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Sociology Spotlight

Heather Dearing: Advocating for Youth

Heather Dearing and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson“When you cross sociology with advocacy, you get social work . . . and for me, it was a perfect fit.”

Heather Dearing ’97 came to Transylvania to find her way to law school. Instead she found her calling.

Dearing, who planned a political science major, took an introductory sociology class taught by professor Brian Rich, “and suddenly an entirely new pathway opened up before me,” she said. “Dr. Rich opened my eyes to so many new ideas and ways to look at the world and how I might be able to change the things I believed to be injustices.”

She changed her major to sociology, and “the remainder of my academic time on campus flew by.

“I was offered an opportunity to travel to Chile with Dr. Rich and (then anthropology professor) Barbara LoMonaco during May term. It was there I knew without a doubt that I had made the right choice to become a sociology major.”

After getting her degree (with minors in political science and communication), Dearing made her way to California and earned a master’s degree in social work administration at San Diego State University. The challenging curriculum at Transylvania proved to be perfect preparation for graduate school.

“I remember during my first year of grad school overhearing several classmates bemoan the workload and the high expectations of the program,” she said, “but to me, it wasn’t extraordinarily different than the course expectations I had during my senior year at Transylvania. So with my ‘spare time’ I started volunteering with youth in the foster-care system.”

She worked and volunteered in San Diego for several years before she and her husband headed north to the San Francisco Bay Area and then to the capital city of Sacramento. It is there that she was hired as the executive director of the California Coalition for Youth.

“The Coalition is a nonprofit advocacy organization that represents what in California is called the ‘transition-age youth’ population and includes homeless youth and youth in state systems—mental health, juvenile justice, foster care, etc.,” she said. “I’m pretty honored to be here and proud of the work we do with and on behalf of youth.”

In the photo, Dearing is pictured with Sacramento Mayor (and former NBA basketball player) Kevin Johnson in front of the California State Capitol, which was lit green for California Runaway and Homeless Youth Month in 2012.

Dearing is grateful for what she took away from Transylvania. “So many opportunities for growth were offered to me—both in and outside of the classroom. I’d list them all, but being in the choir and being a member of Alpha Omicron Pi made the most significant impact on my life—and will for years to come.

“I also owe thanks to Dr. LoMonaco (now dean of students) and Dr. Rich. Dr. LoMonaco was an incredible female role model for me, in the classroom and out. But ultimately, I owe thanks to Dr. Rich for my chosen path. He believed in me and encouraged me to think outside of my comfort zone. He helped open my eyes to a world beyond Kentucky—which I miss dearly—and convinced me to make my own mark on the world. I’d like to think that I do that a little each day at the California Coalition for Youth.”

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