agricultural workers and families experiencing lower socioeconomic, or social, status and a need for additional resources. Their work has helped farmworkers and other low-income residents throughout Fresno, King, Kern and Tulare counties since 1967. More specifically they offer programs for adult basic and vocational education, job training, employment-related services, family self-sufficiency, energy programs and other human service programs directed to helping people and families who need it. 

This isn’t her first time taking the reins as CEO. Prior to her acceptance for this position, she once served as the Interim CEO for Proteus in October 2021. She was named the interim after the departure of former CEO Robert Alcazar, who left for personal reasons. Engel-Silva aspires to serve as long as her leadership is needed for Proteus.

“As long as I’m doing good things for Proteus and it makes sense to have me here, and I can guide and get us to where we need to be, I’m in it to do that,” Engel-Silva said.

Before serving as the CEO of Proteus, Dr. Engel-Silva began her climb up the corporate ladder in 2005 and landed herself the position chief of corporate relations and human resources officer. With that position, Engel-Silva said that is when she became a type of executive manager, and was given the opportunity to have more one-on-one meetings with the CEO of the time, Mike McCann. She said she began to attend executive team meetings where she and other executives would meet to make decisions for the company.

“That was kind of the start of higher level opportunities here at Proteus, for sure,” Engel-Silva said.

In 2016, Engel-Silva continued her journey of landing corporate jobs as Proteus’ director of operations, which had her overseeing grants to ensure the organization was meeting grant requirements and being responsible with grant budgeting. She said she oversaw 12 divisional and departmental directors and began her strategic planning journey for Proteus by working on a lot of strategic planning for the company.

Prior to her corporate positions, Dr. Engel-Silva started her career with Proteus 27 years ago. She first joined the organization in 1995 as a vocational instructor, where she taught classes based on certain job skills that could apply to truck driving or weatherization. She worked her way up to serve as the program manager, where she would oversee the company’s welfare-to-work program, and then became an organizational development specialist, structuring things like company finance and operations to make them more efficient.

“It’s been a really great learning process for me, and I feel like I’ve really built up my skills,” Engel-Silva said. “[When] I walked into the door 27 years ago, I never would have dreamed that I would be the CEO, or the first female CEO, of Proteus.”

Engel-Silva received her doctorate for Educational Leadership from the University of California, Davis, where she submitted her dissertation: “The Role of Distributed Leadership in High Quality Educational Organizations.” She’s also received a Master of Arts Curriculum and Instruction from California State University, Bakersfield and has her Bachelors of Arts in Communications and International Relations from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore.

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