Pomp, party and a picnic.
All three marked Dr. Louis J. Agnese Jr.’s celebration in March of his 30 years as president of the University of the Incarnate Word.
Pomp came into play March 21 at a Conferral Ceremony of Honorary Degrees in the Chapel of the Incarnate Word where Agnese received a Doctor of Humane Letters, the highest honor UIW can confer on an individual.
Sharing the spotlight with Agnese at the ceremony were two other recipients of the honorary doctorate – former UIW Board Chair Charles Amato – a co-founder and chairman of SWBC and co-owner of the Spurs — and another friend of the university, Harley Seyedin, who helped connect UIW and China in educational endeavors.
“I always wanted to be an alum of the university,” Agnese said after going last in receiving the honorary doctorate at the ceremony where the recipients and participating faculty dressed in academic regalia.
On Tuesday evening, March 22, several hundred people including faculty, staff, administrators, friends of the university and members of the university-founding Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word partied in McCombs Center Rosenberg Skyroom. And a week later, Tuesday, March 29, several hundred more participated in a picnic in Cardinal Courtyard.
Other events held in celebration of this milestone included an International Convocation with guests from UIW campuses in Mexico and Heidelberg, Germany, as well as representatives from UIW sister schools, a luncheon, and a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by the Most Rev. Gustavo García-Siller, archbishop of San Antonio.
When Agnese interviewed at then-Incarnate Word College in 1985, he was a vice president at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa, where he was spokesman for institutional needs and shared responsibility for policy, long-range planning, budget and personnel.
Agnese assumed the presidency of Incarnate Word in 1985 — and on March 25, 1986, he was inaugurated. Taking the post at the age of 33, he was then one of the youngest presidents of a four-year institution of higher learning in the nation. Now he’s even rarer in his 30-year run.
Along the way, Agnese’s tapped into a wealth of community resources, bringing aboard such people as Amato, who founded SWBC – an international financial services company based in San Antonio – and Seyedin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Guangzhou, China. Amato has been a member of UIW’s board since 1999. Seyedin’s connection to UIW goes back more than 25 years. He has played a pivotal role in UIW international initiatives and was instrumental in helping to establish China Incarnate Word in 2000, which allowed UIW to become the first university from the United States to offer accredited college degrees in China. Seyedin has also been involved in the development of sister school relations for reciprocal education throughout China — UIW currently has agreements with more than a dozen).
During his presidency, enrollment at UIW has increased from 1,296 in 1985 to 10,984 in 2015. UIW is now the third-largest private university in Texas based on global enrollment. UIW
also added the first Ph.D. program and doctoral-level programs in pharmacy, optometry, physical therapy, nursing practice and business administration; Division I athletics; and opened
campuses in Mexico and Germany. A School of Osteopathic Medicine will open in 2017 at Brooks City Base.
Also during his presidency, Agnese has instituted two holiday-related traditions: “Light the Way,” which has grown into a spectacle involving the lighting of more than a million Christmas lights that blaze from dawn till dusk on the campus beginning the Saturday night before Thanksgiving until Jan. 6, and the President’s Spaghetti Supper where he whips up his family’s secret spaghetti sauce, and serves it to UIW students with the help of many faculty, staff and administrative volunteers who help serve the plates and donate desserts.
During the anniversary celebration, Agnese, a native of New York City, said he felt his greatest achievement was being married to his wife, Mickey, and raising a son and daughter who between them have brought the Agneses four grandchildren.
UIW’s degree is another one the president can add to the B.A. in history and psychology he holds from St. Mary of the Plains College in Dodge, Kan.; master’s degree in counseling and an Education Specialist degree in supervision of counseling services, both from Gannon University in Erie, Pa.; a Ph.D. in counselor education from the University of Pittsburgh; and an honorary Doctor of Business Administration degree from Korea’s Woosong University.
“Of all the degrees I’ve been awarded in my life, this is far and away the most special,” Agnese said in a statement. “This fulfills my dream of becoming an alum of UIW.”