Profile in Philanthropy: Planning to Give — and Giving Back

Katie Heckman ’07, Jeremy Heckman, and son, Connor

A different kind of favor greeted guests finding their seats at Katie Heckman’s wedding reception. Rather than spend money on objects that might soon be discarded, Heckman and her husband, Jeremy, left a note to let celebrants know that a gift had been made in their honor to Make-A-Wish International. That nonprofit, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, holds special meaning for the Heckmans. They’ve had several close family members and friends who have benefited from Make-A-Wish’s support, and the couple has in turn made it a philanthropic priority. “We know that every dollar we give (to Make-A-Wish) goes directly to an individual who needs a special experience, something fun,” said Katie (Pankowski) Heckman, a 2007 Allegheny College graduate. In making their philanthropic decisions, the couple considers where they can have the most impact, Heckman said. And that means formulating an annual plan for investing their charitable dollars.

Around the holidays, the Heckmans have an in-depth conversation to map out their giving for the coming year. “We look at our finances and determine what we can do and try to be smart about it,” she said. “We don’t have a huge amount of resources, but at the same time, we want to give back.”

Lessons in giving back run deep for Heckman. She recalls the basement of her childhood home brimming with stacks of boxes for a gift drive held annually for those in need. Her mother, Maureen, organized the program. She solicited donations, hauled presents from her workplace by the carload, and wrapped and distributed them.

“She’s been an inspiration to so many — not only to me, but to people across Pittsburgh,” Heckman said of her mother. Heckman said she hopes to set as good of an example for her eight-month-old son, Connor. Another generous spirit profoundly influenced Heckman while she was an Allegheny student. As a senior geology major, she had plans to attend graduate school. But Heckman also had mentioned to her advisor, Professor Emeritus Bob Schwartz ’66, that she would be interested in job openings in Pittsburgh.

Not long after, Schwartz received a call seeking candidates for a position at Equitable Gas Company (now EQT Corporation). The professor relayed Heckman’s name, and she interviewed with the firm over winter break during her senior year. Heckman, now a senior geologist, has worked there since graduation.

“I have a good job because Bob Schwartz stuck his neck out and Katie Heckman ’07, Jeremy Heckman, and son, Connor helped me get in the door,” Heckman said. “I want to give students that same kind of opportunity that was given to me.”

And Heckman is returning that favor in many ways today.

She frequently returns to her alma mater to work with students in the Geology Department. Heckman also has helped students to secure interviews for a summer internship program at EQT that attracts applicants from across the country. A few Allegheny students have landed those competitive positions, Heckman said. One even received an offer for full-time employment with the company. “It was rewarding to watch that student mature in her field and impress a lot of people,” she added.

Along with mentoring students, Heckman serves on and has cochaired Allegheny’s Timothy Alden Council Executive Committee. That group of volunteers helps to advise College staff and asks others to give to the Annual Fund, which forms a financial bedrock for the College each year. Through the Annual Fund Grant Program, the Heckmans have supplied $5,000 scholarships for two Allegheny students.

By being involved, Heckman hopes to show future alumni the importance of giving back — the same kind of generosity she saw radiated by her mother and Schwartz. Heckman wants students to experience not only the difference a dollar can make in someone’s life, but also the personal fulfillment that’s fueled by philanthropy.

“If you can do something that makes you feel good and helps others, that’s a win-win,” said Heckman. “The bigger the impact, the better you’ll feel.”