The prospects of building something new drew Sandra LaBlance, Ph.D., to OUWB more than eight years ago — but now, she says, it’s time to start a new role in a familiar place she calls home.

Going home: After almost 9 years, LaBlance leaves OUWB for Chicago
An image of Sandy LaBlance at OUWB 2021 Commencement
Effective Aug. 27, LaBlance will leave her position as OUWB’s Associate Dean for Student Affairs.

The prospects of building something new drew Sandra LaBlance, Ph.D., to OUWB more than eight years ago — but now, she says, it’s time to start a new role in a familiar place she calls home.

Effective Aug. 27, LaBlance will leave her position as OUWB’s Associate Dean for Student Affairs.

She will serve as Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Rosalind Franklin University Chicago Medical School.

LaBlance returns to Chicago, a place she calls “home” and previously held assistant dean and director positions at Loyola University Chicago and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, respectively.

“It’s about going home,” she says. “In some ways, the past eight-and-a-half years has been akin to going away for residency, I’m doing my fellowship, and now I’m ready to go back home.”

LaBlance, who has deep roots in Illinois, moved to Michigan in 2013 when she was hired as OUWB Assistant Dean for Student Affairs (she was named Associate Dean in 2018).

An announcement at the time of her 2013 hiring clearly spelled out the level of responsibility: “programming that supports the vast and varied educational experiences that impact OUWB students.”

“I feel like I’ve done my best (at OUWB),” says LaBlance. “But I also feel like it’s time for new vision…it’s in a good place for somebody else to come in and keep building, keep going, and make things better.”

‘So close to my heart’

LaBlance
LaBlance

LaBlance received a master’s degree and a doctorate in higher education administration from Loyola University Chicago.

Her career began in academic advising and assistance at North Park University. It didn’t take long for her to be hired as assistant dean for the Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. It was her first exposure to students pursuing careers in health care and medicine.

“I loved working with the nursing students,” she says. “Their mission in life was just so close to my heart…they just wanted to be good for other people (and) do good in the world.”

LaBlance says she also liked working with smart students who carry a strong affinity for the sciences.

When she moved on from the school of nursing to become assistant dean and director of the Loyola University Graduate School of Business, LaBlance says she didn’t connect with students in the same way.

“That’s when I decided I needed to go back to working with health care students,” she says.

After a total of eight years at Loyola, LaBlance became director of Academic and Career Counseling at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine — a role she held for five years until she became a research associate.

Funded by an NIH grant, her research was primarily focused on the topic of underrepresented students in the sciences with regard to race, ethnicity, and gender.

“I traveled across the United States, going from university to university to interview science students…and (as a researcher) I couldn’t help them,” she says. “I was like ‘I can’t do this. This isn’t who I am.’”

It was around the same time LaBlance said she was recruited by Angela Nuzzarello, founding associate dean for Student Affairs, OUWB.

“After doing the research work, I realized I needed to get back to working with students,” she says.

After a total of about eight years at Northwestern, LaBlance began at OUWB in February, 2013.

‘My guiding force’

LaBlance joined OUWB not long after the school had welcomed its first class; a time she says was exciting. She says the piece that really convinced her to come to OUWB was the idea for the program that would ultimately become PRISM.

Today, PRISM is a multi-layered system of support, along with a four-year curriculum that focuses on personal growth, wellness, and career development.

LaBlance and Nuzzarello built the program, making it originally part of Student Affairs (it’s now part of Medical Education).

“That was my guiding force,” she says. “I was going to come here and build something new that was going to be different than any other medical school and make a difference in the lives of the students.”

LaBlance also took to establishing other programs, as well, including academic support and career advising — two programs that OUWB needed, especially at a time when it had two classes and one was preparing for boards for the first time.

“I was able to jump in and it made me feel like I was here for a reason,” she says.

‘An invaluable member of our leadership team’

As OUWB has evolved as an institution, so, too, has its Student Affairs department under the leadership of LaBlance.

LaBlance oversaw establishment of a mental health and wellness support program that included implementation of an OUWB-specific social worker, creation of an inclusive environment committee dedicated to the specific needs of OUWB’s LGBTQ+ community, and a more comprehensive “safe space” program for faculty, staff, and students of OUWB. Concurrently, LaBlance also engaged clinical faculty to develop this same type of programming but specific to the needs of clinical students, staff, and faculty at Beaumont.

Sandy LaBlance at White Coat Ceremony Class of 2024
LaBlance acknowledges those in attendance of the Class of 2024 White Coat Ceremony after being thanked by Dean Duane Mezwa, M.D.

LaBlance also led development of policies, provided resources for student organizations, and oversaw planning and execution of annual OUWB events, such as White Coat Ceremony, Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society induction, Match Day, Honors Convocation, Commencement, and the weeklong orientation for first-year medical students.

Duane Mezwa, M.D., Stephan Sharf Dean, OUWB, credits LaBlance for delivering “a vision for academic success, (and) keeping student well-being as a main priority.”

Mezwa addressed LaBlance during the Class of 2024 White Coat Ceremony held Aug. 13, 2021.

“I want to thank you for your leadership, and all of the mentorship you’ve given to all of the students,” he said. “You’ve been an invaluable member of our leadership team, and I’m certainly going to miss you.”

‘All the difference in the world’

Founded in 1912, Chicago Medical School is one of the graduate schools of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.

As Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs, LaBlance says her work will be very similar to what she has done at OUWB.

Related:

White Coat Ceremony follows busy first year for OUWB Class of 2024

White Coat Ceremony launches medical school journey for OUWB Class of 2025

OUWB Class of 2021 Celebrates Commencement

Outstanding achievements commended at 2021 OUWB Honors Convocation

She will be responsible for academic support, career advising, admissions, and building a leadership and wellness program.

“They don’t have one right now,” says LaBlance. “That’s the exciting part…being able to build a new program again.”

She says she will miss OUWB’s students “first and foremost” as well as the collegial relationships that have been established throughout the years.

“Some of those relationships are going to be really sad for me to leave behind…they’re people I wish I could take with me,” she says.

But, says LaBlance, she is excited about the new opportunity to return to her hometown and continue to do what she finds most fulfilling.

“Somebody told me once…you have the most noble job of anybody because you are helping people become physicians so they can help other people,” she says. “I enjoy being able to give back in that way.”

“It makes all the difference in the world to see students be successful.”

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at adietderich@oakland.edu

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

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