Monday, June 27, 2016

The Gift of the Globe: UNO’s International Programs Changed Carl Wagner’s Life; Now His Donation Helps Others Experience the Same

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Julia Wagner had an urge to travel, but rarely did. Between raising seven children and working as a nurse, there just wasn’t time or money.

But her advice to her children was constant: “There’s a big world out there,” her son remembers her saying. “You need to go look at it.”

Carl Wagner obeyed.

At age 70, Wagner has traveled so extensively, it’s easier for him to tick off the countries he’s not visited than to list the ones he has. Now, the University of New Orleans alum and former director of international education at UNO is giving back, eager to help more UNO students experience the life-changing power of traveling abroad.

Wagner and his wife, Cathy, have pledged $50,000 to UNO to be used as scholarships for students who want to participate in the UNO-Innsbruck International Summer School in Innsbruck, Austria, but who otherwise can’t afford it.

Ohoyo Taylor, a junior accounting major, is the first recipient.

“I’m just so glad she has the opportunity,” says Wagner, who met Taylor during a recent visit to New Orleans from his home in Colorado. “She is just such a pleasant student, very bright and very charming. Everything she said to us told us they made the right choice.”

When Wagner enrolled as a student at UNO in 1977, he already knew he wanted to travel. Though born and raised in Mobile, Ala., he’d served two tours of duty in Vietnam, and visited Europe and Central America several times.

Upon his return from the military, Wagner enrolled at the University of South Alabama and began working toward a degree in languages. That’s when his sister, then a student at UNO, convinced him to join her on a 1974 UNO-sponsored summer trip to Munich, Germany.

Wagner had no idea how that trip would transform him. It was there that he first met Gordon “Nick” Mueller, history professor and founder of the first international summer program. Mueller started the program in Germany, but moved it to its current home of Innsbruck two years later.

By 1977, after a debilitating bout with the Avian flu forced him to withdraw from South Alabama, Wagner moved to New Orleans and transferred to UNO. That’s when Mueller hired Wagner to be a student worker on the Innsbruck summer program, unexpectedly launching what would become, for Wagner, the ultimate marriage of passion and profession.

Within two years, Wagner was running the program—a job that enabled him to travel to Austria a couple times a year while also pursuing a master’s degree.

“I was kind of at the right place at the right time,” Wagner says.

Over the next few years, Mueller would rise to dean and, later, vice chancellor. His promotion left room for someone to assume the duties he left behind. And when it came to Innsbruck, Mueller determined Wagner was the person for the job.

Travel and Innsbruck became such a part of Wagner’s life that even after he retired from leading the program in 2001, he returned nine years later as a student. And wife Cathy, meanwhile, has served as the Innsbruck program nurse since 2011. He’s lost count of all of his trips, but he knows they number at least 55 trips to Europe and 34 years as part of the Innsbruck program.

“I’ve been given so much by this experience—by UNO, by Nick Mueller—for the opportunity to do this program for so many years,” he says. “And I love doing it.”

Wagner says he’s hopeful that Taylor, the inaugural scholarship recipient, will immerse herself in great classes and weekend excursions. He hopes that the travel spurs her toward lifelong learning and interest in others—something he knows a little about.

“You can only learn so much from textbooks,” Wagner says. “Going to those countries is a big eye-opener.”

For her part, Taylor said she is certain the experience will inform her understanding of the business world.  She also plans to work on a community service project while in Austria.

And if the scholarship isn’t enough, the Wagners have another gift to give Taylor this summer: dinner at an expensive restaurant off-campus. After all, they’ll both be taking classes in the classrooms of Innsbruck.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the University of New Orleans Magazine, Spring 2016 edition.

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