By Crystale Lopez
After 50 years of serving as a faculty member, administrator, colleague, mentor and friend, Dr. Caroline Spana ’59 BSN, director of student affairs in the Ila Faye Miller School of Nursing and Health Professions, retired from the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) in December.
“I always jokingly said ‘I am going to stay with the university until they get it right’ – but UIW has always had it right and that is why I stayed as long as I did,” Spana said.
Spana’s journey at Incarnate Word began in 1964 with a prayer and an unexpected phone call.
“Sr. Margaret Mary Curry called and told me they had been making a novena because they did not have a teacher for pediatric nursing and heard I might be available,” Spana recalled. “So I agreed to teach for the program.”
Spana had graduated from then Incarnate Word College five years earlier and felt her time as a student greatly influenced her returning as a professor. “Like many students I loved Incarnate Word, and I had a great mentor in Sr. Olivia Prendergast,” she said. “I learned everything from her and everything else I learned from my students.”
Among Spana’s many nursing students over the years were UIW administrators Sr. Kathleen Coughlin, CCVI, vice president of institutional advancement, and Dr. Kathi Light, provost.
“What a privilege to encounter, later in one’s life, an individual who helped one become who they are today and who has been part of their journey in life,” Coughlin said. “She instilled in one to be the best they could be in their role of service to others as a nurse.”
Light agreed Spana was a teacher who expected the best out of every student and the teacher she wanted to impress the most. Eventually, Spana and Light became coworkers.
“I came to Incarnate Word twelve years after I graduated and was assigned to teach pediatrics with Dr. Spana,” Light said. “Being her teaching partner was daunting at first, but Dr. Spana proved to be a wonderful mentor and became a close friend.”
Spana said she takes no credit for the success of her students. “I am happy to have been engaged with all my students,” she said. “It is like watching your children grow up – your relationship can become like that of colleagues when you share the same interests in careers and that is something very special.”
Spana took her duties as a professor at UIW a step further by becoming involved in faculty governance and committees. She served as the first female president of the faculty association; was chair, vice-chair, treasurer, and member of most faculty committees; served on the University Planning Commission (UPC) for more than 12 years; and was the coordinator of student advising and director of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
“For the faculty to be involved in decisions of the future of the university and its programs is a tremendous opportunity offered at UIW,” Spana said. “I am an outspoken person and wanted to have a very direct role.”
Light said Spana was always an advocate for the nursing program but first and foremost thought about whole systems. “Dr. Spana thought about the common good of the university and how the many parts of the university interact,” Light said. “She showed me to think about the impact of individual decisions on the greater good. That is how she approached work with faculty committees and why she loved working with the UPC.”
With the increase in student body and faculty, and the expansion of programs and addition of buildings over the years, Spana said the university has evolved over time but has always kept a balance and constancy with all of the change and that is the Mission of UIW.
“From my first day as a professor in 1964 to now, the physical changes stand out tremendously because, of course, half the buildings at the university were not there when I first started!” Spana recalled. “I have been to the opening of two libraries, and graduation used to be small enough to be held in the Fine Arts Auditorium.”
“The Mission is the heart and strength of Incarnate Word,” she said. “It allows for all these changes to be for the better and if things are not going in the right direction then it is the Mission that redirects.”
Spana said she accomplished more than she ever planned at UIW. “When I first started at Incarnate Word 50 years ago, I never intended for my career to be in teaching,” she said. “I just enjoyed the university so much, and my contributions were valuable to people, so I found it such a wonderful place to stay.”