Sandra L. Terrell was appointed dean of the UNT Toulouse School of Graduate Studies
in 2004, after serving as interim and associate dean, and has been a member
of the speech and hearing sciences faculty since 1979. Her father, a Pennsylvania steel worker and licensed practical nurse, dreamed his children would one day go to college. She represents all he hoped for and more.
What brought you to this point in your life, becoming a professor and now a dean?
I just always knew I would go to college. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa. Even though my father [the late George B. Thomas] only had a high school education — and he was the first in his family to finish high school — education was always stressed in my family.
Daddy wanted my brother and me to go to college. So even before I knew what college was, I knew I was going. As a little girl, when someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd just say, "I'm going to college."
Thanks to my father's encouragement, good advice from my mother and my faith in God, I have a strong work ethic and a focus on equity and fairness that persists to this day.
My father told me he took a job in a Pittsburgh steel mill because he wanted to learn masonry. It was more lucrative and required more skills than a typical steel worker job, and he wanted to earn more money to begin saving for his children to go to college.
He fulfilled all the prerequisites, but his boss finally told him no one would want him as their apprentice because "no one wants to work with somebody who's colored." Shortly after this, my father left the steel mill and entered a technical school to become a licensed practical nurse.
I believe that's why he put all of his hopes and dreams into his children. He hoped our generation would do better. He never dreamed that I would actually finish the Ph.D.
He lived to see me finish and rise through the faculty ranks and various administrative appointments at UNT, and he lived to see his grandchildren complete college. Two of my children are in Ph.D programs at Penn State and Carnegie Mellon, and another has just completed her M.D. at UT-Southwestern.
This is my father's legacy. His life continues to inspire me, and my work at UNT has given me opportunities to help others advance.
What do you see as the key goals of the Toulouse Graduate School?
All of our goals can be summed up in a single word — "excellence." By that, I mean excellence in everything
related to graduate programming and excellence in all of the services the graduate school provides to its students, the graduate faculty and the university community.
One very important objective incorporated in our
new academic plan is to continue advancing UNT's research status to new levels of achievement. An excellent university has a strong graduate education component.
Many of our doctoral students and those pursuing master's degrees are engaged with their mentors in faculty research and are creating knowledge through their own research. We want to fully support and create new opportunities for all of our graduate students.
What will our alumni find at UNT if they decide to return for a graduate degree?
I think they'll find a research university that's student centered, where faculty members are dedicated to their work and to the enlightenment of the students. We may be the fourth largest university in the state, but many of our departments offer one-on-one or small-group learning experiences.
We also have a number of courses and programs — degree programs and Graduate Academic Certificate programs — that are offered online or in another distributed learning format. UNT knows how to work with non-traditional graduate students and with the more traditional students who move directly from their undergraduate programs to full-time graduate study.
What do you like to do away from work?
I like to read and exercise. I also enjoy ballroom dancing. I'm not going to resign to become a professional ballroom dance competitor, but it is a real passion.
I've been competing once or twice a year for the last
four years. Sometimes I compete locally or I may travel to another city.
One thing I like about ballroom dancing is that your body type, size and age just don't matter at all. There was a competition in which a gentleman had just turned 90 — his birthday was that day — and he was out there having a blast and celebrating life. All the dancers there are pursuing their hobby and what they love to do.
I've got friends now from everywhere, people I see from one competition to the next. We are competing for medals, a trophy every now and then, or maybe a scholarship that will pay for a few more lessons.
Ballroom dancing is great exercise and also allows me to "turn it all off" at the end of the day. It's challenging and fun. I really do enjoy it a great deal.