To celebrate 50 years of coeducation at Kenyon, we’re profiling three dozen of Kenyon alumnae during the 2019-20 academic year. These women, merely a small sample of the thousands of female graduates who have earned Kenyon degrees since 1969, will discuss their undergraduate experiences and how their education in Gambier prepared them for their lives and careers.
The eighth alumna in our series is Aileen Hefferren ’88 H’12, chief executive of Prep for Prep, an organization that develops ethical and effective leaders who reflect our diverse society for the enduring benefit of all. A political science major at Kenyon, she graduated summa cum laude with high honors and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Hefferren received the College’s distinguished service award in 2008, currently serves on the Board of Trustees and delivered the Commencement address to the Class of 2012.
How do you prioritize your life and get things done?
I try to focus on what is most important to me both at work and personally, balancing a big job with raising two children whose lives I try to be appropriately involved in. I consider myself — and am known as — a highly efficient person, working effectively with an indispensable assistant at the office and a wonderful partner at home. I make good use of time on the train, between meetings and standing in line to knock out emails, but I also turn off: for dinner, or for vacation, when I fully unplug. When I find myself procrastinating, I set deadlines or think about the end goal. And I appreciate others who have the same modus operandi: if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it.
Where did you first discover your power?
My first job at Prep for Prep in 1992 was as the director of operations. I was 25 years old. Early in my tenure, I was asked my opinion on something and the executive director acted on that opinion. In that moment, I realized my power — and the attendant responsibility.
Who at Kenyon inspired you?
[Head Cross Country and Track and Field] Coach Duane Gomez. I wasn’t a particularly talented runner, but he took me seriously and invested time in me, sitting with me to set goals on a 3x5 card as he did with the top runners. He once told me (though he might deny it today!) that I “got the most out of nothing” he had ever seen. Unfortunately for him, my best running years were post-Kenyon, qualifying for the Boston Marathon and running some thrillingly fast long races. He saw potential in me, not simply as a runner but as a person. I am honored to call him a friend after all these years.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
When I was new to my current role as chief executive of Prep for Prep, and a mere 35 years old, I addressed a major donor prospect with the honorific “Mr.” My board chair took me aside and said, “You’re a CEO, he’s a CEO. Call him by his first name.” That was very empowering, and changed how I thought of myself. I just shared this advice with a Prep for Prep alum who was recently appointed to the board of her alma mater and was calling the new head-of-school by her honorific. The alum had not yet realized her power.
How has your worldview evolved since leaving Kenyon?
I used to find it incredibly frustrating when my husband would say, “It is what it is.” I would blurt out, “No! We have to fix it!” no matter what the “it” was. I have relaxed somewhat (though only somewhat) as I’ve come to realize what I do and do not have the power to change, and where I should best invest my energy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Read about the previous woman in our series: Kristin Meister ’00
Read about the next woman in our series: Geri Coleman Tucker ’74