By Allie Casso and Roberto Camero
SAN ANTONIO—Diane Melby had a discussion with her husband, Dave. A New York native and Virginia resident, Melby had dedicated much of her life to the advancement of higher education. During that discussion, the Melbys determined it was not the time for Diane to pursue a university presidency position.
Then, in the summer of 2014, Melby received a call from a friend. The friend invoked her to go against her family’s plan and apply for the presidency at Our Lady of the Lake University. Melby remained thoroughly undeterred. Within twenty-four hours, another person, unaware of her familial decision, called to strongly suggest that she consider OLLU. The providence of those two phone calls changed her and her family’s life immensely.
Melby first set foot on OLLU’s campus approximately a year ago on a quiet Sunday evening. The then-vice president for advancement at West Virginia’s Shepherd University had, up until that point in her life, only focused on one task at a time.
“I’ve never been a person that could look ahead and say ‘Here’s where I want to be in five years,’” Melby said. From leading million dollar fundraising campaigns to establishing extension school programs, she always committed to completing an undertaking and doing it well before she ever pondered what the next step would be. Void of campus administrators that sleepy Sunday, OLLU gave Melby a sense of urgency she never had before. “It just felt like home…I’ve [attended and worked at] enough colleges to know what a good fit is,” Melby said. Not wanting to jinx herself, she went through OLLU’s presidential search process.
Her official hiring, announced in November of last year, set off a nearly nine month transition period. Because the official position of president was Sister Jane Ann Slater’s until July, Melby “focused on learning everything [she] could about OLLU.” As it pertains to her personal hobbies, settling into San Antonio’s propensity for warm weather fed right into Melby’s love for hiking and biking, while OLLU’s athletic program satisfied her love of sports. Being from a rural environment in Virginia, living in a large city was an unfamiliar scenario. For Melby, there is a lot to love about San Antonio but “the cultural mix…and Hispanic heritage” top the list.
Two months into her formal position as president, Melby remains in discovery mode. Although she is, for all intents and purposes, the woman in charge of the show, her sole focus is concentrating on the community’s dream for OLLU.
“Every day I am thinking about students that are here…watching enrollment numbers…[and] making sure that we’re serving well,” she said while clutching her cross necklace and tapping the table for emphasis. Melby’s self-described “listening tour” will continue all semester; the overall goal of which is to find out “what the dream for OLLU is.” So far, she has talked to everyone from students to faculty—and even people outside of the university. Shining a light, through the OLLU populace, on the university is Melby’s next big undertaking. “OLLU is OLLU, but we have to…find the words…that [convinces people] to say ‘Oh wow, OLLU is the place for me.’”