feature stories

A Leader’s Legacy

By Debra Del Toro

University Chancellor Dr. Terry Dicianna knew he wanted to eventually retire in San Antonio, but when that would happen remained unknown.

Dr. Terry Dicianna


“I told Lou I would be here for three to five years,” he said as he recalled an early conversation with Dr. Louis Agnese Jr., university president. “And it will be seven. It’s hard to leave a place you feel so positive about.”

With the creation of two new professional schools to his credit and six years of success as university provost, and now chancellor Dicianna will leave quite a legacy when he retires in August.

“This is a terrific place. Students who come here are very fortunate. The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word have done a great job with this endeavor,” he said.

Indeed they have. The Sisters who founded the university established the Mission and laid the groundwork for the university system that exists today, but it is the innovative leadership of those like Dicianna who have carried on that work.

A native of Beaver Falls, Pa., Dicianna decided while still in high school that he wanted to teach. Dicianna, who holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Geneva College, Pa., a Master of Science in education from the University of Pittsburgh and a Ph.D. in educational administration from Kent State University, began his career as a high school biology and physical science teacher. His love of working with students led to a position as a counselor and full time faculty member at the Community College of Beaver County (CCBC). During his 16 years at CCBC, he worked in numerous positions including director of financial aid, dean of students, two vice presidential positions and ultimately, college president.

In an effort to find a home with better opportunities for his children, Dicianna and his wife, Patricia, moved to San Antonio so he could become founding president for a yet-unnamed college.

That school was Palo Alto College (PAC). Dicianna took the position in 1985, shortly before Agnese came on board at Incarnate Word.

Dr. Terry Dicianna

Dr. Terry Dicianna, UIW Chancellor, shows off some of the turtle collection he keeps in his office. "They are very smart, much smarter than people. My best friends are reptiles."

“We were two new presidents on the block. I wanted to give Palo Alto credibility, and Lou was open to working together,” Dicianna said.

As founding president, Dicianna opened the college in 1985 with an enrollment of 250 students. By 1989, PAC’s enrollment had grown to 4,500 and he had opened 12 new buildings, all on time and within budget. In 1989, he took a position as chancellor at Chabot-Las Positas College District in California. During his years there, he reorganized the entire district to maintain fiscal stability, despite revenue reduction.

Dicianna made his way back to the Lone Star state in 1995, when he was called to lead Del Mar College in Corpus Christi. As president, he introduced e-mail, Internet and distance learning instruction as well as leading the college to 10-year reaffirmation with Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. He also worked with Agnese to establish a UIW ADCaP location at Del Mar.

The two worked together for years both while Dicianna was at PAC and at Del Mar, so when Incarnate Word’s provost position opened, Agnese invited him to apply. As provost, Dicianna’s responsibilities included development of new programs, accreditation issues and supervision of the extended programs and two high schools.

“Dr. Dicianna was in a unique position to understand the many challenges facing higher education from his perspective as a former college president,” Agnese said.

Perhaps his biggest accomplishment as provost of UIW is the research and development of the Feik School of Pharmacy and the UIW School of Optometry.

“Lou came to me and said ‘Let’s look at new programs.’ We thought this would be the niche of the future, the medical field,” Dicianna said.

Dicianna became responsible for researching feasibility and developing each program, a weighty task, but one that would affect scores of students and the community.

The pharmacy school was created to address a nationwide shortage of pharmacists. The bilingual track offers UIW students an advantage in meeting that need. The professional school will begin its third full year in the fall.

In the spring, the university announced the addition of the UIW School of Optometry, the only faith-based school of optometry in the United States. Students can begin a pre-optometry track in Fall 2008 and the first Doctor of Optometry students will begin classes in Fall 2009.

In the past year, the university began a restructure of its administration. Dicianna accepted the role of chancellor where he will continue to develop new programs, handle accreditation issues and fill in for the president in his absence throughout the summer.

Dicianna plans to work part time throughout the summer with his final day at the end of August, but he won’t be gone for long.

“This is where we are retiring. We are making some travel plans. I plan to relax and then come back in January to teach online,” he said.

He also plans to spend time with his grandchildren, and he will have more time to raise his turtles, including red-eared sliders he has saved from the road, and add to his ever-growing collection of turtle memorabilia.

Whatever he chooses to do, he will undoubtedly continue to be a positive force on everyone around him.

“It has been a joy to work with Terry these last few years. He’s a person of great integrity who provided us with steady counsel during a period of tremendous growth,” Agnese said.