Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Wes Heath
January 31, 2023
BATON ROUGE, LA - Wes Heath, PhD, is a recent graduate of the Higher Education Administration PhD program the LSU Lutrill & Pearl Payne School of Education that is now working as the Regional Director for for Diversity & Inclusion at Ochsner Health.
The Journey to LSU...
Born in Dallas, Texas and raised Indiana in a small family, Heath knew from a young age that he desired a future in education. As a child, he wanted to be some kind of professor and placed a lot of importance in learning. However, he found it difficult to find a specific field of passion as he never excelled in any specific academic areas. "However, in my senior year of high school I stumbled into a sociology course taught by one of my history teachers; this course changed my life. We started talking about complex social structures built on power and privilege that changed the way I saw and experienced the world. This was also the time I began coming out as gay and experienced first-hand the concepts of prejudice, stigma, and social mores. I knew going forward that my life would be dedicated to helping others through education and advocacy."
A first-generation college graduate, Heath earned his dual-bachelor degree in sociology and psychology at Manchester University before earning a master's degree in sociology at Ball State University. At this point, Heath started a nationwde search for a meaningful work in higher education working in diversity, equity an inclusion. This is when he found the opportunity to work at LSU in the Office of Multicultural Affairs supporting Latinx, Native, LGBTQ+ and Asian student populations. This five year tenure had a large impact on him and he is thankful for theopportunity.
Tell us more about your work as a student affairs professional and how this led to your interest in enrolling in the Higher Education PhD program.
"Student affairs professionals are often very passionate, highly qualified individuals who live to serve students, break down barriers of college access, and to make each student’s experience exceptional. In diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work, the job is slightly more complex because you simultaneously help underrepresented students navigate systems that weren’t designed form them, while also pushing to make those systems more equitable... I wanted to learn how higher education institutions functioned so that I wasn’t just pointing out problems, but instead, offering educated solutions through a change-management mindset."
It is clear that advocacy is an essential part of how you live your life. What does that mean to you and how can others advocate well?
"To me, advocacy is about amplifying the voices around me that often struggle to be heard. It’s not about replacing voices or speaking on behalf of others, but simply intensifying the messages that are already out there. My advocacy often comes through my education. Part of my role as a DEI officer is to help staff explore complex notions of power, privilege, and systems of oppression. I like to help individuals widen their social lens to include new perspectives, ideas, values, and beliefs that impact how they see themselves in relation to others.
My advice to those who want to practice advocacy is to start with introspection. Ask yourself where your values and beliefs come from, what makes them special to you, and how might your values and beliefs be different than others. Keep asking yourself questions until you discover something that makes you uncomfortable; when you get there, lean in. Remain curious and always seek understanding."
What were some highlights during your PhD journey? What are some important things you learned about higher education, administration, and about your research topics?
"Most of my highlights pertain to the amazing people I met in the program including my dissertation committee (Drs. Joy Blanchard, Laura Choate, and Emily Elliott), my phenomenal faculty advisor, Dr. Ashley Clayton, and the network of exceptional peers I met along the way.
The dissertation seems daunting, but if you listen to your faculty, follow the process, and take it piece by piece, it can be very manageable. All of my fears when I entered the program centered around the dissertation. Looking back, it was less about my skills as a writer, and more about my time-management and staying motivated. Have an idea of what you’d like to study but be flexible. I came into the program with a topic in mind; just before I began my comp exams, I decided to change my topic. I still focused on the same over-arching theories but selected a topic I knew would keep me focused.
Set your pace and hold yourself accountable. I found that a lot of students, myself included, rely heavily on the structure of coursework to keep a solid rhythm throughout the semester. However, when you get to the dissertation phase, you lose that structure. Find ways to hold yourself accountable at a manageable pace to accomplish your writing goals."
Tell us about your current job. How did your Higher Ed PhD help prepare you for your current role?
"Shortly after finishing the Ph.D. program, I left LSU to pursue a career advancement opportunity as the Regional Director for Diversity & Inclusion at Ochsner Health. In this role I am charged with developing programs, events, and strategies to support DEI efforts for Ochsner’s facilities across southern Louisiana. I develop and implement a full range of initiatives that enhance ongoing leadership efforts to ensure organization-wide understanding, adoption, and adherence to DEI policies and practices. I engage in continuous, systematic, and focused recruitment and retention activities to increase Ochsner’s support of diverse populations, including the ongoing development of employee resource groups, mentorship initiatives, and advancement opportunities. Moreover, I collect and evaluate current and long-term data to ensure that system goals for recruitment and retention for diverse populations are meeting and exceeding expectations.
My research background has allowed me to review complex data for trends in employee engagement, retention, and advancement. I’ve been able to help system leaders set goals, measure outcomes, and recalibrate as needed. My education background has given me the opportunity to design system-wide curriculum using both formative and summative assessments to gauge overall improvement. And perhaps most importantly, my student affairs background helps me approach each situation with compassion and empathy in order to create high-trust, people-focused environments.
The skills from this program are remarkably transferable, and I am thankful every day for the opportunity to learn from this faculty. I’m also extremely honored that this program has invited me to join the department in an adjunct faculty role, and I cannot wait to begin teaching in Spring, 2023!"