From Rocket Surgery to Retirement: Antenen Calls it a Career

Antenen ScissorsSAN ANTONIO – Some people might think leading an extension branch of a university for 20 years is difficult, but for Dr. James Antenen, while he might agree that it had its challenges, it wasn’t rocket surgery. On June 30, Dr. Antenen will officially retire as the Executive Director and Campus Dean of Wayland Baptist University – San Antonio where he spent the past 20 years.

Recently awarded emeritus status by the Wayland Board of Trustees, Antenen said that while working at Wayland turned out to be his “dream job,” it wasn’t where he began his career in education. That was in the military.

“I joke about it because we called ourselves rocket surgeons,” Antenen said. “I was a missile maintenance officer.”

Antenen’s official title was Combat Targeting Officer for the U.S. Air Force. He led a team that in essence performed surgery on malfunctioning nuclear missiles or ICBMs. Antenen and his team would target and align the missiles by manually inputting data into the onboard computer.

“That goes back to the mid-70s,” he said. “We aligned it long before GPS (Global Positioning System). We had to do all of that manually.”

While the rocket surgery was enjoyable, Antenen discovered that he had a “talent” for teaching and training. He focused on training others throughout the remainder of his Air Force career. At one point, he served as president of the Community College of the Air Force. He also became the commander of the Occupational Measurement Center at Randolph AFB in San Antonio. The Measurement Center collected and analyzed data on all job tasks in the Air Force to ensure that what trainers were teaching in the classroom is what cadets needed to know on the flight line.

Antenen spent 21 years in the Air Force, teaching, and training others before retiring and moving into civilian life, where he found a job at USAA that wasn’t really what he was looking, but turned out to be a great fit. 

“I really didn’t want to go work out there. That wasn’t on my radar screen,” he said. “But I went for an interview, they offered me the job and I turned it down.”

Antenen accepted the interview on a challenge from a friend who knew he was retiring and said that he should consider it. While Antenen initially turned down the job, working for USAA was in his future.

“About three months later, they called me back and said they had this job for me, and they thought I should come back out,” he explained. “I finally relented and went to USAA and said, ‘I’ll do this for a few years until I can find my dream job. Almost nine years later, I was still at USAA.”

While working at USAA, Antenen received a call “out of the clear blue” from Thomas Fisher. Dr. Fisher, currently the Campus Dean and Executive Director of Wayland Baptist University – Albuquerque, worked for Wayland in San Antonio at the time and was looking for someone to help start a Master of Education program at WBU.

Antenen, who “didn’t know Thom from Adam,” had been teaching as an adjunct professor at St. Mary’s University and the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. He was about to sign a contract with St. Mary’s when then Campus Dean Dillard Whitis and Fisher offered him the job at Wayland.

He turned it down.

But like before, when Antenen turned down a job, “No” was not the answer.

“That was on a Friday and in the paper on Sunday, I saw that Dr. Whitis’ job, dean of the school, was vacant,” Antenen said.

Whitis retired suddenly, leaving the position open. On a whim, Antenen applied for the position of campus dean and was hired.

“For turning [Wayland] down to start, it worked out pretty well,” he said.

Antenen’s background was a perfect fit for what Wayland needed at the time. When he was hired in 2002, the university was struggling with reaffirmation from its accrediting body the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Particularly, SACS was questioning the number of transfer credits Wayland was accepting from the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF). In his previous stint as commander of the CCAF, Antenen wrote the plan that saved CCAF’s accreditation with SACS. At Wayland, he was able to put together a plan, with the help of Dr. Elane Seebo, that satisfied SACS, allowing Wayland to maintain its accreditation.

Another major accomplishment on Antenen’s watch was the addition of a nursing school. Antenen was approached by the dean of the School of Health Professions at Baptist Health Systems, asking him to consider starting a nursing program. The School of Health Professions offered a diploma program in nursing, but it was not a full nursing degree. The dean was under pressure from the Texas Board of Nursing to provide a full degree program.

At the time, Antenen felt the best thing Wayland could offer was to transfer students into the existing Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education (BSOE) program with a focus on nursing technology, but that program, he felt, was inadequate for what was needed.

“As we pursued it, we said that wouldn’t work because they needed a real BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing),” Antenen said. “They could never go on to get an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) if they had only a BSOE. So, we didn’t pay a lot of attention to it and just said we can’t do it.”

A chance encounter with the dean at a chamber event in San Antonio a month or two later led Antenen to revisit the issue, however.

“He said let’s go to lunch and talk this through,” Antenen said. “We went to lunch at a local hotel downtown, and on a napkin, we mapped out a tentative BSN degree program.”

To make a long story short, Antenen ran the proposal through the Wayland administration and before he knew it, Wayland had sent SACS a proposal for a full nursing degree program. Wayland soon found itself in the nursing business.

As executive director, Antenen also oversaw the moving of Wayland’s campus and program locations. The nursing school was originally housed in a building owned by Alamo Colleges in Live Oak. Soon, it was deemed necessary, for a variety of reasons, to move the school to its current location in New Braunfels. Wayland also began exploring options to move the main San Antonio campus out of its original location. While exploring several possibilities, Alamo Colleges decided to sell its building in Live Oak. Wayland placed a bid on the Live Oak location and eventually purchased the building, moving its operations from the original location just off the loop in San Antonio to the current facility.

The move took place just in time for a whole new set of challenges for Wayland and Antenen.

“I think we closed on this building March 2 of 2020, and about two weeks later, we shut down because of COVID,” he said. “And you know how that has impacted everybody.”

COVID forced Wayland to evaluate its processes and adjust to a changing education environment that leans more heavily on online education. Wayland has adapted and is starting to rebuild what was lost through COVID.

Still adjusting to business with COVID, Antenen says that as he steps away, Wayland has a great opportunity and bright future in San Antonio and beyond. The population is really growing in South Texas between McAllen and Harlingen where Wayland operates teaching sites, as well as the area between San Atonio and Austin. With population growth comes a need for higher education.

“We are in both of those places,” Antenen said. “We are sitting in a pretty good spot in terms of being right in the middle of both of those areas. The fact that we already have a footprint in those areas is a big deal. We just need to leverage it.”

Leveraging it, however, will fall on the shoulders of Antenen’s replacement, Dr. Clinton Lowin. No stranger to Wayland, Lowin is a 1996 graduate of Wayland and served as dean of the School of Religion and Philosophy – now the School of Christian Studies – from 2016-2018. He left Wayland to live and work in Germany as Director of Religious Education for the Department of Defense, and is now returning to his alma mater.

As for Antenen, his time in retirement will be spent elsewhere: Chasing grandkids, traveling, getting involved in the local prison ministry, volunteering with a few groups in San Antonio in whose causes he believes, and working in his barn.

“I call it my barn,” he said. “It’s a woodworking shop and painting studio.”

Antenen is looking forward to staying connected and involved in the community. His passions drive him to opportunities like working with the local prison ministry and volunteering with the Joshua Initiative that assists business owners in finding ways to infuse character and Christian values within their organizations. He has also started writing a book that deals with character development.

Make no mistake, however, Antenen plans to spend plenty of time relaxing – in his barn.

“I’m going to spend time making a lot of sawdust and painting,” he said.


Inset Photo: Dr. James Antenen, right, poses with WBU-San Antonio employees Christina Orosco, center and City of Live Oak Mayor Mary Dennis at the grand opening of the university’s new location in Live Oak on March of 2020. Dr. Antenen will retire in June after serving as the Executive Director of Wayland’s San Antonio campus for 20 years.