Gustie of the Week: JoNes VanHecke

JoNes VanHecke has worn many hats at Gustavus: student, Collegiate Fellow, class of 1988 alum, Director of Student Activities, Assistant Dean of Students and now her role as Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students. The journey to her current position was practically prophesied, even though she initially intended to go down a completely different path.
“I came to college thinking I was going to be a veterinarian and I hung onto that for a really long time, even though math and chemistry just kicked me up and down the halls of Nobel. When I finally shifted gears, I had a conversation with the acting Dean of Students, Ruth Johnson, and I said, ‘How could I have your job?’ And she said ‘Well, you need to get a Masters’ Degree in Student Personnel. You should do that at Indiana University, work somewhere else for a while, and then you can come back to Gustavus.’ Weirdly, that is what I did,” VanHecke said.
Originally from Walnut Grove, VanHecke finds herself returning to Minnesota and Gustavus no matter where she goes, drawn back to the community she has found here.
“There’s also something about Gusties in general that I just really like working with. I think they’re students who are bright and articulate and are figuring out who they are and what they want,” VanHecke said. She added that she finds Gusties to be relational, connected, and involved students that want to do well academically. She added, “They also are well rounded and really embrace all the opportunities the college gives to them. And I really like that about the work that I do and I think that’s what keeps me coming back to Gustavus. Not just because this is a place that I have sweet memories of as an undergraduate myself, but really respond to professionally in the kind of work I want to do: small, liberal arts colleges, with the kind of students that Gusties tend to be.”
Her core values, as well as the experience she shares with students, allows her to connect more deeply with them.
Junior Emily Falk chimed in about VanHecke’s character.
“Fun Fact: [VanHecke] was one of my mom’s camp counselors at horse camp growing up (Circle R Ranch), so my connection to [Gustavus] and to her extends to way before I existed. Working in the Deans’ office as a student employee with [VanHecke] has been wonderful. I remember my first-year meeting with her to get to know one another, and how much in common we have. We are both from small rural communities and learned the value of hard work and community from those experiences. I have seen and experienced [VanHecke] advocate on behalf of the student community and stand up for our values. She truly loves Gustavus and is one of the most down-to-earth and compassionate people I have ever met,” Junior Emily Falk said.
Outside of Gustavus, VanHecke is an avid equestrian and finds the little acreage she lives on–with four horses, barn cats and a big yellow lab–to be calming.
“It’s that endless land and sky that just is my happy place,” VanHecke said.
As Dean of Students, the most rewarding work she does is one-on-one with students, and she always is looking for how to best help them succeed.
“I love the moment where you can help a student who just can’t see through the end of whatever is challenging in their life. There are so many things when you’re 18-22 that can get in the way of you being your very best self. I really do appreciate when those students show up at my door and meet with me and we can figure out how to help them get back on track and move forward. Those are moments that are really rich and really valuable to me. That’s the reason that I do this work; because every day I get to see students learning and growing and figuring out how to be their very best selves,” VanHecke said.
With this goal in mind, she guides students with the idea of cherishing small moments and prioritizing happiness.
“Find things that you’re excited about and commit to doing them, make time and space for them. It will help you be a happier, more resilient person. The world is complex. Growing up, moving from childhood to adulthood is tough. Spend time being intentional about the things that make you happy. Read books for the fun of it. Take time to walk in the Arb or just admire nature in all its splendor. Those are moments that are so small and yet so huge and important in everyone’s world,” VanHecke said.

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