Since its founding in 2006, UPUA (University Park Undergraduate Association) has strived to provide students with representation at the highest levels of administration, as well as build programs to benefit all undergraduates at Penn State. UPUA will soon head into its 12th assembly, and Penn State student Jen Heckman will hold the position of Chief of Staff for her second straight year.
Heckman is a current junior and international politics major. She hails from Malvern, Pennsylvania and attended a small all-girls high school before beginning her college career. Heckman has enjoyed making Happy Valley a second home over the years and immersing herself in the culture of the university. Unlike many Penn Staters, however, Heckman wasn’t raised as a Nittany Lion.
“I wish I could say that Penn State had always been my first choice from the beginning, but I really only fell in love with Penn State when I stepped on campus for my accepted students’ tour,” she said.
One of the main reasons Heckman decided to take a chance and come to Penn State was the lack of diversity at her high school. She loved the big-school atmosphere and all of the opportunities Penn State aims to provide to students from all walks of life. In fact, Heckman didn’t hesitate to become involved herself. She joined Navigators — a Christian ministry group — as well as UPUA’s freshman council soon after arriving on campus.
“I joined a lot of clubs and UPUA seemed to be the one that really stuck,” Heckman said. “I love how connected it makes you to your Penn State classmates and the school overall.”
One of Heckman’s favorite parts of UPUA has always been her close relationships with other members. She credits much of her success within the organization to her mentor’s careful guidance during her freshman year.
“I was very lucky to have my mentor as the current Director of Communications,” Heckman said. “She really brought me onto the Executive Board and showed me the value of serving on E-board rather than running in elections.”
Since serving on freshman council, Heckman has had her fair share of leadership experience. Throughout her time with UPUA, she has held three positions on the Executive Board alone: Social Media Manager, Director of Communications, and now Chief of Staff. After working closely with previous Chief of Staff Garrett Warmbein her sophomore year, she felt prepared to take her involvement with UPUA to the next level.
“[Warmbein] was really instrumental in encouraging me to take on an even bigger Executive Board role the next year as his replacement,” she said. “I got involved with Terry Ford’s presidential campaign early on and helped with some of the managerial aspects of the campaign, which I think helped Terry to see I was someone that he could rely on to get the job done.”
Heckman served as Ford’s Chief of Staff for the 11th Assembly and worked closely with current UPUA President Katie Jordan. As a result, Jordan brought her on-board to serve again as Chief of Staff for the 12th Assembly. Throughout her tenure with UPUA, most of the issues Heckman has worked on have been internal. But perhaps the most challenging project she has tackled has been expanding UPUA’s Executive Board.
“When I came on as Director of Communications, the E-board was really small and it meant you had to work on projects outside the scope of your capabilities,” Heckman said.
Those interested in serving on the Executive Board can now choose from a variety of more specialized roles. Everyone has the chance to participate in a position tailored to own their interests and talents, an improvement largely due to Heckman’s tireless efforts.
For Heckman, the most rewarding part of taking on the role of Chief of Staff is the opportunity to oversee many different aspects of the organization. Her responsibilities translate into real-word projects, and she learns something new about both UPUA and the university as a whole every day.
“I love being able to see each idea grow and develop into projects because of all the hard work of the representatives and the Executive Board,” she said.
However, the role still comes with its fair share of challenges. Fostering connections within the Executive Board in the same way that representatives in the General Assembly are connected is a major difficulty. In the end, however, Heckman concedes that she wouldn’t have it any other way. She enjoys the challenges the role brings, as well as having the opportunity to make such a direct impact on the university.
“UPUA definitely makes you realize there’s a lot more to be fixed at Penn State that we haven’t even touched on,” Heckman said. “You get to learn about so many different groups of people and their passions in a way you may not have been able to on your own.”