Beeta Ansari

Beeta is Ashoka U’s Exchange Director, the world’s largest global convening for social entrepreneurship education.

Changemaker of the Week: Drew Heckman

Drew Heckman, a student at Brown University, describes his work founding Queer Nebraska Youth Network, a peer-led group that provides support and connections for the LGBTQ community.

Drew is being featured as part of Ashoka U’s new series, “Changemaker of the Week” which highlights extraordinary student changemakers in college and graduate programs around the world. Check the AshokaU Blog each week for a story of a new Changemaker of the Week!

1) What is your project or organization?
My project is called the Queer Nebraska Youth Networks. It’s a peer-led group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Nebraskan youth (ages 15-24) that provides confidential online discussion, peer-facilitated social events, and connections to relevant opportunities and resources.

2) How did you get involved with this project / organization (or how did you decide to found it)?
Despite coming out as gay at 14 years old in my hometown of Omaha, I had very few LGBTQ+ friends until I went to college at Brown University four years later. After witnessing the vibrant, diverse, and inclusive community of LGBTQ+ folks at Brown, I knew something was definitely missing at home so I committed to addressing that gap by founding the project known today as the Queer Nebraska Youth Networks.

3) How has being a college student changed the way you act as a changemaker?
I was a college student when I started the QNYN in 2010, and I just recently graduated this May, so I had to learn to recruit and maintain a team at home in Nebraska that could help me manage the project when I was 1,500 miles away. We became very good at staying connected via digital channels, and I appreciated always having one foot in academia and one foot in an arena where I could actually apply what I was learning.

4) What’s the best part of working on your venture?
A humbling and inspiring part of working on the QNYN is hearing from our peer participants how dramatically we’ve impacted their lives. We’re frequently told that we helped people learn to love and accept themselves for exactly who they are, despite what others in our conservative state might say; some tell us that we very literally saved their lives. The best part of working on QNYN is that we get to watch the people we help turn around and do the same for others.

5) What’s one piece of advice you’d give to any college student thinking of becoming a changemaker?
Always question your authenticity, interrogate your intentions, and refuse to buy into the myth that “something is better than nothing” in the change work that you’re doing. Additionally, identify the communities to which you should be most accountable, and give them the power to set your agenda and define “success.”

6) How has your school or school’s social entrepreneurship initiative helped you progress as a student social innovator and in this venture?
Brown supported me in the spring, summer, and fall of 2012 with a C.V. Starr Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship that provided skill-building workshops (spring), a $4000 grant for my summer in Omaha, and opportunities for critical reflection and evaluation (fall). In addition to the impressive community of Starr Fellows in my cohort from which I learned an incredible amount, I was also able to serve as a Starr Mentor for the following cohort and learn through advising newer ventures. Finally, the team behind the Fellowship gave me invaluable 1-on-1 support throughout my time at Brown and believed in me and my project, even when I wasn’t sure I did.

More information about Drew will also be featured on social media this week, so be sure to like Ashoka U on Twitter and Facebook!