It’s a good thing Heather Parker talks a mile a minute. She packs a lot of advice into her half-hour visits with students.
During a recent session, for example, she advised sophomore Alexandra Burke to take a geography course, sign up for an internship, what requirements she needs to double major in economics, and how to improve her GPA.
Parker is the academic advisor for the history department, supporting and guiding UConn’s 250 history majors through to graduation. Parker, who has previously worked in business, finance, and publishing, says this is by far the best job of her life.
“It is such a privilege to get to talk to students every day—and I tell them that. I’m not trying to make them feel better. They look at me suspiciously like ‘you’re just being nice.’ I’m like ‘no, no, no, really, even when you guys come in and you’re a hot mess. It’s a privilege.’”
“I have friends who have teenagers and have seen that “I don’t need you, Mom and Dad’ attitude. So, to have students come to me who are just slightly older with their palms up needing help and being vulnerable, I have a sense of what a precious moment it is that they’re asking me for help. And I could totally blow it or I could establish a relationship and see them get a little bit stronger.”
Parker, who was a history major herself at the College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, NY, works in a small office in a Gothic brick building that used to be a men’s dorm. A map of post-WWII Germany covers one wall while a raven figurine leftover from Halloween perches on a bookcase. Messy stacks of papers cover her desk while rap music plays softly in the background. The clutter actually is organized and, she believes, makes her a little more approachable.
On a recent day, sophomore Michael Francomano stopped in for advice on choosing a science course to fulfill his requirements. Parker suggested a nutrition course, which seemed to intrigue him. An honors student, he has relied on her guidance to help position himself to go to law school.
“She’s so helpful,” he said. “I’ve been to see her five times already.”
In 2017, Parker was honored with the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s Staff Excellence Award for her exceptional service.
Ever the advocate for her students, Parker recently gave $10,000 to UConn to create a new history writing prize at UConn. Starting this May, the Heather A. Parker Excellence in Historical Writing Award will be awarded at the department’s annual History Prize Day on the last day of classes. Typically, professors nominate students for prizes, such as best history thesis or best GPA. Parker wanted to establish an award that any history student could nominate themselves for.
“I just wanted to do it as a sign that I really believe in our students and I really believe in this department and I really believe in history,” she said. “I want there to be some excitement about the major and wanted to do something that was a little higher profile.”