New VP of Student Life: Alum back to support Alma Mater

Photo by Rachael Patin

Veronica Novotny

“The first two things I did when I started was, in the student life offices (in the JC), get rid of the cubes. … The other thing I did was move my office down here” to the former office of evangelization next to the Fireside Lounge, said the new vice president of student life at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Daniel Dentino, or “Dan” as he tells students to call him, stepped into his new role in June and immediately started implementing his vision for an administration that is with and for Franciscan’s students.

“My whole approach to student affairs is invitation, hospitality and presence, where my role is to be a full-throated advocate for our students, to be an advocate for them on their best days and on their worst days, and then try to find a way to engage them, to enliven them, and to send forth joyful disciples to a world in desperate need of that,” said Dentino.

“I really wanna establish a beachhead right here across from Switchboard. … I wanna be around the students and I wanna hear them. … I (also) gave every single first-year student and every single parent my cell phone number.”

Because Dentino is passionate about the wellbeing and success of what he calls “our dear students,” he wants to be able to hear from them and help them in real time.

“I wanna get real feedback in real time,” said Dentino, who plans on developing a student input survey with the help of Franciscan University Student Government. “I am all ears.

“We educate head and heart here, not just your brain,” said Dentino. “Students aren’t just brains with legs. I think what we do in student life and what we do in areas outside of the classroom should always complement the classroom work and build it bigger, and show them how they live this after they do class.”

Although Dentino prioritizes the holistic development of students, he will also be in the classroom as a theology professor.

“I (just) met with one of the faculty here (who) asked if I’d like to teach in the spring, and I’d love to,” said Dentino. “There’s a number of theology courses I might be able to plug into.”

As committed to Franciscan’s mission as he is now, Dentino wasn’t always as passionate about the university.

Growing up as the youngest of 10, Dentino said, “My mom used to make oatmeal in the bathtub, so I knew I’d have a career in higher education.”

Dentino planned on going to college for football but lost his sports scholarship after breaking his neck at his last high school game.

“I decided that God wanted me to be a priest, so I went to the college seminary –– and got expelled in two weeks,” said Dentino. “My dad picked me up … (and) drove me straight to Franciscan University.

“I thought I had been dropped off on a foreign planet,” Dentino said.

Although Dentino wanted to leave, his dad made him stay.

“The best decision I ever made was not to go to Franciscan University,” said Dentino. “The best decision I made was made for me by my dad, and I stayed when I didn’t want to. Hindsight is 20-20 –– what a blessing it’s been in my life. There’s not a day that goes by when my experience of this place … (doesn’t) form me.”

After graduating from Franciscan, Dentino went on to get a doctorate in systematic theology at Duquesne University with a dissertation on cohabitation and marriage in Theology of the Body.

While studying, he coached football and taught several core classes.

“I got a Ph.D. because I thought I would be just a straight faculty member,” Dentino said. But after finishing his doctorate, “I was offered two jobs … (including) this job at Ave Maria College which was a brand-new startup institution in Ypsilanti, Michigan, as the director of student life.

“I took (that) job because I was dating a girl (in Michigan) … and we broke up two days after I took the job,” Dentino said. “That’s how I wound up in student development, not in academics, and the rest is history.”

Dentino is now married to Mary Helgeson Dentino, and the couple has four children.

Dentino has a 20-year history in student life at several liberal arts schools, including what is now Ave Maria University, Wheeling Jesuit University in nearby West Virginia, Providence College, Bethany College and Canisius College, where he says he loved his role as vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

But now, Dentino says he is at his “dream job,” to bring his expertise in student development to the alma mater that first developed him.

Dentino said, “I want the student body to know that I have the best job on campus, and that I take my vocation very seriously and see it as a sacred charge that I should be with and among, and that I should be present to, the students.”

Dentino replaces David Schmiesing, who now serves as the first dean of personal vocation at Franciscan.