When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Aimee Heim to hunker down at home, she saw an opportunity. She’d always wanted to pursue a graduate degree, and it finally seemed like the right time as her family worked and studied together remotely.
Heim, who oversees grants and government relations at the Port of San Diego, enrolled in the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) online program. The program placed her in a high-caliber academic environment and gave her flexibility to write papers while watching her kids race sailboats.
“This provided me an opportunity to make sure that I was continuing to invest in myself,” Heim said.
Heim, who received her diploma on May 12, had already built a successful career in the public sector. She manages a team of seven people and secures grant funding for the seaport that moves larger items like windmill blades, mounds of sugar and roughly 400,000 vehicles per year.
“Aimee is one of those steadfast personalities who is more senior in her career, has a challenging position in government and really came to the school to add expertise to her already considerable institutional knowledge,” said Dora Kingsley Vertenten, professor and faculty director of MPA Online for the USC Price School.
Heim has long been drawn to boats, albeit much smaller ones. Growing up in San Diego, she learned to sail at a young age and raced sailboats as an adolescent. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy recruited her to race on their intercollegiate dinghy team, and the academy named her its woman athlete of the year in 1998.
Heim studied marine transportation at the academy and started her career with shipping giant Maersk, where she worked in government relations in Washington, D.C. She eventually moved back home to work at her local seaport.
“Aimee is the ideal candidate for our online MPA program,” said Eric Shen, an adjunct associate professor at the USC Price School who worked with Heim during his tenure as Mid-Pacific Gateway Director in Maritime Administration of U.S. Department of Transportation. “She’s a rising star in the maritime industry.”
Studying at the USC Price School has given Heim more confidence at work, tying academic theory to her day-to-day experience. She worked to build a stronger bond between the Port of San Diego and the USC Price School – including pitching her bosses on making the seaport a client for a student capstone project. Her classmates helped the seaport identify ways to handle people living inside derelict boats at the port.
“We view this as an opportunity to gather more insight into the problem,” Heim said. “Looking at the public policy issue from a completely academic standpoint yields us a different perspective than we would get from day-to-day management.”