A (super busy) day in the life of public health senior Heather Wege

October 15, 2018

What does a typical day look like for non-traditional student Heather Wege? Anything but typical.

Heather Wege and her two kids, Xander and Arianna, sit at their dining room table. Heather is a young white woman with dirty blonde hair, tied in a small bun.

Heather Wege's Wednesday starts at 6:30 a.m. when her alarm goes off and ends at around 10:30 p.m. when there’s finally nothing else to do. In between, the 42-year-old public health senior is getting her two kids, Xander and Arianna, fed and dressed, then dropping them off at two different Oakland County schools. Then she’s off to UM-Dearborn for three consecutive classes, then home again to pick up the kids, feed them, love them, squeeze in some homework, and get them ready for bed.

Somehow, through it all, she maintains what is a noticeably cool exterior, which she told us is part disposition and part survival strategy: “I know if I let something derail me, then my whole day could unravel. So staying calm throughout a busy day is something I know I have to do.”

Recently, we tagged along with Wege for one of her marathon Wednesdays, as she closes in on fulfilling her 25-year dream of earning a college degree.

Heather with her child

7:25 a.m. Breakfast + a decisive moment.

I graduated from high school early, and when I finished, I really wanted to go to college. Back then, my dream was to become a doctor. At the time, I was living with my grandparents, who didn't go to college, but they were successful entrepreneurs, and for them, that was a really great life. So when I started classes, I don’t think they really understood what college meant, and think I, in turn, didn't really know what all was going to be involved. So I ended up instead working in the travel industry for a long time, but the dream never left my mind all those years.

Then, I remember I had this moment; it was the October before Xander turned 1. I was looking at him wiggling his toes, thinking that I want this child to do all these things that are important to him. And I just thought, he needs the example that I didn't have. I couldn't tell him that he could do anything he wanted to do when I still had not made room in my life to do the thing I really wanted to do.

Heather taking her children to school

8:05 a.m. Dropping off the Super Kids at school.

I know Wednesday is going to be a tough day for me, so I actually start preparing mentally on Tuesday night. I go through the checklist of what I’m going to have to do so I don’t have that panicky moment where I realize I’ve forgotten something for the kids’ field trip or misplaced one of my textbooks. There is no such thing as routine: The day varies every time, because, you know — kids. Some days they wake up and they’re super cooperative. Or you can have a day like last week, where Arianna declares that she’s Wonder Woman and she’s changing her name and she doesn’t need to go to school anymore. Every morning, I wake up knowing that I’m going to face the unknown.

Heather studying

8:45 a.m. A quick moment to myself.

Some days, after I drop the kids off at school, I have time to come home for an hour so I can review my notes, finish up an outline, practice a presentation — whatever it is I need to do to prep for anything big that’s coming up in my day. It’s either that or I head right to campus and find a quiet spot to collect my thoughts. Because once my first class starts, it’s a back-to-back-to-back crunch of three classes in a row.

Heather waiting for the campus shuttle

10:15 a.m. Doing the two-campus, three-class shuffle.

It would have been pretty amazing if all my Wednesday classes were in one spot. But unfortunately it didn't work out that way. So I developed this plan where I get to campus a little early, pray that I find a parking spot, park on the main campus and then take the shuttle over to Fairlane for my first class. Then, when that class gets out, I have 15 minutes to make it all the way back over to CASL for my next two classes.

But Professor Lacey has been really great about it and lets me quietly sneak out a few minutes early so I can make it. It’s even become the running joke in the class that I skip out early. Then I’m at CASL for the rest of my day. That’s when I’m glad I’ve parked there, because once I’ve finished my last class, I’m headed right back to school to pick up my kids.

Heather in a classroom

11 a.m. A ‘mind-blowing’ class.

11 a.m. A ‘mind-blowing’ class. As I’ve moved through school, my path has changed a little bit. Originally, my major was biology because that’s what a lot of pre-health students do, and I sort of had this career goal of becoming a physician assistant or doing something in pharmacy. But then I discovered public health as a kind of alternate route, and it’s really worked out because the classes are way more in my wheelhouse.

Professor Lacey, for instance, teaches my medical sociology class, and he’s a person that’s always blowing my mind open. Like, one day he was telling me all about his research surrounding male victims of domestic violence, which is something you never really think about. And he has this incredible background: He’s from Jamaica, but lives in Canada, where, of course, there is universal healthcare. So he’s in this really unique position to teach about the sociological inequities in different healthcare systems, because he’s personally had all these different kinds of experiences.

Heather in a lab

2:30 p.m. An inspiring example.

One of the things I’ve noticed about being a non-traditional student is that I relate to my professors a lot differently than I did when I first was a college student 20-some years ago.

I take a lot of inspiration from Dr. Price, who teaches my Quantitative Research and Statistics class. Sometimes you have those moments where you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But to hear her story, how she started out as an elementary educator, and then did AmeriCorps, and then was working as an advocate in the judicial system in Louisiana, and then got her Ph.D. and now she’s here — it’s amazing to me. And I know she didn’t make all those decisions straight out of college, right? She had all of these transitions in her life, and she also has a family and is really involved with her kids and her research and her community. So I see her, and I see a path for me — and that it’s OK that it has not been a linear one.

Heather at home

6:30 p.m. Study group.

One of the cool things about both my kids being in school now is that most nights, after dinner, we all do our homework together. I mean, there are certain things I can do with them sitting there and certain things I can’t. But they’ll plug away at it for a surprisingly long time. I think part of the reason is they see that I have responsibilities too. They see that even when you’re older, it’s still important to learn and try to grow as a person. And they’ll always carry that with them because I went back to school when they were little.

Heather in a park

7:15 p.m. Our moment of Zen.

Even on my busiest days, I do as much as I possibly can to make sure that we have time that’s completely focused on our family. It’s usually something really simple, like going to the park or exploring our front yard, sitting on the grass, looking at leaves or counting acorns. Those are my favorite little moments of the day. Sometimes, it’s just the hug, with a sweet little ‘I love you’ in my ear that comes out of nowhere. It’s the greatest comfort. It’s a reminder that I’m doing it right — at least right now.