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Doris Wesley | Award-winning academic, Founder, DEW Foundation & conflict and communication expert

Meet Doris Wesley, an accomplished academic, communication expert, and doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University (NCSU). Her impactful work in research, education, and community service empowers individuals, organizations, and communities to navigate and resolve conflicts effectively using innovative techniques and proven communication strategies. We talk to her about her journey and work.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

I always gain a great deal of insight and appreciation for life when I share both my success and failure stories. I have achieved several astounding milestones and accomplishments throughout my personal and professional journey that have made me proud. I have also hit rock bottom when I try something new. Professionally, I have received multi-national awards in honors, grants, fellowships, and scholarships for my exceptional teaching prowess, academic excellence, community engagement projects, leadership and collaboration, digital technology innovation, and contributions to my field. Personally, I continue to raise the bar of expectations for myself while devoting my time and energy to the things that wake me up to become my best version! So, selecting one of these lovely moments as my proudest wouldn’t be enough. As such, I will step away from the norm and amplify the voice of my heart, which constantly says, "Doris, you are the greatest achievement." When I hear my heart whisper these words, I smile deep down with an understanding of this truth. My greatest accomplishment happens daily. It stems from recognizing, accepting, and appreciating the "hub" that houses and will always contain my successes and feedback. The hub I'm referring to is myself—the GIFT of ME!


Anything and everything can be accomplished, but it all starts with the person doing it. This is why I recognize the persons of past Doris, present Doris, and future Doris, who daily offer me a wealth of unique experiences to show up in the world and transform lives. Whenever I wholeheartedly choose myself and make light of my experiences, which include my needs, flaws, aspirations, failures, truths, goals, and desires, I always come alive. It is from this authentic self that I create and have the will, persistence, and grit to stay committed and to behold the rewards of my accomplishments. The essence of myself and all that has emerged from me is my proudest accomplishment!

Pictures above: Doris at the Southern Illinois University award ceremony in the spring of 2017. On this day, she received six awards from three departments (The Communication and Linguistics Departments). The awards are the Best Research Project Award, Outstanding Communication Studies Scholar, Highest Academic Honors, the Paul Hibbs Memorial Award, the Robert L. Carr Communication Studies Scholarship, and the Paul Hibbs Memorial Award.

 

Do you have a favorite quote?

The words of many great people motivate me. Thankfully, each season brings life-changing quotes from great poets, philosophers, preachers, academics, writers, novelists, authors, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, lecturers, the Scriptures, and other great minds. Three years ago, when I was in a transition season, my personal development coach introduced me to these words of Henry David Thoreau, and I have been chewing and digesting them ever since:

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind and pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.

The phrase “If” gets me every single time. It always poses two questions: am I willing, and am I able? When I say a double yes to myself in pursuit of my dreams, I am always amazed at what I meet on the other side. I have learned that my imagination is one of my greatest assets, and my dreams are worth pursuing with all my heart. I recall that, as a young kid, my strongest desire was to achieve the highest level of education and wisely use the wisdom attained to transform knowledge seekers, communities, organizations, and society. But with every obstacle, I also met success and steady support. Today, that dream has been accomplished and greatly surpassed. I am grateful to the many souls and situations that shaped me and instilled in me the value of dedication - to keep going, no matter the difficulty. I am gifting these same words from Henry to you. Make up your mind, persevere, and keep going toward your dreams. It will be worth it!

Doris and her colleague, Dr. Cindy Rosenfeld, represented the Virtual Martin Luther King’s Project at the Interfaith Celebration Service in January 2023. They presented a call to action speech on Do Justice—Love Kindness on MLK’s weekend. The Virtual Martin Luther King’s Project is an award-winning collaborative digital humanities grant-funded project that recovers and documents the civil rights history of everyday experiences of Black life to enhance cultural knowledge, civic and political engagement, and translation.

 

What is the most meaningful part of your job?

My goodness! This question gives me goosebumps in a sweet way. Throughout the course of my academic life, I have had several meaningful aspects to my assignments at all the collegial institutions I am or have been affiliated with. The most meaningful part is the gift to co-create and the privilege to serve. I have enjoyed co-creating or collaborating with bright minds, including students, colleagues, researchers, teachers, industry professionals, and leaders across spaces. The wonderful thing about co-creating is that, with our shared vision and energy levels, we discuss ideas among ourselves, no matter how small they appear, and work towards bringing them to life. It’s like MAGIC every time I co-create because we get so laser-focused on the transformation that will occur and all lean on each other no matter what. It's an honor to serve. I have served and continue to serve in a variety of capacities.


As the President of my program, I serve by fostering engagement and collaboration between faculty and students. When I educate my students, I serve. I serve in an advisory position on multiple boards and consult on various projects with global social impact. I serve when asked to speak, mentor, coach, and facilitate in many forums. When I send out communication and conflict transformation newsletters to my subscribers, I serve. I serve when I advocate for credible international organizations committed to sustainable development goals. When I tag-team with community members to effect policy change, I am serving. I find fulfillment in serving because I learn about who I am, communicate what I create, and offer solutions.

Doris' presentation of her recent cutting-edge research on the representation of Boko Haram survivors at the 2022 National Communication Association Convention
Doris' presentation of her recent cutting-edge research on the representation of Boko Haram survivors at the 2022 National Communication Association Convention

 

What is one thing that a student taught you?

Gosh, I love my students, and we have made beautiful memories together. Throughout my teaching career, I have taught students with learning disabilities, special needs, non-traditional students, first-generation college students, students of color, and students from low-income backgrounds. As a 5th-time "Outstanding Teaching Award" recipient for my commitment to teaching excellence, it can be easy to fall into the know-it-all trap. However, I have discovered that the best way to teach is to assume the position of a student. It is from this position that we can even learn what a student has to teach. So, let me establish this. First, I am a student of life, so I am always learning. Second, one of my guiding teaching principles is to never stop learning because life never stops teaching. As such, whether they realize it or not, my students always teach me something new.


I’ll focus on a particular student I met while at the University of North Carolina who taught me a not-so-simple lesson: “If you can bet on yourself, you can win.” My student is faced with an impairment that appears quite challenging. I was teaching a communication course on public speaking at the time. My public speaking courses are designed to put students in a state that makes them step out of their comfort zone daily. This often meant overcoming several terror barriers and limiting beliefs to hone their speaking abilities. I understood her challenges and was willing to accommodate them. But every time I attempted to, she would step up and place her bets. She taught me through her willingness to push herself beyond her circumstances. She demonstrated that she was willing to try even if it meant failing. I realized she was giving herself the chance to win big whenever she leaped over the excuses I gladly offered her. She taught me that if I can bet on myself, I, too, can win!


 

What drives you to give back?

I have briefly mentioned the many ways I serve. But it's important that I note that my experiences raised by a single mother, growing up in a conflict-affected area, losing some loved ones to armed conflict, and observing the world at large shaped my research interests, increased my desire to carry out community engagement work to resolve sociocultural issues in the areas of conflict transformation and peacebuilding, and fueled my passion to establish a non-profit organization named the DEW Foundation.

Screenshot of women who joined the 2-day virtual retreat event from five continents on June 16–17, 2023. The GEM Daughters Initiative holds its annual event on Father’s Day weekend.
Screenshot of women who joined the 2-day virtual retreat event from five continents on June 16–17, 2023. The GEM Daughters Initiative holds its annual event on Father’s Day weekend.

The DEW Foundation’s mission is to empower vulnerable and underrepresented people with development tools, digital resources, sponsorships, mentorship, and a safe community to thrive and be transformed. It expresses itself through several projects, like the GEM Daughters Network, which supports young girls and women who grew up or are growing up without their fathers and, as a result, are facing absence, detachment, and unattachment. We would appreciate your support and contributions. Consider joining us for next year’s event on June 14–15, 2024. Kindly visit https://www.doriswesley.com/philanthropy for more information.


 

1000 Spotlights: Why We Give reflects our mission of giving back, to mentor and to inspire those around us. Through a series of interview questions, we explore intrinsic motivations behind why we give, and talk with those inclined to make a difference in the lives of others. If you are involved in charitable activities, volunteer and paid academic engagements or in community service, we want to talk to you. Write to us to nominate someone exceptional who is making a difference in extraordinary ways. In June 2023, FeedSpot.com recognized 1000 Spotlights as one of the top motivational blogs on the web. 1000 Spotlights is part of UGSI that also owns SpeakerPost.com, a free social impact global platform that connects educators with industry experts and with other educators for volunteer guest speaking in college classrooms. If you are looking for a guest speaker for a student-focused event, or want to explore ways to share your career journey with students, please reach out and request your free invite code via SpeakerPost.com.

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