From Residential Instructor at Grafton to University President

February 17, 2015

Dr. Diane Melby started her career with Grafton in 1979 and spent 13 years with the company. This summer, she will be transitioning into a new role as President of Our Lady of the Lake University, in San Antonio, Texas. During the rigorous interview process to become a university president, something took Diane by surprise. She was asked multiple questions by numerous people about her time at Grafton, the experience on the furthest reaches of her resume.

They were impressed and interested in the time she spent with children with special needs. They could have asked about the strong higher education credentials that landed her the interview or how she was planning on replicating the 65 and 26 million dollar fundraising campaigns at her current position. But, they were perhaps more interested in her work at Grafton.

Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Diane to learn more about her journey from Grafton to university president.

Diane Melby Headshot

What is your current position, and what are its overall job functions and responsibilities?

My current role is vice president of advancement at Shepherd University, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I am responsible for the external functions of the university. This entails fundraising, alumni affairs, government relations such as acquiring grants, university communications (website, media, press releases), and outreach.

What is your typical workday like?

The best part about my job is that I never have a typical day. One day I may be meeting with community members and alumni about fundraising to execute the strategic plan for a new building on campus. Another day I could be travelling to support the football team in the playoffs.

I oversee a moderate size staff, I am constantly talking with them, receiving updates on their initiatives, discussing ways to circumnavigate issues, and helping them meet their goals.

A big part of my job is community relations: meeting with community members, students, alumni, faculty, etc. to obtain feedback that will help shape the direction in which the university is headed. I chair the university’s strategic planning committee, and that means I have to understand what all the constituencies want and facilitate these groups coming together because they all have a voice and a role to play in the strategic plan we have for the university moving forward.

A big part of my role is to collaborate with the other members of the executive staff to make sure that the university is progressing. Together, we’re continuously working on the fundamentals like enrollment, budgeting, campus climate, and communications.

What were your position and duties when you worked at Grafton?

Grafton was my first job out of college with a bachelor’s of science in therapeutic recreation.I started my work there in 1979, andI held various roles for 13 years.I was a residential instructor for two years at the Berryville campus and two years in Millwood.For those of you who haven’t worked at Grafton for very long, Millwood is the place you hear some of our more tenured employees refer towhen they talk about “the old’ red school house.” The role was very similar to the current role of residential instructor.

From there, I transitioned into a new role at Grafton, family outreach worker, where I was responsible for going to the homes of clients who were about to be discharged and implementing the treatment plan and strategies in the home environment.This was aimed at producing a smooth transition and a positive outcome.I was the first one to carry this title when the position was created.

After a year in that position I transitioned into the role of residential supervisor on the Berryville campus, and I held that role for three years. At that time, the large residential building there was not built yet. There was only the “big white house” and the eight residential buildings, which are now being utilized as classrooms.

My last five years were spent in the role of coordinator of quality assurance and human rights, where I investigated and advocated for client rights and maintained licenses and accreditation for the all of the campuses and group homes.I then took the skills and experience gained in my various roles at Grafton to Lord Fairfax Community College and Shenandoah University, before taking my current position at Shepherd University.

How did your Grafton experience affect future roles that you held?

Working with the kids taught me that every person can learn. If you find the right ways to deliver instruction and pair that with the right environmental structures, everyone can learn. It’s just that simple.Following from that, this philosophy easily translates into how I help employees grow.

It’s a learning process, if you find the right way to motivate and teach an employee, you can help them reach their goals and succeed in what they want to do.When you work with kids with autism and you succeed at teaching a child how to read or speak by overcoming the many deficits and focusing on their strengths, it teaches you that everyone can improve and learn if they are given a chance.

Is there any advice that you would provide a person just starting out in this field at Grafton?

There are a few things that I know to be true. First, there are a tremendous number of people at Grafton who have developed a high level of expertise in promoting the growth of other people. Grafton is committed to fostering the professional growth of its employees and provides the ability for each person to become expert in his or her field.

Second, regardless of the unique experiences encountered along the way, professional success is dependent upon human interaction, human growth, and relationships. For me, my time at Grafton provided an opportunity to hone my abilities to foster the growth and relationships that led to any success that I have enjoyed since.

There are many people who leave Grafton and go on to do great things because the skills they learned there translate to every profession.

Finally, at Grafton I learned that there must be hard days, if there are to be good days. It is really the hard days that provide the most opportunity for growth. The relationships you build will be tested, and some interactions will be difficult, but you must focus on the growth that you are responsible for everyday. If you can master the skills needed to build relationships and be a leader at Grafton, you can overcome the obstacles of human interactions, foster growth, and build strong relationships anywhere.