Ask the Dean

Dr. Wallace Southerland III

Q: I’d love to become a Dean of Students someday. Could you tell us about your degrees and what you did to get where you are today?


I am glad someone out there in Huskyland is interested in being a Dean of Students (and Vice President for Student Affairs). Serving students has always been my calling – my ministry. I knew what I wanted, so I created a plan and here I am.


My degrees. You gotta get credentialed to be competitive. You pretty much can have almost any degree to be in this role, but degrees in traditional academic disciplines, counseling, education, policy, law, business, communications, human development, and psychology tend to be the most desired. You will need a master’s degree or, more likely, a doctorate. I have a B.A. (cum laude!) in English (but started in business) with minors in secondary education and philosophy; an M.S. in counseling and human resource development; and a Ph.D. in education policy, planning, and administration.


The Journey. I had to pay my dues. My 30-year journey that led me to Michigan Tech includes progressive positions with increasing responsibilities: assistant to the president, director for student development, affirmative action officer, director for residential life and judicial affairs, graduate assistantships in student service roles, senior director for educational opportunity programs, director of academic services, associate dean of students and director for minority student affairs, and now vice president for student affairs and dean of students. I’ve worked at large, small, religious, private, public, Big 10, and research universities.


Important Skills. Several skills are needed: writing, speaking persuasively, planning, research, critical thinking, problem-solving, grant-writing, fundraising, organizing, networking, negotiating, reasoned decision-making; and appreciating the art and science of organizational politics.


Mentors and Other Stuff. I am very fortunate to have good mentors who helped me. But what else did I have to do to get where I am?: As a first-generation Black man in White institutions, I had to work harder, faster, smarter, and longer; put up with crap; stay above minutiae; endure attacks; and make tough decisions.


I’m a Husky now – Boom! Wanna be a Dean? HuskyUP and get it done.