The Interview USA
California State University Channel Islands
Associate Vice President for Student Life & Support Programs and Dean of Students

Julia Heck

The true potential of a university education is achieved when students are not only learners but also architects of their academic and social environments. This understanding is central to the work of Julia Heck, Associate Vice President for Student Life & Support Programs and Dean of Students at California State University Channel Islands.

Julia sat down with Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, to share her insights on the power of peer-to-peer learning in breaking down barriers and finding innovative ways to reach students in spaces where they are already active and invested.

Julia's Journey

Max: Let’s start with a brief introduction to yourself and your organization.

I’m Julia Heck, and I’m Associate Vice President for Student Life & Support Programs and Dean of Students at California State University Channel Islands. Channel Islands is the youngest California State University – it was founded in 2002, so we’re still figuring out who we are as an institution. We're the only four-year institution in Ventura County, and we have a strong commitment to the region. We're a Hispanic-serving institution – around 60% of our student body is Latinx – and we have a high proportion of first-generation and low-income students. Our work here can change lives: when a student comes here and earns their degree, the experiences provided bring new opportunities, and that has a ripple effect on our students’ families and communities.

Max: What inspired you to pursue a career in higher education?

Well, I think it stems from my experiences as a student. I grew up in Northwestern Wisconsin, and I was the first in my family to go to college. I was a really good student in high school, so people assumed I was going to be able to figure it all out. But once I arrived at college, I found it difficult to navigate the institutional system – I had my fair share of bumps along the way. That led me to think about starting a career in higher education. For me, and because of my own experiences, it was imperative to be able to serve as an educator at institutions that were trying to figure out how to create educational spaces that are accessible and inclusive so that students can maximize their educational experience. Our institutions haven't always been designed to ensure that, but I was attracted to Channel Islands because of its commitment to those values.

Max: What are the key things to keep in mind when creating a sense of belonging for all students across the institution?

We’re trying to focus on students being the drivers; as administrators, our role is to engage students in the conversation about shaping our spaces and the language that we're using. So we take their voice and feedback into account when making decisions and developing our programming. In a lot of our spaces, we have students who are generating ideas and helping to lead. That’s closely connected to how they see their place here on campus. We work very closely with our student government leaders to make sure we take their feedback on board and integrate it into how we're building out our campus community. We need to ask – what does a vibrant community look like? What does it mean to be a part of this community? As we go forward, our vision is centered around the idea of One Health: taking a collaborative, multidimensional, and interdisciplinary approach to how people in our community think about their impact on and interconnection within our global world. As an institution, we continue to find ways to embrace this interconnectedness, and make sure everyone in the community can be a part of those conversations.

Max: Free speech has become a contentious issue on college campuses. How can we encourage students to engage in civil discourse across divides?

For me, it's about how we engage in learning outside those moments of debate. When we talk about engaging in civil discourse, we’re often talking about situations where everyone is already in a heightened emotional state. But sometimes you need to take a step back and think about how best to approach a conversation in advance – in the heat of the moment, it can be hard to think through the complexities. So a key part of our approach is proactively teaching these skills by integrating them into our course content and academic curricular approaches, as well as our programming outside of the classroom. We want to create spaces where students can practice discussing those emotionally-charged topics. By building those learning moments into our regular programming, we can encourage students to engage in respectful dialogue – that will help to heal divisions and create a greater wholeness within our communities. 

Max: Nowadays, students are particularly difficult to reach, and often are very busy with commitments outside the classroom. How do you make sure that your key messages get through? 

We have to meet students where they’re at. Student voice needs to drive the way we're making decisions and how we're trying to shape our spaces. We’re always thinking about new ways to reach folks, so building partnerships in areas where we see students showing up is crucial. Students are busy, but they will also make time for things that matter to them. We need to find the places where students are most invested, so we can go out and meet them there. If we can find those inroads, then students will show up in huge numbers. It’s not just about planting the seeds; we have to keep watering them so that they continue to grow and expand.

Max: Recent guests have discussed the effectiveness of peer-to-peer learning, particularly in programming outside the classroom. What’s your approach?

That’s one of the things that attracted me to this institution, and our investment in peer-to-peer learning has only continued to grow since I’ve joined. We’ve created a robust and extensive network of peer mentorship programs; whether it’s our living-learning communities, our student success initiatives, or our mental health and wellness programming. Those not only allow for students to give back to their peers but also serve as a launching pad for personal growth and leadership development. We’re constantly trying to create new spaces for peer-to-peer learning because it helps to break down some of the barriers around asking for help. It’s easier to reach out to someone when you feel like they have a closer lived experience or connection. 

Max: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

Don’t be afraid of the opportunities that are presented to you. Sometimes, you’ll need to take a calculated risk. If an opportunity arises – try it out and see where it goes. Change is not necessarily permanent; each day is a new day with new opportunities.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Max Webber
Max works closely with people leaders and change-makers in our professional services markets. If you're looking to feature on The Interview, or simply want to learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

The future of training is here, are you ready for it?

Tired of chasing your learners to complete dull training? Let's speak today👇
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.