As a first-year student in the fall of 2007, Mark Heckmann ’11 looked up to a student whom he felt epitomized leadership on campus. It was a turbulent time; the topics of tolerance and civility were at the forefront of the Denison community’s thoughts and vocabulary.
Heckmann, a self-proclaimed “bright-eyed underclassman,” watched from afar as Romero Huffstead ’08 blossomed as a leader. At the end of his Denison career, Huffstead was selected to serve as Denison’s recent-student trustee — a tradition first established in 1979. Huffstead was the 11th graduate to serve the college in the position since it was created.
“I looked up to him for a really long time. He has done some terrific things on campus,” said Heckmann. “It was from a distance, but I admired him. I think that folks were looking for someone to set the tone and be civil, and he was able, in my mind, to provide that example for everyone, even for the wide-eyed freshman that I was.”
Huffstead’s service as the recent-student member to the board of trustees inspired Heckmann, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native, to strive for the same position.
“As I matured on campus and started doing more with Residential Life and did more from a university capacity, I started to see the providence and importance in seeing a recent student involved in trustee affairs,” Heckmann said.
In April of this year, after an extensive selection process that included nominations and multiple rounds of on-campus interviews with President Knobel and current members of the Board of Trustees, Heckmann was selected to serve on the board for the next two years. He recalls the phone call he received to inform him that he had been selected.
“It was certainly a humbling experience,” said Heckmann, who earned a President’s Medal in 2011. “There are terrifically qualified people involved, and for them to ask me to join them—it’s an opportunity for me to contribute back to Denison and to learn more about the institution that I care so much about.”
Heckmann’s term also comes at a very pivotal time in campus history. President Knobel plans to retire at the end of the 2012-13 school year, and the search for Denison’s 20th president is underway.
“Anytime you have an executive search for a president, it’s very much a time you have to make sure that decision correct,” Heckmann said. “One of my first priorities is contributing meaningfully to those discussions. If there are ways we need to change our existing course, then we identify those and pick the candidate most suited for it.” He also said he believed it was important to continue to build upon the value of the Denison degree.
Heckmann is not shy about the fact that he will get to spend time with a number of notable alumni who sit on the board, especially Sen. Richard Lugar ’54, for whom he said he has “terrific respect.” He first met the senator during a dinner with the Board of Trustees after receiving the President’s Medal.
“Senator Lugar has demonstrated time and time again the importance of public service and how to conduct oneself in public life,” said Heckmann, who is just about to embark on his second and final year as a public policy and management graduate student at Carnegie Mellon.
Beginning in the summer of 2013, Heckmann will be joined by another recent graduate serving a two-year term, with the idea that each class will have the opportunity to be represented in this position on the board.
“It is phenomenal to see the depth of the trustees’ commitment to their university—they have such an ethic of giving back,” Heckmann said.