As a student worker in the Department of Psychology, Jenn Heetderks was responsible and demonstrated an aptitude for learning on the fly.
So, when one of her professors, Alan Tomkins, was named founding director of the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, he tapped Heetderks as one of the first employees.
“I started right out of university,” Heetderks said. “I graduated in spring of ’98, and Alan Tomkins asked me to come help him get the center started. It was mostly clerical work, answering phones, keeping track of things.”
Heetderks continued her career with the Public Policy Center and is now a grants and contract specialist. She’ll be honored for 25 years of service during Celebration of Service Oct. 27. The Public Policy Center also celebrated its 25th anniversary Oct. 26.
“Over the years, as we grew, my responsibilities grew into handling more and more of the business side of the center,” she said. “As our funding came more from grants and contracts, that became a larger part of my job, leading to my current job as a grants and contracts specialist.
“We are now fully funded by grants and contracts, and I work with our staff to focus on post-award finances. I work with our project managers, monitoring budgets, financial reporting, ensuring we’re following grant requirements.”
In the 25 years since she started, Heetderks said the growth in both the breadth of projects and reach of the Center has been the biggest change.
“We started with three employees, and now we have around 35, and we’ve been averaging 50 different projects per month,” she said. “The volume of work, the projects we’ve done has increased significantly. And we’re working from one end of the state to the other. We’ve kept a statewide focus.”
The center’s most recent larger projects included disaster preparedness and response, which made big statewide impacts during the 2019 flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic; suicide prevention in schools; school safety and emergency preparedness; and statewide behavioral health, including the launch of 988, the behavioral crisis hotline, last year.
“I really enjoy the team here and the work we do,” Heetderks said. “I think over the years, we’ve had a tremendous impact and it’s fun to see all the different projects we’ve done. It is really rewarding to do important work that contributes to the that impact we’re making.”
Having grown up in central Nebraska, Heetderks has also stayed at the Center because she enjoys living outside of Lincoln with her family, while having access to all that the city and university has to offer, including football and other Husker sports.
“We’ve been season ticket holders since 1999 or 2000,” she said. “That’s a great perk at the university.”