David Heebner

David Heebner Helps Students Be All They Can Be

For David Heebner ’67, lieutenant general, U.S. Army retired, being “all you can be” isn’t a slogan. It’s one of life’s primary guidelines for having impact. That commitment gained momentum in his undergraduate years at WPI and continued through his two successful careers.

Now Heebner is helping more WPI students be all they can be with a generous commitment to the Career Development Center.

“I was always impressed with Dave’s personal commitment to ensuring that all students benefit from the full WPI experience,” says Philip Clay, senior vice president for student affairs. Heebner served as a WPI trustee for 18 years, including many years as chair of the Committee on Advising and Student Life, and continues today as trustee emeritus. “This gift is an expression of his dedication and determination to have impact for students well into WPI’s future.”

Heebner’s gift also supports Beyond These Towers: The Campaign for WPI, advancing the university toward its most ambitious fundraising goal yet.

I’m grateful that WPI helped prepare me to have impact throughout my life. And that, in turn, has provided the good fortune that makes this gift possible.

For the self-described “Worcester kid” who grew up in the orbit of WPI, riding his bike to campus to play on the athletic fields, the university was always his college of choice.

“WPI was absolutely perfect for me,” Heebner says. He found a comfortable, familiar environment where he could easily connect with other students and where there were plenty of opportunities for extracurricular activities and leadership development roles. An ROTC scholarship helped overcome financial challenges and, importantly, introduced him to positive leadership role models and to the concept of national service.

Heebner also found WPI a challenging academic environment. “Fortunately, professors were always accessible and really helped with the inevitable academic challenges,” he says. “And time management lessons learned at WPI became one of the most important skills of my professional life.”

He credits these experiences at WPI with important personal growth and preparation for responsibilities he couldn’t even imagine while still a student.

A Career in Service

After graduating from WPI with a mechanical engineering degree, Heebner trained as an Army Ranger and served in South Korea as an Air Defense Artillery officer. He then trained as an Army aviator and served in South Vietnam. While on active duty, he earned master’s degrees in operations research/systems analysis and national security affairs. His most significant military achievement, he says, was during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 when he commanded the brigade responsible for the missile defense of Israel. He proudly notes that after their deployment, not a single Israeli citizen was killed while Saddam Hussein was firing SCUD missiles at Israeli cities.

Two assignments in Germany during the Cold War created important professional development experiences, as well as international travel opportunities for his family. Eleven of Heebner’s final 14 years of service were at the Pentagon, where he held senior positions planning the Army’s future.

When it was time to transition to civilian life, he followed a familiar pattern for making life decisions. He returned to Worcester and talked with Bill Trask, who had directed WPI’s Office of Graduate and Career Plans for more than 30 years. Trask, who died in 2017 at age 87, is remembered by many alumni as a special confidant, advisor, and friend. Heebner says, “He was my go-to guy on so many occasions from college years to retirement.”

Heebner’s second career was with General Dynamics, where he was hired as the CEO’s strategic planner. He went on from there to serve in leadership roles as president of General Dynamics Land Systems and successive positions as executive vice presidents for three of the General Dynamics lines of business—Marine Systems Group, Combat Systems Group, and Information Systems & Technology Group. He served nearly 33 years on active duty and 15 years with General Dynamics.

Heebner also made time to deepen his involvement with WPI by becoming an active member of the Board of Trustees. Through this experience, he came to appreciate the positive impact that philanthropy has on the university. He was particularly inspired by Richard Whitcomb ’43, known for his advancements to jet aircraft development and transonic flight. Whitcomb donated all his many awards to WPI’s archives and established an endowed professorship in chemistry and biochemistry.

“Over the years, I decided to donate as much as I could to the university because WPI has meant so much in preparing me to become ‘all I can be,’” says Heebner. “I simply want to do what I can to help our university prepare and inspire future students to have opportunities and impact of their own.”

Heebner’s philanthropy will make it possible for the Career Development Center to create a team of graduate student peer advisors who understand graduate students’ unique career needs and trajectories and can offer meaningful guidance. His fund will support career-focused fireside chats for students from underrepresented groups, and opportunities for students to meet potential employers on campus more regularly, between large-scale career fairs.

Heebner says that he measures success more in terms of fulfillment than business achievement. Making a financial commitment to WPI is another form of contribution that brings its own sense of fulfillment. “I’m grateful that WPI helped prepare me to have impact throughout my life,” he says, “and that, in turn, has provided the good fortune that makes this gift possible.”

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