New vice president of student affairs Amy Hecht doesn’t have a hint of an accent, even after spending a lifetime in Florida, Pennsylvania and Alabama. Instead, she’s bringing to the College a fresh voice and a platform focused on leadership development.
The VP of student affairs holds responsibility over a budget of $53 million in a number of areas, from Greek life and risk management to health and wellness, and is looking forward to the various possibilities that come with it.
“For me, there’s such opportunity at TCNJ,” Hecht said. “The students that I’ve met during my interview, I was just so impressed by (them), and there’s a real sense of this community, folks wanting to create that seamless learning experience. I wanted to work with really talented students and really talented staff and faculty, and I think TCNJ has all of those things.”
Hecht isn’t wasting any time in putting her stamp on the College’s agenda. The Physical Enhancement Center, for example — a common source of criticism from students and a regular feature on Twitter (@TCNJProblems) — is getting new equipment as a short-term fix for students’ health needs before a new gym is built in Campus Town.
Maybe the most important long-term impact Hecht wants to bring to the College, though, is improved leadership development, or a way of equipping students with leadership skills by bridging the gap between classes and other activities.
“Every student is a leader,” Hecht said. “We are in college. We are actually training leaders of the future who are going to address the problems of society, of their companies, in our school systems, all of those elements. So what skills are we providing you to address those concerns, to advocate, to lead, to share your vision? That’s a lot of what I do.”
The idea of leadership development is to integrate the educational process and extracurricular activities so that there is one dominant College experience, rather than a fractured set of experiences. It is like how journalism majors, Hecht says, can use The Signal as a way to improve their knowledge of the major, while also taking classes.
“We have very intelligent students, they obviously have the academic credentials, but how are we bridging the gap between what happens in the classroom and what happens outside the classroom — in some of our activities, intramural sports, athletics — so that it makes sense, and not just have these two separate experiences?” Hecht said. “That’s a challenge for half the country, one that TCNJ is ready to start talking about so we could be a model for other schools.”
Hecht has been talking with students and others about making potential connections since starting the job earlier this month, but leadership development and other priorities — whether it be improving the fan experience at sporting events or bettering the collaborations between academic affairs and student affairs — might not be on the agenda if things had worked out a little differently for the new VP.
Hecht went to Florida State University for a career in TV journalism, which yielded work at NBC and PBS. Her career path changed course, though, when she decided to pursue one of the things she loves most: working on college campuses.
“I love being on campus,” Hecht said. “(I) realized TV was not for me, but at the same time, I was really involved with student leadership on campus. I had a really incredible adviser and realized I could spend my career on college campuses, doing leadership development.”
After getting her master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania, Hecht built up her résumé at different colleges. She was in the dean of students’ office at Temple University, assistant director of student activities at Cabrini College and became the assistant VP of student affairs at Auburn University in 2009, when she helped re-create the school’s division of student affairs.
In that time, Hecht has developed a philosophy on how to lead: be yourself.
“I think it’s important to be authentic and be who you are in your job, and not try to become something else or be what you think (you) should be,” Hecht said. “So that’s the core of my leadership style.”
That style is being used to confront the issues that are keeping Hecht busy throughout the first month on the job, including the environments at sporting events — another opportunity for the College, according to the FSU grad and sports fan.
“What is it like to be a fan at TCNJ?” Hecht said. “I’ve seen it, a little bit, and I think there’s a big opportunity to improve the fan experience. It should be exciting to be at our games, social and full of school spirit, music and energy.”
It has been a busy January for Hecht, but she has enjoyed her transition to the position and to a College with students she enjoys working with.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here and there’s a lot of great people,” Hecht said. “The students are incredible, every student I’ve met. I’ve had a really great three weeks.”