Psychology Alumna Shines in Higher Education

Heather Pena

From student, to alumna, to employee, Heather Peña, ’02, has quite a history with UCF.

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree in psychology, Peña kept busy with UCF’s Student Government Association, Greek life, and the Golden Key International Honour Society.

Following graduation, Peña worked in retail management, soon followed by what has led to a 12+ year career in secondary and higher education. In 2008 she began her work in alumni relations as the director of alumni relations for the University of Minnesota College of Education & Human Development where she led the alumni outreach and engagement efforts for the university’s second largest college with over 73,000 living alumni.

In 2010, Peña returned to her alma mater to work for the UCF Alumni Association. As the director of college relations, outreach and engagement, she led the association’s college relations team and its strategic direction with the ultimate goal of increasing overall college-based alumni engagement and building lifelong affinity to grads’ academic colleges through targeted programming and communication.

In December of last year, Peña accepted the opportunity to continue her passion in higher education and alumni relations as the assistant vice president and chief operating officer at the University of Cincinnati Alumni Association.

When asked what she loves most about her job, Peña responded, “I love helping alumni connect or reconnect with the institution they love, and I really enjoy collaborating with passionate alumni volunteers and colleagues across campus to further the mission of the university. I feel very fortunate to work in the field of advancement.”

Peña reminisced on her time at UCF, thankful for the liberal arts education and mentorship she received. “I would not be where I am in my career had former teachers, coaches, and bosses not provided the guidance and mentorship that has helped excel to where I am today.”

Peña shared more on her time at UCF, her job, and her advice to students and alumni.

Why did you choose to attend UCF?

I chose to attend UCF because I was excited to have a traditional college experience at a large, public, research focused institution. Many of my high school classmates went to UF and FSU, and I wanted to do something different.

How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?

I value the liberal arts education I gained by earning my bachelor’s degree in psychology. Learning about human behavior, and thus developing a higher level of interpersonal awareness, is one of my greatest takeaways from my major. I also believe I gained valuable skills in evaluation and analysis that translate in the program evaluation and operational analysis I apply today in my chief operating officer role. Additionally, being a psychology major allowed me to gain a wide range of subject area knowledge by enrolling in a variety of elective courses in both business and hospitality management.

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at UCF? How did these activities help your career?

I was very active in the Student Government Association, as senator and cabinet director of pride and tradition, involved in Greek life and was a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society. I really feel like my role as an SGA cabinet director, focused on infusing spirit and instilling tradition across campus, completely set the stage for my future career in higher education and specifically alumni relations.

What is your best UCF memory?

My favorite memories as a student are related to campaigning during SGA elections. My favorite memories as an alumna are related to travelling to away football games to cheer on our UCF Knights!

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I love helping alumni connect or reconnect with the institution they love, and I really enjoy collaborating with passionate alumni volunteers and colleagues across campus to further the mission of the university. I feel very fortunate to work in the field of advancement.

What piece of advice would you give to current students as well as UCF alumni?

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” -Unknown

Peña answered some more questions about herself in our “get-to-know-you” portion of the spotlight.

What or who inspires you?

My parents have always been a strong inspiration in my life. They taught me early on about the importance of hard work and commitment. I am also inspired by strong leadership, and have been fortunate to work for and learn from several industry leaders who have taught me so much.

You have 30 minutes of free time. What do you do?

I like to unwind by walking my dogs and taking in the peace, quiet, and solitude to reflect.

What story does your family always tell about you?

As a former D1 student-athlete, many of the stories my family tell about me relate back to my glory days on the softball field.

What is something most people do not know about you?

My UCF claim to fame is putting the ropes up around the Pegasus seal in the student union when I was the SGA cabinet director of pride and tradition. While initially the tradition was somewhat controversial, and described as an inconvenience due to the high traffic in the student union, eventually everyone embraced it. The ropes around the Pegasus seal have become used to represent UCF, and the tradition of not stepping on the Pegasus until you graduate is evidenced by thousands of grads taking photos on the seals in their regalia. The ropes have not come down for an extended period of time since they were put up back in 2001.

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