Meet Sam Heimbach: An Inspiring Journey Through HDO

Jul 7, 2024

As an Assistant Professor of Practice at Texas State University, Sam Heimbach stands as a testament to the transformative power of education. However, her journey didn’t start with a clear path; it began with a desire to challenge herself and explore new horizons.  

Motivated by Personal Growth

Motivated by personal growth and professional advancement, Sam embarked on the HDO Master’s program with a thirst for knowledge and a determination to excel. Reflecting on her experience, she recalls how the program not only met but exceeded her expectations.

“In retrospect, I can say that getting a Master’s degree was a personal goal for me. I felt that it could help me advance in my career, invest in myself, and learn about an area outside of my day-to-day work. I also just knew it was something I wanted to do; I couldn’t stop looking at programs,” she says, “The HDO program far exceeded my expectations. It didn’t only give me a new set of skills. It taught me how to think differently. It gave me a new group of friends. It also allowed me to qualify for the job that I have now.” 

Building a Diverse, Supportive Network

One of the most significant highlights of Sam’s journey was the opportunity to expand her network and forge meaningful connections. Brunches with fellow cohort members became more than casual gatherings; they evolved into forums for intellectual exchange and mutual support.

“We got to sit around and talk about big ideas, societal trends, and our goals for the future – the kind of stuff you might talk about during grad school. It was so special. I feel really lucky that I always have a group of really smart and empathetic people that I can call on for advice and support. It’s also been really exciting to cheer on my cohort members as they continue to succeed and benefit from the program,” Sam reflects.  

Perhaps what set the HDO program apart for Sam was the wide variety of personal and professional backgrounds her classmates brought to the program, which enriched the learning process, offering unique insights into organizational challenges. Reflecting on this, Sam emphasizes, “I couldn’t have learned some of the things I did without them or outside of the space we created together in HDO.”

She further elaborates, “Something that I have to say is that it wasn’t just the diversity of professional backgrounds that made this a positive experience for me. It was the diversity in ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious beliefs and so much more. My graduate research was centered around the idea that we all bring our previous, lived experiences with us into the workplace, and that impacts how we navigate different situations professionally. I learned a lot from my cohort members based on their backgrounds in engineering, HR, and sales. But I am most grateful for what my cohort members shared with me and taught me about their personal experiences in these spaces – for example, what it’s like to be the only Black female engineer at a company or what it’s like to experience American work culture as a Japanese woman.” 

Empowering Encouragement from Faculty

Central to Sam’s journey was the unwavering support of the HDO faculty. Their belief in her capabilities instilled a newfound confidence, empowering her to pursue her dreams fearlessly. “If they think I’m good enough, I can’t let my own self-doubt hold me back in my professional journey,” she acknowledges gratefully, “The faculty congratulated me when I launched my podcast, Foster Career Experience. Dr. Amy Ware was a guest on one of my final episodes, Dr. Pauline Strong offered to help with my website, and Dr. Zachary Elkins tweeted about it. Likewise, the faculty celebrated when I got my assistant professor job and reached out saying that I could email them anytime for advice – including Dr. Mary Rose and Dr. Clay Spinuzzi. HDO has the best faculty. They’re teaching these courses on top of what they already teach because they really care about the topics and the cohort.” 

 Through rigorous coursework and engaging discussions, HDO equipped Sam with valuable skills in problem-solving and leadership. From learning to be a better observer to exploring leadership through classic literature, each lesson left an indelible mark on her professional trajectory. Reflecting on her experience, Sam shared, “The HDO Master’s program, including the qualitative research class, taught me how to be more observant and how to make research and listening a bigger part of the problem-solving process within a business. Becoming a better observer can help you see problems from different perspectives, which makes you more equipped to solve a problem in a way that sticks.”

She continued, “I was lucky to be in the final cohort with the late Paul Woodruff. Paul had us explore leadership through classic literature. We wrote papers every week, and he would quote our papers to us in class. A person who wrote multiple books and was a leading scholar on ancient Greek tragedies quoted us. To have him acknowledge that we can all be leaders and that the best leaders are good listeners, empathetic, and fair – that meant everything to me. It made me feel like I am a leader, and I don’t have to wait for someone else to tell me that I am.” 

Balancing Work, Life and Academics

As she navigated complex organizational issues, Sam enjoyed the program’s emphasis on systemic thinking. “The program gave me the knowledge and language to articulate some of the organizational issues that I was seeing. It also taught me how to view problems from a system-level view and how different systems encourage different behaviors. Thinking about problems in this way, instead of on an individual or personal level, makes them more possible to solve, or to realize if your organization is willing to solve them,” she reflects thoughtfully. 

Sam also enjoyed the flexibility of weekend classes and distance learning options within the program. “For me, I needed to think about my week in different blocks of time, so I could be as present at home, work, and school as possible,” she explains. 

From Capstone to Change-Maker

Sam’s capstone project, focused on the career experiences of individuals who grew up in foster care, encapsulates the values of the HDO program. By conducting narrative-based interviews with 14 former foster care individuals, Sam shed light on how their childhood experiences shaped their professional lives. “Most of the people that I spoke with thought that it had in some way, and they talked about different ways it had impacted them and shared their different stories,” she explains. With National Foster Care Month (NFCM) recently observed in May, the timing underscores the significance of raising awareness about the needs of children and young people in foster care.  

After graduation, Sam launched a podcast, Foster Career Experience, to share the perspectives of the people she interviewed and to amplify the voices of those whose stories are often overlooked. Through this platform, she is able to reinforce the imperative of recognizing and valuing varied personal backgrounds in professional environments. “There really isn’t a lot of information or stories out there about adults and what their life is like after foster care. I feel so honored that people shared their stories with me,” Sam confides. This passion project not only highlights Sam’s commitment to giving back and cultivating understanding but also mirrors HDO’s dedication to integrating personal insights into broader societal contexts. 

For prospective students considering a similar journey, Sam offers this advice: “There is never going to be a perfect time to go to grad school. If you want to go to grad school, apply!” she urges. “You’ll be shocked at how many people want to support you when you’re brave enough to ask.” 

Sam’s story serves as an inspiration to aspiring scholars and professionals alike. Through dedication, perseverance, and the unwavering support of her HDO community, she has not only achieved her academic goals but also unlocked her full potential as a leader and change-maker.