Photos courtesy of Universidad de Incarnate Word, UIW’s campus in Irapuato, Mexico.

In late August, more than 400 guests, including business leaders, politicians, education officials, members of UIW’s founding congregation, and other dignitaries, attended a gala in Irapuato, Mexico, to hear University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) President Louis Agnese, Jr., map out his plans for Campus Bajio, a new site there.

True to form, Agnese articulated an ambitious vision: to make the new campus the best in the country and create a talent pipeline for a local economy that is booming as foreign investment from automotive companies grows and other sectors, including agriculture, continue to flourish.

The campus is located in the Guanajuato State, heartland of the Bajío region. Guanajuato is an important hub of the automotive industry, including companies such as General Motors, Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Pirelli, Volkswagen and Ford. Other important industrial sectors are food, textile and footwear manufacturing, featuring companies such as ConAgra, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, Nike and Florsheim.

By the fall of 2016, the new site will offer six degree programs that will be recognized in Mexico and the United States in fields such as international business, engineering and nutrition. Construction on dormitories is slated to begin next year and should be complete by 2017.

As part of a broader effort to increase its international presence, the university also has reciprocal education agreements with 141 sister schools in 44 countries and operates the European Study Center in Heidelberg, Germany.

A rendering of UIW’s Irapuato campus.

A rendering of UIW’s Irapuato campus.

UIW began operating the Irapuato campus on June 1 in the facilities of the Universidad Liceo Cervantino, which was founded in the late 1970s. The 20-mile radius around Universidad Liceo Cervantino is home to 1.2 million people, and the greater Bajio region has a population of 15.4 million. The region includes the States of Guanajuato, Querétaro, Michoacán, Aguascalientes and San Luis Potosí.

Agnese said the new university will partner with the campus in San Antonio for student and teacher exchanges — an effort that would train local educators, provide opportunities for students to study and work abroad and create a platform to swap best practices. The university will closely mirror UIW’s campus in Mexico City, Centro Universitario Incarnate Word (CIW), and school officials have noted that the Irapuato site would make the Catholic university the only American institution of higher education to have two colleges in Mexico, according to the Border Education Research Team at the State University of New York at Albany.

“We are committed to the lower (economic) class and the lower middle class,” Agnese told the crowd at the gala event. “We want to educate the masses.”

His statements, communicated in Spanish by a translator, were punctuated by applause.

Agnese said UIW had positioned itself as one of the most powerful Hispanic-serving institutions in the U.S. and promised to make the Irapuato campus just as successful.

“This will be the number one university in all of Mexico,” he said.

Agnese (right) and Ancira (center) greet Gov. Márquez in Irapuato.

Agnese (right) and Ancira (center) greet Gov. Marquez in Irapuato.

Guanajuato Governor Miguel Márquez Márquez called it a historic moment as he posed with Agnese and other school officials outside the building, which will be called Universidad de Incarnate Word Campus Bajío, as media captured it on video and in photos.

“We have to base our [economic] growth on education,” Márquez said in Spanish after the photo, noting the new university will give students an opportunity to become bilingual and start thinking globally.

Márquez, who arrived at the gala by helicopter because he had a prior event but was determined not to miss the occasion, also said he expected the school to provide workers for growing local industries. He noted that Irapuato was experiencing faster economic growth than the state.

Ernesto Ancira, Jr., owner of Ancira Enterprises, Inc., and a UIW board member, outlined the way the school has grown under Agnese’s leadership.

He said UIW was just like any other small college with a smattering of degree offerings until Agnese took over in 1985. Today, UIW is the fourth largest private university in Texas and preparing to add an osteopathic medical school to its list of degree plans, he told the group.

“This is the start of a new chapter between San Antonio and Irapuato,” Ancira told the room proudly.

UIW purchased two tracts of land for the Irapuato expansion — close to 45 acres at the site of the former Cervantino school, located off the Pan American Highway and just a few miles from a corridor of automotive factories, and a historic property downtown. The combined capacity for both facilities will be about 3,760 students.

Dignitaries join Agnese and Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI, congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, in cutting the ribbon at the Irapuato gala.

Dignitaries join Agnese and Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI, congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, in cutting the ribbon at the Irapuato gala.

Cervantino has 200 students in middle school; 150 students in high school; and 1,100 students pursuing associate, bachelor and master’s degrees. Today, it offers 10 bachelor and two master degree programs that will continue at the school. More degree plans recognized in the U.S. and Mexico will be added in the future.

Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, a Mexican senator from Guanajuato, called the school opening a momentous occasion.

“It’s going to change things for this city,” he said, adding that it would bring an “international perspective” to the area.

Although San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President Richard Perez had planned to attend the event, weather delays to Houston prevented them from completing the trip.

Jill Metcalfe, director of Casa Mexico City, who serves as the international business representation for the City of San Antonio in Central and Southeast Mexico, including Mexico City, said Taylor hopes to develop direct flights to Irapuato to make the university more accessible.

Francisco Armando Velasco Padilla, an admissions director for the new Irapuato campus, said he left a lucrative career in finance to join the team and help the college reach its enrollment goals.

“To hear everything that was happening with this project — I’m someone who likes challenges and the challenges for this project are great,” he said. “It’s a project that’s going to demand a lot but we’re ready.”

To video of the gala, please visit:

By Maria Luisa Cesar