Biological sciences alum left a lasting impact on campus
Dr. Heather Gietzen, CLAS ’98, earned a bachelor’s in biological sciences at Wayne State before going on to earn her doctorate of dental medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a Master of Science in Orthodontics at U-M. She now has a successful orthodontic practice in Lowell, Michigan, where she is also very involved in her community. Gietzen, whose maiden name is Zablocki, admits that she was reluctant to apply to Wayne State at first.
Her father, however, insisted that she apply to at least three universities; Wayne State was one of the chosen schools. When Gietzen received word that she had been accepted to WSU with a full scholarship, she knew that it was an opportunity that could not be passed up. This began Gietzen's unintentional Wayne State University experience.
Her first year at Wayne State was not ideal; commuting to campus made it hard to connect with other students and groups. Things started to change during her second year when a friend asked her to become part of his slate running for the Student Senate. They won the ticket, and Gietzen took on the role of executive vice president. Living on campus was crucial to her role in the Student Senate, so she soon moved into the newly constructed University Towers. As her responsibilities grew, Gietzen began to see “windows of opportunity” everywhere around her at Wayne State.
Gietzen feels that Wayne State is special because there are fewer obstacles to getting involved compared to other universities. She advises students that “if you spend a little time looking, you can make Wayne State the experience you want.” There were many opportunities that Gietzen was able to take advantage of through her affiliation with the student government. A highlight was being able to interview Irvin D. Reid for President of the University while serving on the Presidential Search Advisory Committee.
One project that Gietzen was especially passionate about during her time on the Student Senate was the creation of the One Card. At the time WSU students had paper ID cards and separate parking and library cards. Gietzen and the Student Senate noticed that other universities used a more streamlined approach to student ID cards. They campaigned to bring this idea to WSU, saying, “we want one card that can do everything.” Gietzen had graduated by the time the One Card was introduced, but she is proud that she was able to help bring about a lasting change to the university.
Through her activities in the student government, Gietzen was able to develop leadership skills that have proven beneficial throughout her professional career. Now, as the president of the Council of Michigan Dental Specialties, Gietzen can use those skills to advocate for patients and dental professionals. While Gietzen credits Wayne State with much of her success, including a scholarship to dental school and subsequent admission to the U-M orthodontic program, it is truly because of her willingness to take advantage of the opportunities available at Wayne State that she was able to accomplish so much. Her advice to current WSU students is simple – don’t get so focused on the end goal that you miss out on potential opportunities along the way.