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Antonio Puente

January 10, 2017

The new year will bring a new set of duties to UNCW psychology professor Antonio Puente, who will be installed as the 2017 president of the American Psychological Association in January. Puente, who has served as president-elect for the past year, will be the 117,500-member association’s first president from North Carolina in nearly 70 years.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said, noting that UNCW has created an atmosphere that encourages professional and community service pursuits.

The APA, founded in 1892 with just 31 members, is one of the oldest scientific associations in the United States. As incoming president, one of Puente’s priorities includes advocacy to treat the whole person by integrating mental and behavioral health under the broader health care umbrella. “Doing so will make health care more efficient and less costly,” he said.

His new role will keep him busy, but Puente seems to thrive on a hectic schedule. In addition to his longtime work with the APA and his teaching and research responsibilities at UNCW, he maintains a private practice. He is also the founder and co-director of mental health services at the Cape Fear Clinic, a bilingual health center serving the working poor and uninsured. His work with the clinic earned him a 2016 Health Care Heroes Award.

At UNCW, he was the founding director of Centro Hispano, a cultural center that serves the university’s growing Hispanic student body. Nevertheless, he still finds time to surf before classes or on weekends.

Born in Havana, Puente left the late dictator Fidel Castro’s Cuba with his family in 1960. “We emigrated with $300 and essentially the clothes on our back,” he said.

Puente and his mother, Silvia Llanso Puente, went back for the first time in 1999 for an international conference, and he now returns every two to three years to the country that remains dear to him. He also maintains ties with the Cuban psychological community.

“I remember my extended family, which to this day does not seem to end, the white sand beaches with crystal-clear waters and the beauty and liveliness of my fellow countrymen. All of these still exist,” Puente said. “Whereas the U.S. – specifically Wilmington – is my home, Cuba will forever be in my heart.”

-- Tricia Vance