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Wes Whiteside: Passionate About Helping Students Succeed
Wesley “Wes” Whiteside is living his dream.
As associate director of diversity and recruitment in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Whiteside brings the Newhouse School experience to life for prospective and admitted students. He enthusiastically supports student involvement at Newhouse and is a motivator, connector, facilitator and safe haven for students, especially students of color.
His work in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion played a key role in the prestigious Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Equity and Diversity Award, received by the Newhouse School in May 2020. And this past May, Whiteside was named as a recipient of a 2021 Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence for Outstanding Contributions to the Student Experience and University Initiatives. The award highlights faculty and staff who have enhanced the undergraduate experience or made invaluable contributions to advancing the University’s mission and goals.
“It’s a blessing every day to come into the Newhouse School and work with amazing students, faculty and staff,” he says.
Whiteside was born in Pontiac, Michigan, and raised in Auburn Hills, Michigan. He played football at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, graduating in 2006 with a degree in communications and staying for an extra year of football eligibility. “I was blessed to play football and get an outstanding education at Gannon University,” he says. “It is a point of pride for me, and I mention it in all of my information sessions for my students.” After graduation, he began his career in Gannon’s admissions office, where he worked for two years.
His exposure to college admissions began even before he stepped foot on Gannon’s campus. “I think back to my college selection process and I really did not have one. My thought was that I was going to go wherever I would get an offer of a scholarship,” he says. “Fortunately for me, it was Gannon University. But I did get to see the process with my older brothers.”
His oldest brother, Nick, went to Indiana Tech, where Whiteside got his first glimpse of a college campus. “Being 8 or 9 years old at the time, that was really cool,” he says. His middle brother, Darius, who is three years older, went to Grambling State to play basketball. “I actually got to visit universities as he was searching for his university. As a younger sibling, that was really cool to experience.”
Whiteside brought that wonder he felt those many years ago into his role at Gannon, and now he brings it to his role at Syracuse. “There is nothing more thrilling than to sit with a family and talk to them about the institution and what the institution can offer for them,” he says. “And then to see students on campus that you engaged with at an information session.”
Whiteside came to Syracuse in November 2009. He knew about the University’s strong legacy and had a strong tie to Syracuse—it is the hometown of his wife, Christina, whom he met at Gannon, where she played women’s lacrosse. “I got the call for my second interview at Syracuse and we got engaged the same weekend. When I got the call for the second interview, I felt like the job was destined to happen.”
Whiteside originally started in the central Admissions office, where he met students both in Syracuse and on the road as he traveled through the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the U.S. He settled into his current role in 2019 after roles on the Newhouse School’s academic advising team and in the central Career Services office.
“I was drawn back because Newhouse is a family,” he says.
Whiteside’s typical week involves information sessions for both prospective students and admitted students and tours. The COVID-19 pandemic forced a new way of doing things and the need for out-of-the-box thinking. “We needed to bring the Newhouse School and Syracuse University directly to them in their living rooms or wherever they are,” Whiteside says.
He also oversees the Newhouse Ambassadors program—a 120-member volunteer cohort of diverse students from different backgrounds and cultures who help to promote the Newhouse School to prospective and admitted students. “I lean on them a lot,” Whiteside says. “I have been out of the college game since 2006. The academic and campus experience has changed a lot in that time. I rely on the ambassadors to really present to the students and families their perspectives, what they are doing in the classroom, in internships and on campus. They do an amazing job of reaching out and sharing their experiences.”
The Newhouse Ambassadors are also engaged in Friday Chats, opportunities for students to directly meet and discuss topics ranging from internships to classroom experiences to career preparation. Whiteside collaborates with colleagues Karen McGee, assistant dean of student success, and Julie Walas, director of recruitment and student engagement on this program.
Whiteside is also a member of the Newhouse IDEAS (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) Committee and the school’s Staff Council.
“There are not many at the Newhouse School that don’t know Wes, and if you don’t know him, you recognize him,” says McGee. “Wes makes a point to get out and meet students, develop relationships with faculty and staff, and be an approachable and friendly face to all. I am continually amazed at how many students (and alumni) he knows and keeps track of.”
Above and beyond his work to promote the Newhouse School, Whiteside strives to be a beacon of calm for students in an often stormy world. “With all of the events that have transpired in the recent past—the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the violence against Asian Americans—sometimes my office is the place where students will come to just be,” he says. “My office is always open where students can have a seat and I will listen.”
“In addition to his job duties, Wes serves as a much-needed sounding board for students,” says McGee. “Wes has the ability to tune in to the student pulse and his insight and care has helped Newhouse become a safe haven.”
Newhouse alumna Daijha Thompson ’21 met Whiteside during her junior year and says he has always expressed and demonstrated his interest in seeing both prospective and current students succeed.
“Wes is passionate about helping students get to where they want to be by connecting them with the right people and giving them the information and resources they need to be successful,” she says. “He is more than just a staff member to the students who know him—he is a confidant, a mentor and a friend. He is the person you go to when you need academic or career advice or when you just need someone to talk to about life. There are not enough words in the dictionary to explain how much of an influence he has had on my college career and life. I am forever grateful for his mentorship.”
Priscilla Kang ’22 says Whiteside energizes whatever room he walks into. “Whether it’s Newhouse Ambassadors, prospective students or faculty and staff, Wes always makes sure that everyone feels welcome and appreciated. I feel like his presence is what lets people relax and be themselves,” she says. “Wes makes sure that everyone feels like they’re a part of the Newhouse family, whether they’re admitted or not.”
Whiteside was the first person to welcome Marnie Muñoz ’22 to Newhouse and has been a positive presence in her life. “In my first year, he remembered my name and always said hello, whether inside Newhouse or while waiting for a bus. In my second year, Wes became more of a mentor to me as one of the only faces I saw consistently throughout my remote learning experience away from Syracuse. He supported me when I felt directionless and guided me when I figured out what direction to take. Looking back today, I am thankful to know him and work together in building up the Newhouse community.”
Whiteside is grateful for the home he has found at Syracuse University. Two summers ago, Whiteside’s brother brought his family to Syracuse and to campus for a visit. Whiteside gave them a tour of the Newhouse facility and studios. “When you have family come in and say, ‘Wow, you work here!’ it’s pretty touching. My brother is one of my idols, and to hear him say he is proud of me was pretty amazing.”