Dr. Lou Agnese is marking his 25th anniversary this week as president of the University of the Incarnate Word. The New York born Agnese hasn't lost his Brooklyn accent or rapid fire delivery in his quarter of a century here. It's a style that has served him, the university and our city well. When he was inaugurated as president in 1986 Incarnate Word College was a struggling school with 1,298 students. Today it is the fourth largest private university in the state with a student population that has more than quadrupled to 7,176 with international campuses. The endowment has grown from $3 million to over $80 million.
That growth is the result of Lou Agnese's vision, hard work, fearlessness and infectious enthusiasm. Like so many, I have often found myself on the opposite side of his winning smile, firm hand shake and request to help Incarnate Word. For 25 years people have been answering yes.
Bexar County is the biggest beneficiary of New York born Agnese's drive. Many of its students are first generation college students.
"68% of UIW students come from Bexar County or counties that border Bexar. 54% of our students are Hispanic, 7% are black. Those are the exact demographics of San Antonio," said Agnese. "As important, is this number: 14% of UIW students are international from 63 countries. So our students are not only reflective of this area but they are exposed to the global environment in which we live. That is so very important in their educational experience," he said.
Agnese has also pushed to open international campuses in Mexico and China.
"If you look where the world is evolving, it is evolving South into Latin America and to the East. We established a campus in China in 2000 and in Mexico in 2004. These are access points where we can bring students in and send students out and have them exposed to our competition. The more we can educate our students to the competition the better they can compete," said Agnese.
UIW is looking at establishing another campus in Turkey as an option for students to study in the Middle East.
Agnese has created a university where students can become aware of their global competition. He has also heightened awareness in San Antonio of UIW. In 1988 he celebrated Light the Way for the first time. Christmas lights adorn the trees throughout campus and it is launched each year with a city-wide celebration.
"Light the Way was the biggest mistake I ever made back in 1986," Agnese laughed. It is a very time consuming, expensive program. But it's a wonderful program, the community has wrapped its arms around it. We'll get 2000 cars driving through the campus each night. It's what we give back to San Antonio for what they give us."
Something else Agnese has given UIW and San Antonio is football.
"Texas is football crazy! I wish I could have brought football to UIW earlier. This is our third year of football. By this coming fall we'll be very competitive and by next year we'll be Bowl ready," Agnese promises.
At 59, Agnese plans to continue to steer UIW into the future for another 8 to 10 years.
When he arrived on campus as president at the age of 33, he was one of the youngest presidents of a four-year institution of higher learning in the U.S.
Looking back he is amazed at the resonsibilities he took on at such a young age.
"I was at mass on August 4, the first day of my 25th year here. I saw my son sitting in front of me and he is just 32 years old and to think that I was just a year old than him when I came here as President at the time is just mind boggling. But at that time I thought it was the perfect age.," he smiled.
As one looks around at the phenomenal growth in facilities, programs and enrollment at UIW over the past 25 years it could be argued that Agnese was indeed the perfect age.