20 February 2013
When a world traveler enters retirement, it is often difficult to quell the insatiable desire to explore.
For Jerry Wilcox, former Director of the International Office at The University of Texas at Austin, that could not be more true. Last fall, he and his wife completed a 300-mile hike from the south of France into Spain along the famous Camino de Santiago trail.
“My wife and I just can’t stop traveling,” Wilcox said. “We asked ourselves, ‘Are we going to sit around, or are we going to do new things?’”
It was just another adventure in his long history of living off the rush of going to new places — something he worked tirelessly to promote in higher education.
The bug to see the world bit him at an early age, he said. When he was in college at Iowa State University in the late 1960s, Wilcox made friends with several international students, piquing his interest in the rest of the world.
In the middle of his time at Iowa State, Wilcox took a year off to work in Germany. He eventually found a job working in a factory for several months.
“That’s when I got addicted to international traveling,” he said.
His adventures only became more intense. During his junior year in college, Wilcox and several friends purchased a car with the intention of driving it down to Central America, selling it, and flying back to the United States. They didn’t get as far as they would have liked. About halfway into Mexico they realized there was some potentially dangerous political instability in the region, so they turned around.
It didn’t stop there. After graduating from college in 1967, Wilcox joined the Peace Corps. Placed in Thailand, he helped to develop water wells in small villages for two years. His desire to remain in the Pacific but still go back to America lead to his enrollment at the University of Hawaii. It was there he obtained his master’s degree in education. In Hawaii, he also met his wife, who is originally from the Philippines.
Feeling the need to return to the continental United States, Wilcox took a job at Cornell University’s International Living Center. For the next 27 years, Wilcox worked his way up at Cornell, eventually becoming the director of International Student & Scholar Services.
In 1993, NAFSA: Association of International Educators elected Wilcox to serve as the organization’s president. A member of the organization since 1974, Wilcox worked at a national level to promote international education, contributing several publications to the field of international education administration.
Then in 1998, the Lone Star State beckoned to Wilcox. He saw an opening for the position of director at the International Office at The University of Texas at Austin. He was initially attracted to the job because of how International Student & Scholar Services, Study Abroad and English as a Second Language had integrated units.
He faced challenges during the next ten years. He came into the International Office at a time when the Internet revolution was in full force. This required an extensive overhaul of the office’s information systems. Beyond technological concerns, some in the university community were initially resistant to its growing international status, he said.
Those attitudes quickly faded when it became clear how important it was for the university to be at the forefront of the movement for globalized education, he added.
“He reframed the vision for the office and international education at UT,” said Teri Albrecht, Director of International Student & Scholar Services.
For his efforts, a scholarship in his name was created after he retired in 2008. The scholarship is awarded to international students with strong leadership skills.
“It makes me feel good about my time there,” said Wilcox, who now lives in Ithaca, New York.
His biggest accomplishment, he said, was not necessarily what he did at the International Office, but the people he brought on board.
“I sought out committed professionals who had a customer service point of view,” he said.
Albrecht was one of those individuals who was hired during Wilcox’s tenure. In addition to advocating on the behalf of international education, Albrecht said “he made it fun” to work in the International Office with his light-hearted demeanor and ability to take things in stride.
Above all, she said, “he embodied the idea of leadership in an inviting and personable way.”
By Forrest Burnson