Everyday Hero: Heather Aleknavage
Posted: August 4, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
Editor’s note: This Daily Gazette feature profiles key people at Mason who “make it happen.”
Name: Heather Aleknavage
Years at Mason: 5
Current Position: Program and Administrative Specialist for the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Dean’s Office
What She Does: You could say Aleknavage is in “Special Ops” at CAS. In addition to providing all organizational and administrative support in areas of college governance and academic programs for Senior Associate Dean Dee Holisky, Aleknavage handles special projects for the Dean’s Office, including some events. Currently she is also the space management guru for the college as the staff meets regularly to get a handle on what space they have and develop policies and guidelines. But Aleknavage is probably better known outside of CAS for her university-wide work with the Working Mothers Support Group, which she started in 2003.
What She Likes Best about Her Job: For Aleknavage, there isn’t just one answer to this question, but a litany. “No two days are ever the same,” she says. “I also enjoy solving problems. In this position, I’ve had the opportunity to put some systems in place to make things run smoother. Plus, I work with great people. We have a really great team here in the Dean’s Office. We all pitch in to help each other out. And there is always so much going on at the university. I can go to an art exhibit during lunch…or just wander through the halls of the Fine Arts Building.” Then there’s the fact that her son, Jeb, is nearby. Three-year-old Jeb is a Polar Bear at the university’s Child Development Center.
Heather Aleknavage and her son, Jeb, outside the Child Development Center on the Fairfax Campus.
Creative Services photo
Her Greatest Challenge at Work: Restructuring—as CAS prepares to divide and become the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences (CLAHS) and the College of Science. “Especially dealing with the uncertainty,” she says. Aleknavage has also been tasked with developing a timeline for the restructuring.
Her Greatest Accomplishment to Date: “My son and my family. My husband and I have been together almost 20 years.” She met her husband while an undergraduate at Old Dominion University, where she majored in English with a concentration in journalism.
About Her Name: “Aleknavage is my married name. It’s Lithuanian, but has been Americanized. My maiden name is Hodge, so I always say it’s taken 13 years of marriage to ‘grow’ into my 10-letter last name.”
Why She Started the Working Mothers Group: Aleknavage’s son was born with a congenital heart defect and had to have surgery when he was just 10 days old. “That first year, I felt like I was struggling to keep it all together. I started looking into support groups, but most were geared toward stay-at-home moms.” She called Human Resources to see what was available on campus. The HR staff suggested she start her own group, and she did just that with their help and that of the Women’s Research and Resource Center and the Staff Senate. Now the group meets regularly at noon on Wednesdays in the Women’s Center, and Aleknavage maintains a working mom listserv of more than 50 people. The Working Mothers Support Group has hosted a number of prominent speakers from University Life and HR to discuss issues regarding day care and leave.
On Being an Advocate: “You start hearing all these stories from other mothers. People have shed tears at our meetings. Listening to others helps you put things in perspective. Helping healed me.” She is currently helping women on the Prince William Campus organize their own group and is starting a working mothers web site.
How Jeb Is Doing: “He is fine—growing tall, and his heart is strong!” He still sees a pediatric cardiologist once a year to monitor a small hole in his heart that now appears to be closing on its own. “The doctor does not think future surgeries will be necessary. We can breathe a sigh of relief for the first time since his birth.”
On Life before Mason: Before coming to Mason, Aleknavage was director of catering for a country club in Great Falls, a job she loved. “It’s fun to spend other people’s money,” she says. But the demands of the job—60- to 70-hour work weeks, mostly on the weekends—weren’t really conducive to having a family. “I love doing events, though,” she says. “That’s probably why I’ve ended up with a lot of events at CAS.” Currently Aleknavage is coordinating CAS’s annual Celebration of Scholarship scheduled for Sept. 21.
What She Does for Fun: Aleknavage and her family live on the Potomac River in a Woodbridge neighborhood she considers one of Northern Virginia’s best-kept secrets. There is a community beach there that they visit regularly. “We spend a lot of time on the water.”
What You Might Not Know about Her: In 2000, Aleknavage won the Best Themed Food and Beverage Presentation award from the National Association of Catering Executives for the Y2K New Year’s Eve Party she planned for the River Bend Golf and Country Club.
What People Say about Her:
“Heather is a go-getter, a mover-and-a-shaker, someone who takes the ball and runs with it, a woman who gets things done. Since I have been on the Staff Senate, one of my greatest pleasures has been to attend the Working Mothers Support Group. Not only have I met some amazing women, but I have also had the fabulous opportunity of watching Heather in action. She is the whole package: She cares deeply about the issues, she does the research, she produces the proposals, and she gets them to the people who need to know. In a nutshell, Heather Aleknavage is someone I admire deeply.”
—Linda Fauteux, Administrative Program Specialist, Staff Senate
“Heather genuinely cares about helping working mothers with the issues they face and bringing awareness to the university. She has an energy that makes others want to get involved.”
—Cindy Stocks, Production Manager, Creative Services
“Heather is an asset to the Dean’s Office—and the university. She puts everything she has into whatever project or event that we are working on. She is also great to have around the office because you know she can answer any question you might have, and she’ll do it with a smile.”
—Assad Khan, Program Assistant, College of Arts and Sciences