The University Student Union Presents
USU Personal Story: Heather Raksin
By Cheyenne Chavez, Student Public Relations Assistant, USU Marketing
Any CSUN student who was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley can empathize with the feeling of the bubble effect. You’ve lived here since birth and sometimes wonder if there’s no way out. This was a feeling familiar to Granada Hills native Heather Raksin, USU Marketing’s Administrative Support Assistant I. Heather’s journey has not always been easy, but she is an inspiring testament to the possibility of living to your fullest potential even when it seems all odds are against you.
Born on March 16, 1995 to Mimi and Will Raksin, Heather had the typical upbringing as a valley girl along with her older sister Brigitte. She has lived in the same house her whole life and recalls trying many different things as a young child — including guitar, violin and Girl Scouts. Heather also enjoyed passing her time indoors reading a lot of books and watching “That’s So Raven”.
Heather’s father Will has worked at the architectural signage firm Neiman & Company for the past 35 years, rising from sanding and fabrication up to project manager and then to his current position as general manager. When she was a toddler, her mother Mimi worked in Paramount Pictures production finance department where Heather enjoyed attending the studio’s day care center for employees’ children.
Once Heather started school, Mimi left Paramount and got very involved with the PTA, which quickly became a passion. “Many people knew me as ‘Mimi’s daughter’ because my mom was at school for everything,” said Heather. “There were definitely kids that thought I was weird for having such an involved parent, but I didn’t really care because I knew how much she loved it.”
Heather attended Haskell Elementary School in Granada Hills. She claims she was “a huge nerd” who was enthralled with history and truly loved school. She had a few friends as a child, including her best childhood friend, Daurah. But she always found herself relating better to adults. She liked hanging out with her school’s front office assistant, Lori, who she considers an influential mentor in her life. Heather particularly enjoyed helping with clerical duties, unknowingly foreshadowing her position at the USU.
Although her early childhood was mostly carefree and filled with happiness, Heather struggled with night terrors that caused her to sleep walk and become very anxious at a young age. She also remembers feeling like an outsider from very early on in her life. This feeling became magnified by her involvement with dance at the LA Ballet Academy for nine years, where she was trained in various dance styles.
“My parents put me in dance class when I was three years old. I always felt like the fat kid in the back who could never get the moves right and didn’t belong,” said Heather. “My sister was in dancing as well and she was such a beautiful dancer who always had the spotlight. She really tried to help me get to her level, but it just never clicked.”
Heather continued with dance into middle school, where her feeling of being unaccepted by peers reached a new high. From her first year at Nobel Middle School, she vividly remembers putting herself out there to make new friends and being met with constant bullying. “Much of it surrounded around me being chunkier,” she said.
One of Heather’s most memorable yet painful bullying experiences from middle school involved a boy who told everyone she was his girlfriend for a week and then suddenly broke up with her. She soon found out he was only pretending to be her boyfriend to win a bet.
“I went through a lot of experiences that made me believe I was not worth anything,” said Heather. “I would cry all the time when I came home and I wanted so badly to not have to interact with these bullies that I begged my mom to homeschool me.”
Heather’s parents did not agree to homeschool her because they wanted her to learn valuable social skills that can come with attending school. By the end of sixth grade, Heather developed anorexia and believes it was a direct result of the ridicule peers put her through because of her weight.
“The only things I felt I had control over in my life at that time were MySpace, the Sims, trying to work out and restricting myself from eating,” said Heather. “Constantly being told by so many kids at school that I was fat and worthless made me very depressed and I didn’t really want to live at one point.”
By seventh grade, Heather’s appearance had changed significantly and even the boys that had bullied her began to be nicer to her. As Heather slowly gained back some confidence, she took an interest in Nobel’s drama program. After watching one of their theatre productions as a sixth grader, she was inspired to try out for the Play Production class.
“Acting made me feel like I belonged,” said Heather. “Everyone was weird like me and we were constantly together late nights and on weekends preparing for shows. I gained 50 new family members through my involvement with the drama program.”
Her newfound dedication and love for theatre that continued throughout middle school was strong enough to convince her parents to let her quit dance and focus on acting. Unlike her experience in dance, Heather’s Play Production teachers Ms. Arana and Ms. Martellaro put a lot of trust in her ability as a performer. They didn’t hesitate to give her front stage spots for dance numbers in “Grease” and a lead role with a dramatic monologue in “Be Careful What You Wish For.”
“Ms. Arana and Ms. Martellaro were very in tune with their students and made every minute we spent there worthwhile,” said Heather. “They were there for all of us and I will never forget that.”
By the time Heather got to high school at Bishop Alemany in 2009, she had finally made a core group of friends and got more involved with extracurricular activities, including their theater program and journalism. Working for the school newspaper, she was responsible for the “Dear Dorothy” advice column, “History of Holidays” and school dance reports, ultimately leading to her taking the position as editor.
Her interest in theatre led her to another new passion in her sophomore year: special effects makeup. “I would watch makeup tutorials on YouTube and started getting so many compliments on my makeup and it inspired me to get more serious about the art of makeup,” she said.
She soon began a Facebook page for “Miss Heather’s Makeup”, which she would later “delete out of embarrassment.” She also got to do makeup for a CSUN film project her junior year in high school. At one point, Heather decided she wanted to be a special effects makeup artist in the entertainment industry and skip college to instead get training for this new dream. That was until her father’s colleague talked her out of it.
Heather was working her first job in the administrative department at her father’s workplace when his colleague urged her to apply to college after hearing about her 3.7 GPA in high school.
“My parents wanted me to go to college, but there were never any convincing reasons to do so,” said Heather. “My dad’s colleague was the first person to tell me that I had the potential and intelligence to do so much more with a college degree. Before I knew it, I was applying to colleges at the last minute.”
CSUN was not Heather’s first choice but it soon became her only choice because of financial reasons. “I wanted to get as far away from the valley as possible, but since it was expected that I would eventually pay for all my college tuition myself, the high annual cost of moving out to attend another university just wasn’t feasible,” said Heather.
Heather decided to stay home for college and began summer school at CSUN in 2013. From the very start, Heather liked CSUN a lot and could tell that it was going to be a much easier place for her to make friends. With a fresh outlook on the college experience, Heather began looking for job.
After doing a Google search for CSUN job opportunities, she came across the position of Clerical Assistant at the USU Marketing Department and submitted her application along with what she now considers to be a terrible resume.
“I had no marketing experience and had never even written a resume. Looking back, there is no way I should have gotten this job,” said Heather, ”But I’m really glad I did!”
Heather began her four-year student employee journey at the USU in October 2013 while working a second job as a Ralphs’ courtesy clerk. Her first year was filled with many new experiences, which included rushing Alpha Omicron Pi and taking her birthright trip to Israel in 2014.
Sophomore year brought many new growth opportunities for Heather. She became Vice President of Chapter Development for her sorority and also decided to switch her major from communication studies to anthropology.
“When I applied to college, I chose communication studies because of my high school experience in journalism but I didn’t really know what it meant,” she said. “I took one linguistic anthropology class online and I knew right away I didn’t want to study the methods of communication — I was more interested in the history and culture of it.”
Meanwhile at the USU, Heather was contemplating leaving the marketing department for a new experience. She ultimately decided to stay because of the loyalty, pride, sense of belonging, and fun she had working in marketing.
“I felt guilty for contemplating the possibility of leaving, but my mentors at the USU told me to never apologize for wanting to grow.” said Heather. “The USU is a growth-centered organization and I realized that if I wanted to get more out of my job, I had to communicate that fact.”
With this motivation to seek new opportunities from her job at the USU, Heather sat down with Marketing Supervisor Jenny Soto to reevaluate her work goals. “We came to the conclusion that I needed to get myself out there within the organization and participate in as many development opportunities as possible,” said Heather.
Heather soon became involved in many different aspects the USU. She was chosen for an information-gathering site visit team that toured a series of student unions at other universities across the U.S., became a member of the Inclusive Language Campaign Committee and attended the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) 2016 Conference on behalf of the USU. She also was also a four-time presenter at Student Summit, the kickoff event of every semester for 400+ USU student employees. Her presentation topics were “Road Map to Success”, “StrengthsQuest In Real Life”, “The ABC’s of Behavior” and “What’s On Your Plate”.
“I owe Jenny so much, she was really the first person to encourage me to make myself known at the USU,” said Heather.
Heather’s efforts soon started getting recognition, winning her department’s “Marketing Genius Award” in October 2014 and being selected as the USU Student Assistant Employee of the Month in December 2015.
“I think it’s really bizarre to look back at my achievements at the Union because any time I have received an award I have really had to ask ‘how?’” said Heather. “I just do what I do because I love it and it comes naturally to me. To me, it’s exciting to negotiate with vendors. It’s cool ordering shirts you will soon see everyone wearing.”
In Heather’s sophomore year, she also discovered a new passion for the non-profit field. After watching the Make-A-Wish documentary “Bat Kid”, she immediately recognized that the duties of a Wish Maker really appealed to her.
“I have always always loved standing up for animal rights and volunteering, making a career out of helping the world just made sense to me,” said Heather. “Matt Eickhoff (former USU Training and Development Coordinator for Human Resources) always inspired me with his philosophy of never doing exactly what is expected of your major. I could see that he was right with my new dream of being a Wish Maker.”
Heather also got more involved with the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Hillel 818. She began interning for them in her junior year and worked to engage Jewish students at CSUN.
Although Heather was thriving professionally and academically going into her junior year, she was still facing many issues in her personal life. She was in a relationship that was no longer making her happy and soon found herself dealing with depression, withdrawing from friendships and struggling with binge eating.
“I have always been terrified of being fat, but out of nowhere I became very depressed again, stopped counting calories and would eat until I felt sick,” said Heather. “I really didn’t know why, but I was convinced that I was destined for a life that was lonely and unhappy.”
Heather then decided to join New Student Orientation (NSO) as an Orientation Leader. With her new involvement, she found more benefits than she could have ever hoped for — from many new friends to a new outlook on her life.
“NSO is the most accepting group of awesome people committed to helping new students,” she said. “We don’t get paid but you still want to be part of it, so there is definitely something they are doing right.”
It was at this time that Heather came to the realization that her unhealthy habits were not here to stay. She was ready to leave the negative cycle she was in and make a change for the better.
“On July 2, 2016 I became a vegetarian for myself and for the animals, it was one of the best and easiest decisions of my life,” said Heather. “I realized that I never actually liked meat, I had just always been taught it was a necessity in my diet.”
Senior year brought more milestones on her journey to healthy living. Along with her new diet, Heather started doing yoga regularly, practicing mindfulness and attempting the “52 Hike Challenge” she came across on Instagram.
“You simply do one hike a week for a year to reach a goal of 52 hikes,” she said. “It’s highly unlikely I’ll complete 52 hikes in a year because I’m always super busy, but I still do my best. It’s become a relaxing and fun hobby.”
Through these healthy solutions, Heather has overcome her binge eating for the most part. She admits she sometimes still thinks about overeating but she also understands it’s natural to have those urges.
“Of course, I have days where I crave a binge, but I am able to overcome that for the most part and I feel good and healthy”, she explains. “I’m not as thin as I was when I was restricting calories in high school, but I feel confident about my body and I don’t feel horrible all the time either.”
In the spring of 2017, Heather’s commitment and involvement with the University Student were formally recognized when she was honored with the coveted Student Assistant of Year Award at the Year End Celebration. Chosen from more than 400 student employees at the USU, it was a wonderful surprise.
“It was so unexpected that I didn’t even tell my parents to come,” Heather recalls. “I texted my mom after I walked off stage saying, ‘I guess I won an award, I’m sorry I didn’t invite you!’”
Always taking more steps toward her desired career path focused on helping people, Heather has spent the last semester volunteering at the Wildlife Way Station and even applied for an internship at her dream organization, Make-A-Wish.
Heather recently received a full-time job offer from an adoption law firm that specializes in the adoptions of newborn babies across the country. She has already begun her post-grad career working for them part time and is loving it. Heather will graduate in December 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a minor in Human Sexuality, departing from CSUN and the USU.
“Five years from now I hope to be helping people and making a dent in solving some of the world’s issues,” said Heather. “I also want personal happiness. Over the past four years, the USU has become a family to me and transformed me into an open-minded, understanding and professional person. This person I have become is fully capable of being happy and doing what I love, so I know I will get there.”