Campus Life

Joe Horlen ’73 Named Partner In Philanthropy Award Recipient

The Texas A&M Foundation recognizes Horlen for his impact on the Texas A&M University’s Department of Construction Science.
By Dorian Martin ’06 for Texas A&M Foundation January 18, 2023

(l-r) Texas A&M Foundation President and CEO Tyson Voelkel; Becky and Joe Horlen; and Larry Zuber, retired assistant vice president of development
(l-r) Texas A&M Foundation President and CEO Tyson Voelkel; Becky and Joe Horlen; and Larry Zuber, retired assistant vice president of development for the former College of Architecture

Texas A&M Foundation


The Texas A&M Foundation recognized Joe Horlen ’73, the retired department head and associate professor emeritus for Texas A&M University’s Department of Construction Science, as a recipient of its Partner in Philanthropy Award. The Foundation presented the award to Horlen on Jan. 17 at a private reception.

Established by the Foundation’s Board of Trustees in 2016, the Partner in Philanthropy Award honors Aggie faculty and staff who provide dedicated and lasting participation, commitment and creative leadership to philanthropy and Texas A&M. Horlen is the 10th recipient of this prestigious honor.

Faculty or staff must be nominated by a member of the Texas A&M Foundation development team to be considered for the award. Larry Zuber, the recently retired assistant vice president for development for the former College of Architecture, recommended Horlen for the award. Each Partner in Philanthropy Award recipient receives $10,000 to advance their research and teaching or direct to an area of their choice.

Horlen, who holds a juris doctor degree, had an unconventional entry into higher education philanthropic work. Initially pursuing a legal career for two decades, he offered to write Aggies’ wills for free if they would include the Texas A&M Foundation in their estate plan.

His legal work with construction companies also opened the door to a faculty position in the Department of Construction Science. “I never applied anywhere else,” Horlen said. “It’s the only place I wanted to go because I wanted to help other Aggies.”

At that time, the department, under the leadership of Jim Smith, had already established a Construction Industry Advisory Council and built philanthropic momentum by initiating an annual goal to create 10 endowed scholarships. Horlen built on this success when he stepped in as department head in 2007, helping to develop a departmental strategic plan, continuing to create scholarships through the council’s matching program and eventually expanding the advisory council to 200 members.

With the demand for the department’s graduates outpacing the supply, Horlen oversaw a study that proposed doubling the department’s student enrollment to 1,200. This projected growth required finding a new home, leading to the renovation of historic Francis Hall.

Horlen approached the proposed renovation’s $10 million fundraising campaign with a desire to embrace any interested donor, no matter what size their gift. This led to donations from former students, industry partners and individuals who weren’t Aggies, and it created strong buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders for the department’s mission. “This award is about the people who donated to the renovation and not about me,” Horlen said.

The renovation of the building, which was initially constructed in 1918, involved gutting the interior, replacing the original windows and ensuring the entryway was compliant with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Construction was completed in 18 months and included innovative touches, such as creating exposed mechanical, electrical and structural systems that serve as an easily-viewed learning laboratory.

Remembering his roots as a first-generation college student, Horlen also advocated for the creation of a departmental fund that could assist students who faced sudden financial needs. Many of these recipients were first-generation or minority students.

Always committed to helping Aggies, Horlen and his wife, Becky, continue to support Texas A&M in a variety of ways, including making provisions in their respective wills, endowing a construction science scholarship and providing funds for the Ranch Horse Team, a club sports activity that aligns with Becky’s horse-showing experience. “Funds to support student organizations are limited, so we wanted to create an endowment that allows students to participate in competitions,” Horlen said.

Tyson Voelkel ’96, president and CEO of the Foundation, expressed his gratitude for Horlen’s service and commitment to creating a brighter future for Texas A&M. “Dr. Horlen’s passion for this university and its people is just extraordinary,” he said. “His actions show a deep understanding of what makes Aggieland special — that it’s not just a great place to get a degree and occasionally visit but a place that’s built to be built upon. He and Becky have established a real legacy here, and it’s our Foundation’s privilege to recognize their contributions.”

Learn more about the Partner in Philanthropy Award and view a list of past recipients.

Media contact: Torie Noellsch,

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