Montana State University

Mountains and Minds

Heidi Sherick's passion for her job is contagious November 24, 2009 by Michael Becker • Published 11/24/09

Heidi Sherick, who always has a smile and a story to tell, is the assistant dean of MSU's College of Engineering and since 2001, has overseen the college's undergraduate programs
Photo by Kelly Gorham"I really love helping people reach their potential, whether it's on a free-throw line or in an engineering course." --Heidi Sherick
Photo by Kelly Gorham
Five years ago, when Katy Hansen was still a junior at Bozeman High School, she read a newspaper article about an engineering student at Montana State University that mentioned the name of administrator Heidi Sherick.

So when Hansen's mother convinced her to look into engineering as a career option, the 16-year-old called the College of Engineering and asked to talk to Sherick. That conversation, and the ones that followed, changed Hansen's academic life forever.

Now 22 and a senior in industrial engineering, Hansen has worked with Sherick in numerous student programs, including the Women in Engineering Advisory Board and Engineers Without Borders. Hansen says Sherick is her mentor and that knowing Sherick has been one of the highlights of her time at MSU.

"She's in many ways contrary to your stereotypical engineering college administrator type," Hansen said. "She connects with students with such grace and ease. She genuinely cares about all students at MSU. You know she would bend over backward for you."

Sherick, a boisterous, friendly woman who always has a smile and a story to tell, is the assistant dean of MSU's College of Engineering. Since 2001, she has overseen the college's undergraduate programs, which range from elementary school outreach to student recruiting and scholarships.

Sherick also serves on committees, handles administrative tasks with students and coordinates student organizations like the Engineering Ambassadors.

Additionally, and importantly, Sherick coordinates the college's diversity programs, which attempt to draw more women and minorities into engineering. In 2008 her efforts in this area earned Sherick the university's Betty Coffey award for advancing women's issues on campus.

"This is a dream job for me," Sherick said. "I love this university. In my veins, you'll find that my blood is blue and gold."

Sherick, 40, has been a fixture at MSU since 1987, when the Butte native first set foot on campus as a freshman. By that time, her parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and some cousins had all been MSU students. From the very start, she wasn't Heidi Sherick but rather Mike or Vicki's little sister.

All that legacy pushed Sherick to make a name for herself at MSU. She got involved with every activity she could squeeze onto her calendar, and a few more. She joined the AO∏ sorority, worked at the AskUs information desk, led and coordinated orientation sessions, and joined the Advocats. She kept her dorm room door open and constantly chatted with her floor mates -- often to the detriment of her studies, she admitted.

Photo by Kelly Gorham"I just think that she is--even if I remove my friendship hat--such a terrific representative of Montana State, both our institution and the things we stand for," says Kerry Hanson, associate director of the MSU Alumni Association of Sherick, seen here with Karla Vowell, a junior in chemical engineering from Billings.
Photo by Kelly Gorham

She spent the first two years of her college career in general studies, where she worked with advisers to find a major that was right for her.

"It wasn't that I didn't know what I wanted to do. It was that I wanted to do too many things," Sherick said. "I came to college for the experience, and I figured I'd better get a degree while I'm here."

After flirting with becoming a teen counselor, physical therapist, coach and sports trainer, Sherick eventually settled on biology, and in 1991, she graduated with a degree in biological science and broad-field science teaching.

Five months as a substitute teacher in Idaho Falls turned into five years as a middle school science teacher. She loved the work, especially the chance it gave her to coach track, volleyball and basketball, which she played in high school. Teaching and coaching were important to her because they fed her passion for helping and communicating with others.

"I really love helping people reach their potential, whether it's on a free-throw line or in an engineering course," she said.

Kerry Hanson, who has known Sherick since both were members of the AO∏ sorority together, said Sherick is the epitome of leadership and integrity.

The two women worked together at the Alumni Association when Sherick returned to MSU in 1997. Hanson is now the associate director of alumni affairs.

"I just think that she is -- even if I remove my friendship hat -- such a terrific representative of Montana State, both our institution and the things we stand for," Hanson said.

Robert Marley, dean of engineering at MSU, credits Sherick with spurring much of the growth in student numbers and student loyalty over the past eight years.

"Within a period of months to a few years, she had things accomplished that I had only dreamed about," he said.

I really love helping people reach their potential, whether it's on a free-throw line or in an engineering course.

-Heidi Sherick
And Sherick is still inspiring students, especially women, said Chandra Macauley, 21, an undergraduate in chemical and biological engineering who has known Sherick since coming to MSU as a freshman in 2006.

"Heidi's unwavering support of women in engineering has undoubtedly inspired many girls to enroll or remain enrolled in engineering," Macauley said.

Macauley praised Sherick's dedication to reaching as many students as possible through projects like the Shadow an Engineering Major program and the newly created science and engineering floor in the all-female Hannon Hall.

"Her work to increase interest in engineering has been invaluable to not only the College of Engineering but to MSU and the Bozeman area," Macauley said. "She loves her job, and her passion is contagious."

Over the years, Sherick earned a master's degree in higher education, and now she's also working on a doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She hopes to one day become a professor and help teach the next generation of college administrators.

"I've come to believe in my life that it really is about who you know, not what you know. I'm a biology major, but I don't need to know thermodynamics to do this job," she said. "I need to know students, and I know students."