Michael Heimbach

Michael Heimbach ‘88 scores big at ESPN

Double Play
HeimbachGrowing up in Pottstown, Pa., with four siblings, Michael Heimbach was the son of an interstate truck driver and a stay-at-home mother. He enrolled at Alvernia as a non-traditional student in 1986, attending mostly night classes. During the day, he served the Pottstown community as a police officer. Eventually, he would be the first of his family to obtain a bachelor’s degree from an institution of higher learning.

As a beat cop, Heimbach was always driven to accomplish more. Little did he know that his initiative, kindled by his bent for public service and fostered by his Franciscan education at Alvernia, would take him far beyond his wildest dreams to successful careers with the FBI and ESPN.

“I always believed a person’s attitude equals their altitude in life, and a true judge of one’s character comes in the moments when people must handle adversity,” said Heimbach. These are the moments when doors will open for you if you have the drive to get there.”

Heimbach noted that Alvernia was one of the only schools to cater to non-traditional students in the 1980s. “Alvernia was very forward-thinking and gave me the opportunity to go to school at night, while at the same time working as a full-time police officer, father, and husband,” he said. He graduated in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, with his eyes on a career in the FBI.

With little opportunity to move up through his local police force, Heimbach joined the FBI as a special agent. For the first 12 years of his career in the FBI, he lived in New Orleans with his wife and five children, focusing on criminal investigations and rising through the ranks of the Bureau. Many cases were high profile.

“I worked a 1965 murder of the first African-American deputy in L.A. and the wounding of his partner,” remembers Heimbach. “I reenacted the racially motivated murder on TV shows like “Unsolved Mysteries” and “48 Hours” to solicit new leads. The case is still being investigated by the FBI as we speak.”

Heimbach was also involved in the disruption of a major Colombian drug cartel, resulting in the conviction of more than 15 cartel members and the seizure of over $40 million in cocaine and cash.

After 9/11, terrorism became the FBI’s number-one priority. “I was asked to transfer to the national security side of the FBI because of my extensive experience in criminal investigations and my ability to lead a growing new division,” said Heimbach. “September 11 changed all of our lives. The FBI today is not the same FBI I came into — except the people. We went from a reactive organization to a proactive organization with a ton of emphasis on intelligence gathering.”

In 2003, while living in Washington, D.C., Heimbach was appointed to Assistant Section Chief of the International Terrorism Operations Section in the Counterterrorism Division. “Our main emphasis was, and still is, never to allow another 9/11 to occur,” he said. “The FBI has successfully thwarted numerous plots to kill Americans in the last 10 years.”

Eventually, he was charged to oversee all FBI domestic and international terrorism investigations related to al Qaeda and other extremist organizations. He received several awards throughout his career, including a Director’s Award for Excellence in Management and the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service (in 2004) for his involvement in the major disruption of an international terrorist network. In 2008, Heimbach was named Deputy Director of Anti-Terrorism.

But after almost 22 years in the FBI, Heimbach started to consider the next step in his life.

“In the FBI there is mandatory retirement at 57. No one waits until you are 56. So most agents have second careers,” said Heimbach. He left the FBI to pursue a career as Senior Director of Global Security at ESPN in 2009.

So how does a law enforcement pro who played a significant role in the conviction of the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers work in the sports field? With a huge smile.

After all, he gets to work among professional athletes and sports analysts that he idolized as a child. “I still have days where I have to pinch myself. As a big sports fan, knowing that I am on a first-name basis with some of these guys is unreal,” said Heimbach.

Did you know?

A National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise study found that participating employers and recent college graduates agreed on the necessity of out of the classroom experiences. The study emphasizes the importance of providing students with important knowledge and skills but also experience putting that knowledge and skills to practical use in "real-world" settings.

Did you know?

Seventy-six percent of participating employers put "teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings" at the top of their list of desired capabilities in new employees, according to a National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise study. These are among the skills fostered by real-world learning experiences.

Did you know?

Service learning is a method of providing personal and academic development through work with established nonprofit organizations in the community. It is an avenue to introduce students to a professional environment without the extensive commitments of an internship.

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Service learning provides ideal real world learning opportunities. According to SmartBlog on Leadership, doing volunteer and service work for a non-profit organization that is connected to your major or academic program of study helps develop leadership skills, expands your perspective of the world, allows you to discover new skills in a safe environment, and develops a larger network of real world contacts to draw upon once you graduate.

Did you know?

Service learning can take you outside of your comfort zone, giving you an opportunity to work with new challenges, people, politics and interpersonal dynamics. It also offers new perspective on priorities. Hanging out with people who have had different life experiences encourages you to tackle challenges from different angles. Julie Zolfo, founder of Make Success Matter said that she volunteered for six weeks at the schools in New Delhi, India.

Did you know?

"Alvernia's Career Development Center works with students to find avenues for employment, internships, co-ops, career exploration, resume development, and graduate school options. Center staff help students assess their options and identify their own "brand" to complement their life after Alvernia.

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A recent career fair at Alvernia attracted more than 55 employers who were seeking to hire employees, co-ops and interns for their organizations. Career fairs like this one are fertile ground for students seeking real world learning opportunities and to reap the benefits of such as employers look to to hire staff members who have honed their skills and abilities via practical experiences in real situations.

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Since its inception, Alvernia has offered real world opportunities with an emphasis on service and careers that help those in need. Field experiences in areas like criminal justice, social work, nursing, occupational therapy, health care science and teacher training among others provide our students with rich learning opportunities to test drive what it's like to work in that profession.

Did you know?

In a recent American Association of Colleges and Universities survey of 302 employers, 79 percent said institutions of higher learning should emphasize helping students apply what they learn in real-world settings, and 66 percent said that completing an internship or community field project would help prepare students for success.