Campus Life

University, System Leaders Host Belgian Royalty On Texas Economic Mission

Texas A&M University and Texas A&M System leaders hosted Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid of Belgium in College Station on an eight-day Texas tour.
By Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications Staff December 9, 2016

Leaders from Texas A&M University and The Texas A&M University System on Wednesday (Dec. 7) welcomed members of a Belgian economic mission, including Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid of Belgium, who presided over the mission and served as the official representative of the king of Belgium. College Station was the third stop on an eight-day Texas tour for the Belgian delegation, which also visited San Antonio, Austin and Houston.

Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp greeted the princess when she arrived at the offices of the Texas A&M System Board of Regents and escorted her through a sabre arch formed by members of the Ross Volunteers, a special unit of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets that serves as the honor guard for the governor of Texas. Inside the regents’ offices, A&M System Regent Charles W. Schwartz, Texas A&M President Michael K. Young and Vice President for Research Glen A. Laine received the princess and high-ranking members of the Belgian delegation.

President Young then escorted Princess Astrid to a formal welcome for the delegation in Rudder Theatre, which was attended by Texas A&M University System Regents Charles W. Schwartz, Mayor Andrew Nelson of Bryan, Mayor Karl Mooney of College Station and more than 200 representatives from the University, the System, the Bryan-College Station community and Belgium.

In addition to Princess Astrid, the Belgian delegation included His Excellency Pieter De Crem, Belgium’s federal secretary of state for foreign trade; His Excellency Jean-Claude Marcourt, vice president and minister of economy, industry, innovation and new technologies of the Walloon Region Government, and vice president and minister of higher education, research and media of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation; His Excellency Dirk Wouters, ambassador of Belgium to the United States; and Marc Calcoen, consul general at the Consulate General of Belgium in New York.

“We are here today to plan for our future together,” Vice President for Research Laine said in his remarks to the audience. “We believe this relationship will generate prosperous results for both your nation and the University.”

The Division of Research sponsored the event, as well a formal lunch to honor the princess and leaders of the economic mission in the Board of Regents dining room, where State Rep. John Raney, who represents Bryan-College Station in the Texas Legislature, presented Princess Astrid with a Texas flag that flew over the state capitol in Austin in honor of her visit to Texas.

Texas A&M agrees to pursue business opportunities with Belgian companies and incubators

During a ceremony in the Gates Ballroom in the Memorial Student Center, officials from Texas A&M and the A&M System signed a series of agreements to establish business connections between the University and several Belgian companies, a university and a business incubator.

The University signed memoranda of understanding with:

  • The Walloon Agency for Export and Foreign Investment (AWEX), renewing a decade-old commitment to work together for the benefit of both parties.
  • Sofinex, extending a six-year-old agreement to fund Texas A&M-related companies from Belgium.
  • Vesale Pharma to explore the possibility of entering in a first collaborative agreement to jointly develop the potential of Intelicaps technology, a high-dose microencapsulation probiotic delivery method, which is patented by Vesale Pharma.
  • DIM3 to explore the possibility of entering in a first collaborative agreement to jointly develop the potential of a medical mobile device called Biocorder, which permanently captures a patient’s biometric data in real time, and which is patented by DIM3.
  • Tempora to identify project opportunities for students of Texas A&M’s Visualization Laboratory, a program that prepares A&M students for a career in digital visualization, and to explore opportunities to develop new tools for exhibition visualization and interactivity.
  • Taktik to collaborate on research and development of novel, digital content-management technologies in the areas of emergency communications and secured high-performance broadcasting.

Texas A&M Engineering signed two memoranda of understanding with the University of Liege, one to develop traditional semester-long student exchanges, the other to identify programs for experiential learning and to share best-practice ideas for entrepreneurism for the development of joint programs.

The Mays Business School signed separate memoranda of understanding with the University of Liege and with Belgian start-up incubator WSL to identify new collaborative programs and to share best-practice ideas for entrepreneurism for the development of joint programs.

The Texas A&M System signed a memorandum of understanding with veterinary medical company Revatis allowing an A&M representative to sit on the company’s board while reducing liability for the System.  Revatis is a licensee of System technology and has contracted for services from the Texas A&M Institute for Genomic Medicine.

Belgium presents Walloon Merit Award to Texas A&M

On behalf of the University, President Young accepted the Walloon Merit Award from Minister Marcourt during the welcome ceremony in Rudder Theater. The Walloon Merit is an honorary distinction of the Walloon Region established by the decree of March 31, 2011. It is awarded every year in Namur at the Walloon Region festival by the Walloon government whereby the Walloon authorities recognize “any physical or legal person whose talent or merit has done or does honor to Wallonia to an exceptional extent and thus contributes in a significant way to its influence. Merit must have a direct or indirect link with the powers of the Walloon Region.”

In exceptional circumstances motivated by specific cases, the government may grant the official recognition of Walloon merit at any time during the year. This is the only time the award has gone to an educational institution.

Princess Astrid confers Order of the Crown to Aggie veteran

Also during the welcome ceremony, Princess Astrid designated William M. Peña, Class of 1942 and a World War II veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, as a Commander in the Order of the Crown. Established in 1897, the Order of the Crown is authorized for award to Allied military personnel who helped to liberate Belgium during World War II.

In late 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, Peña’s battalion endured heavy losses. While repairing a communications line, Peña stepped on a land mine. Peña spent two years recovering from his wounds. In 1947, Peña returned to Texas A&M to finish his studies. He became a leading architect as a founding member of the firm CRS, which grew to more than 3,000 employees in thirty-two offices internationally.

Fought during the European winter of 1944-45, the Battle of the Bulge ended Nazi Germany’s final attempt to force a stalemate in the war with a counteroffensive, which Adolf Hitler and his generals designed to recapture the key Belgian port of Antwerp. Pena is the only remaining survivor among five Aggies who are honored in a preview exhibit at the Memorial Student Center, “From Bastogne to Texas: Texas Aggies Go to War.”

Exhibit honors five Aggies who fought at the Battle of the Bulge

Princess Astrid of Belgium also participated in a flag lifting ceremony at the “From Bastogne to Texas: Texas Aggies Go to War” exhibit in Veterans Lounge at the Memorial Student Center. John D. White, chairman of the board for From Bastogne to Texas, Inc., presided over the ceremony. The princess then toured the exhibit, which recently returned to College Station from Bastogne, where it introduced a new generation of Belgians to the story of Aggie involvement in the European Theater during World War II, especially during the Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne.

Open through Dec. 18, 2016, the exhibit introduces visitors to the stories of five former A&M students who fought in the Battle of the Bulge: James Hollingsworth, Class of 1940; Turney Leonard, 1942; William M. Peña, 1942; Joe Routt, 1937; and James Earl Rudder, 1932. The exhibit also tells the story of how Belgian gratitude for the service of Americans in World War II has opened doors of economic cooperation and ultimately deep ties of friendship between the two countries.

Media contact: Rusty Cawley, (979) 458-1475,

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