NDSU graduating senior Joe Heilman has spent the past year as the public face of the student body in his role as student body president. He's testified before North Dakota legislative committees on behalf of NDSU and its students. He's visited with students in India and alumni in Arizona about the value of a U.S. degree.
At 10 a.m., Saturday, May 16, he will be the student speaker at NDSU commencement ceremonies in the Fargodome.
"I really enjoy public speaking," he said. "It will be the largest group I have ever spoken to. I want to share my message and the experience we've had as a class."
Heilman will speak about the NDSU theme, "students are paramount," and how that phrase has changed for him during his student career.
"As I became more involved in the decision making that happens here, the phrase took on a whole new meaning in that everything we do is for students. It's not just a marketing scheme, it's a way of life," he said.
As the student body president, Heilman can often be seen around campus talking to faculty, administrators and students. His ease with talking to people comes from a deep-rooted passion to learn about people.
"Just being able to visit with people helps me learn - whether it's a conversation about their kids or their success as an entrepreneur. You just have to be an active listener," Heilman said.
Since he was 15, Heilman has been an entrepreneur himself. He started a disc jockey business and soon booked 40 to 50 shows a year based only on word of mouth marketing. He started off his NDSU career as an engineering major, but shifted to business with a minor in accounting during his freshman year.
During his time at NDSU, he's been involved with Concert Choir, Accounting Club, Student Government, Kujenga Diversity Retreat, Summer Leadership Institute, North Dakota Student Association, Dance Marathon, and numerous Student Government Committees. He's also served the community through Students Today Leaders Forever, the Pay It Forward tour and the flood fighting efforts in March. This passion for service can be traced back to high school in Rugby, N.D., when he received the President's Gold Volunteer Service Award.
He spent five semester's on the Dean's List, but had to sacrifice some of his academics to run for and serve as president. The sacrifice was worth it.
"You don't understand what your place is in the world and what impact you have until you come to a large community," he said. He added that being exposed to all levels of diversity "really makes you realize the role you can play. It really opened my eyes in the way of how you meet people - how you treat them fairly. You can have a connection with anybody if you truly seek to do so."
Heilman got involved with Student Government through friends who also served. As president, he helped lead many of the organization's accomplishments in the past year. They helped to lay groundwork for a new advising system. They opened lines of communication between faculty, staff, administration, alumni and students. They started a volunteer-based service to help temporarily disabled students, a Sustainability Task Force and a new football ticket policy. All this while managing a nearly $3 million budget.
"Joe is a fine example of a student who has taken advantage of all NDSU has had to offer and given back to NDSU as much as he has had to offer," wrote Jo Ann Miller, NDSU distinguished professor of music, in a letter of support for his selection as student speaker.
Heilman is the son of Duane and Jeni Heilman of rural Rugby, N.D. With his business major and accounting minor, he plans to pursue a master's of business administration degree and hopes to join a local company that has opportunity for growth.