VP of Advancement Heidi Tracy reflects on professional life, journey to CMU


Heidi Tracy will serve as the new vice president for advancement starting Oct. 1.

Heidi Tracy grew up on a small family-owned farm. When she was young, she often drove the tractor to cut hay in her family's fields. Her lines were usually crooked and zig-zagged until her father gave her some advice. 

"When you're looking behind you to see what you've done, you're not looking ahead to keep your line straight," he told her. "Always keep your eyes on the horizon."

As the Vice President of Advancement at Central Michigan University, Tracy still keeps her father's advice close to heart. 

"This institution deserves a lot, I want to do everything I can to make sure its students and faculty get all that it deserves," Tracy said.

Tracy's passions have changed since she first started college. In 1989, she graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor's degree in journalism. She had a few memorable journalistic endeavors before graduating from college. In 1988, going into her senior year, Tracy was recruited by the Associated Press to cover the Democratic National Convention.

Even though she had a journalism degree, Tracy's love of political campaigning and fundraising steered her in a different direction.

"I was always on the public relations track. I wanted to understand journalism – I loved journalism – but I always knew I wanted to be on the other side of it," Tracy said.

Before coming to CMU, Tracy developed a expansive career in campaigning, consulting and higher education. 

One of her first full-time positions was as a grant writer for a school in her home county. After a bill passed in the Ohio Senate to make schools compete for state funding, she walked into the school and offered to write grant requests.

After a few years of working at the school, Tracy had the opportunity to follow her dreams in politics as the executive assistant to the mayor of Brook Park, Ohio. 

Slowly but surely, her bright passion for political campaigning began to fade while she was working in the mayor's office, until she was contacted by her old stomping ground: Ohio University. 

The university was laying the groundwork for its first comprehensive campaign to raise more than $200 million, and Tracy was asked to be a development officer for the campaign.

"I came out of our bicentennial campaign and thought, 'I have a depth of experience here, but I don't have the breadth,'" she said. So, she decided to point her career elsewhere.

Tracy worked at Carnegie Mellon University from 2006-9 to work on a $1 billion fundraising campaign that concluded in 2013. She served as vice president for institutional advancement at Otterbein University from 2009-15. 

In 2011, Tracy completed Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management program, adding an extra layer of education to her list of accomplishments.

Most recently, Tracy worked as a consultant for advancement strategy, and vice president for university advancement and executive director of the TWU Foundation at Texas Woman's University from 2015-18.

"I always feel like when I go to bed at night I have to ask, 'what did I do to advance the common good?'" Tracy said. "So far I think I've done that at every position I've held."

Tracy began her new position at CMU on Oct. 1. As vice president for advancement, she leads CMU's development and alumni relations offices, encompassing everything from new buildings to scholarships.

She replaced Bob Martin, who retired June 30, and Athletic Director Michael Alford, who served in the interim.

During her tenure at CMU, Tracy plans to heavily rely on student feedback by creating focus groups to perfect scholarships and financial aid. She is earning an annual salary of $240,000.

"(Students) are our future, the message and things we do need to resonate with you as much as they do with the potential donor," Tracy said. "You are our best ambassadors."