Spotlight On: Thomas Evans, President, University of the Incarnate Word

Spotlight On: Thomas Evans, President, University of the Incarnate Word

2022-02-08T16:40:58-05:00February 8th, 2022|Education, San Antonio, Spotlight On|

University of the Incarnate Word president2 min read February 2022 In an interview with Invest:, University of the Incarnate Word’s President Thomas Evans talked about the lessons the university learned throughout the pandemic and the adoption of hybrid learning in higher education. He also discussed his outlook on the future of the university as well as education in San Antonio as a whole.  

What have been some lessons learned over the course of the pandemic?

The pandemic highlighted a great many things – the resiliency of our students, the unwavering dedication of our faculty, and the ingenuity that our staff applied to address emerging challenges. However, it also shined a brighter light on disparities. Some students had lower access to technology, greater family obligations, or financial, housing or food insecurity, for example. The university worked hard to support our students through a difficult time, but also to create systems that addressed these inequities while maintaining academic standards, and in many cases, exceeding them. 

When it came to our health and medical rotational programs, our students in nursing, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, optometry and physical therapy steadily progressed through their academic year and applied their deep training and compassionate formation to serve others during a global health emergency. They gained invaluable experience and professional development; that is in part due to the high demand and need resulting from the pandemic. 

A lot of other programs needed adaptation to hybrid formats or to go completely online. What the pandemic has done for us is accelerate where higher education was going to go and spur us to find opportunities for greater collaboration and synchronization within our organization. For instance, we have had a unit within the School of Professional Studies dedicated for years specifically to online learning, it was instrumental in helping others adapt to it. We learned that some students excelled in this format, that others want and need the in-person experience and that we need the institutional agility to meet both of those needs moving forward.

What is your view on the higher education sector in San Antonio?

As a whole, higher education in San Antonio is working on accessibility and ensuring that we can meet students where they are. We work collaboratively with other universities and colleges in the city and make time to discuss the challenges and issues we face together. We want to maintain traditional methods, but also evolve to offer more options to meet students’ needs and situations to help ensure that students who want to pursue higher education have a pathway to be successful in a way that works for them and that benefits our larger San Antonio community. 

I think hybrid learning is going to be a critical component in education for the foreseeable future. For instance, at UIW, hybrid course delivery has made communication with our campuses in Mexico more immediate and students more connected, despite the physical distance. In addition, some of our favorite traditions, gatherings and Masses and faith celebrations that were previously limited by occupancy are now available to many more people. 

How are you implementing racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion initiatives?

Our mission calls us not only to welcome people of diverse backgrounds, but to serve the greater good by working toward social justice. For UIW, this means recognizing God in the presence of all people. We are incredibly proud that our diverse and inclusive community has embraced this tenet. 

Institutionally, we have established an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion led by a dedicated associate vice president with a deep history in civil rights and Catholic higher education. Since its creation, it has supported emerging student groups and developed new opportunities for dialogue and discovery in our community. 

Not only do we cultivate a diverse and inclusive community on our campuses, but we prepare students to serve diverse communities when they leave. Faculty work to broaden students’ perspectives, working with our campuses in Mexico and our many international sister schools to facilitate that. Dedicated courses and programs in our health professions schools are focused on cross-cultural and bilingual fluency, so that these future health professionals can provide culturally competent care to many different people. Health professions programs also offer services to our city. UIW’s Rosenberg School of Optometry, for example, provides over $2 million worth of care to the city of San Antonio. For every dollar we are reimbursed, we provide two dollars of unreimbursed care.

Students are also required to do 40 hours of volunteer service before graduating to understand the value of being of service to others. This may include work in underserved communities, service to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or housing or food insecure, or providing care to those with economic, language or other barriers to healthcare. We usually announce at commencement the economic impact of the tens of thousands of service hours students have done through volunteering, which is usually in excess of $1 million. 

We also strive to provide education across borders. This year, we also started Global Online, an asynchronous program completely in Spanish. It covers several countries throughout Latin America and has evolved as a direct result of the pandemic. There are many ways we impact the global community both directly and indirectly. 

What is your outlook for the university and the higher education sector over the next three to five years?

With our plans to expand strategically and anticipated population increases, I think the future is very bright for the University of the Incarnate Word. I believe it is equally bright for employers that are looking for exceptional graduates who want to stay in a city like San Antonio that has a lot to offer. As we look to the future, we want to create more space to accommodate coming growth and programmatic development. For instance, we are looking to consolidate all of our health professions on one campus, maximizing interprofessional development, supporting exciting health research and helping to serve the surrounding community. 

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