Fellow Spotlight: Heather Houston, Class VII
Upon graduating from college, Class VII Fellow Heather Houston received an unusual graduation gift: a magnet that quoted Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” The statement articulated the philosophy by which Heather has always lived: no matter what resources you have or what the situation may be, it is always possible to do something to add value to your surroundings. Through both her personal and professional commitments, Heather continually strives to solve the problems she encounters and to improve the lives of Floridians.
Growing up in a small Florida town, Heather and her sisters spent summers working for their parents’ oil change business. Besides gaining an understanding of the intricacies of owning and operating a small business, Heather learned an important lesson about work ethic from her parents. “My father meticulously monitored our work. When it came to cleaning windshields, he would say, ‘It’s the one task a customer can see after an oil change. If the glass isn’t spotless, what will a customer think about the work done under the hood?'” This experience ingrained in her the importance of doing everything to the very best of her ability, no matter what the task.
As a student at Tavares High School, Heather exemplified this work ethic, excelling in athletics and academics, and even finding time to participate in student government. It was through this involvement that she was able to attend a leadership retreat at the University of Florida, which inspired her to apply there when she graduated. For Heather, it was never a question of whether or not she would attend college. As the first in her immediate family to attend a four-year college or university, Heather credits her parents for instilling in her the value of higher education. “I think my parents believe that education provides an unparalleled level of access to beginning a career.”
As an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, Heather joined numerous on-campus organizations and quickly assumed several leadership roles. Her success in these commitments garnered her accolades on campus and at the national level. It was through these experiences that she realized no matter what career path she chose, she would always maintain her commitment to improving the lives of her fellow citizens. “UF has a unique legacy of leadership and service. This was a legacy that I wanted to learn about, contribute to and pass on while attending UF and as an alumna. While the foundation for my involvement began there, this desire also translated into my professional career.”
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Telecommunications from the College of Journalism, Heather’s career path took her across three different states, to three very different jobs. All three jobs, however, highlight this Gubernatorial Fellow’s ability to carefully study her surroundings and take the lead in offering solutions to the problems she perceives. Heather first moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where she accepted a job as a reporter for a local television station. “As a television reporter in a state capital, I served citizens by covering the top issues affecting the area, analyzing proposed solutions, and depicting the current political landscape. This experience ingrained in me the importance of considering an audience when developing messages and deepened my desire to use my abilities to create and promote effective, meaningful public policy in our state.”
After a year of reporting in Alabama, Heather’s life took her in a new direction – to New Orleans where her then-fiance (who also happens to be a member of Class VII) was working with Teach for America. After their wedding, Heather accepted a job as a regional manager with a professional organizing and space design consulting company. In this role, she planned and coordinated design projects for clients, created television segments, and oversaw staff members in the region. After a few short months, Heather was securing design projects six months in advance and had increased the client base by twenty percent.
Heather spent a year in New Orleans before she again moved states and jobs when her husband was accepted at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Knowing she wanted to return to graduate school, Heather took a job in quality assurance at a medical device factory in Gainesville while she studied for the GRE. Though not a glamorous job, Heather approached this position with the same dedication and tenacity with which she approaches everything she does. She quickly noticed ways to improve business operations and made suggestions to company management. The company then asked her to review all their existing policies and suggest changes to improve the factory’s effectiveness and efficiency.
Though life took Heather across three states, to very different jobs, she always maintained her commitment to doing what she could, where she was, with what she had. Heather is a natural leader and when she sees a problem, she’s already thinking of a number of potential solutions. One of the problems she noticed throughout her time at the University of Florida and in the professional world is that not everyone has the same opportunity to access or participate in the public policy process. When Heather returned to graduate school, she decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Mass Communications so that she could learn how to develop messages that create meaning and understanding for stakeholders. “The most successful public affairs campaigns not only gain support, but also encourage participation. In the future, I want to lead successful communications campaigns that are well researched, data-driven, and build relationships between Floridians and the state.”
As a Gubernatorial Fellow, Heather is placed at the Department of State, where her background and education have been put to good use: she is helping to conduct the promotional and public education campaign to commemorate the state’s 500th anniversary year in 2013, officially called Viva Florida 500. Through her project, Heather works with individuals, organizations and businesses throughout Florida to coordinate Florida’s commemoration of the year 1513, when Juan Ponce de Leon became the first European to explore Florida or any other part of what is now the United States of America. The purpose of Viva Florida 500 is to showcase the variety of historic people, places and events that have helped shape our state, and will include many activities and events, as well as educational programming statewide. She also works closely with the agency’s leadership team to manage the campaign’s social media program.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner works with Heather on a daily basis and has seen firsthand the value she brings to the agency. “Heather adds so much to our management team at the Department of State through her creative approach and energy. She has immersed herself in Florida history as she works on social media and constituent-based initiatives surrounding Florida’s 500th anniversary. Her past experience with communications, public relations and technology-based applications has brought a new public face to the Viva Florida 500 initiative. The Department has greatly benefited from Heather’s involvement with our team and we appreciate the opportunity to work with such an accomplished Gubernatorial Fellow.”
For Heather, the most rewarding aspect of the Viva Florida 500 initiative is working and connecting with partners all across the state. “Through these partnerships, I have gained a deeper understanding of our state’s unique and diverse history and what Florida’s heritage means to its residents.”
In the future, Heather plans to pursue a career where public policy and communication strategies intersect to create successful initiatives. “I aspire to fulfill a leadership role that epitomizes service and dedication, where I can merge my communication skills with my passion for public service to enhance the quality of life in the state of Florida.”