The coveted Minerva Award was last given out a decade ago. There have been only 25 recipients of the award since its establishment in 1949. Given for eminence in civic, academic or professional activities, the award includes a bronze sculpture and has no monetary value.

Willihnganz, who is also executive vice president, is retiring on June 30 and plans to return to teaching in 2016.

A professor of communications, Willihnganz rose through the ranks to become acting provost in 2002, then was appointed on a permanent basis in 2004.

Teaming with President James Ramsey, she has overseen a 60-percent increase in student graduation rates, as well as tremendous growth in student services and activities. Under her watch, UofL students also have garnered a number of prestigious scholarships, including Rhodes, Boren and other honors. Since 2004, the university has produced more Fulbright student scholars than any other Kentucky college or university.

She has also led the University of the 21st Century initiative, an effort to focus on the university’s strengths and implement efficiencies to position UofL to better serve its students in the coming decades.

Willihnganz began teaching at UofL in 1985. Prior to becoming provost, she served in several administrative roles, including acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and chair of the Department of Communication.

The Minerva Award was last given in 2005, when it was awarded posthumously to Paul J. Weber, who helped found the McConnell Center and was executive director of the Grawemeyer Awards.

Among past recipients are Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope and two governors,  Wendell H. Ford and Julian Carroll. It has also gone to the WHAS Crusade for Children and to Woodford Porter, Sr., the first African-American on the Board of Trustees.

Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom.


Janet Cappiello covers student success for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She has more than 30 years’ experience in journalism, including working for The Associated Press and magazines such as Vegetarian Times and Sustainability: The Journal of Record. She has been at UofL since 2014.