Faculty Stories: Maureen Heffern Ponicki

Maureen Heffern Ponicki

Program: Political Science


When she was 16, Maureen Heffern Ponicki lived with a family in Ecuador and saw up close the disparities of poor and wealthy living side by side.

“That experience changed me,” she said. “In many ways, it defines my interest in political science because it left me wondering how can we better arrange our political systems so that people have more options and possibilities. I always tell my students that political science is simply about how we as a community come together to decide the rules on how we will all get along. It’s as simple and as powerful as that.”

Heffern Ponicki, who earned her bachelor’s degree from American University and master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, spent many years working at the grassroots and policy levels, including two years with street and working children in Peru, with migrant farmworkers in rural New York State and with foster children and teen parents in Chicago. She trained volunteers to work overseas in community development and education, directed a community organizing project in Los Angeles aimed at reducing the rate of teen pregnancy, worked on policy advocacy on a global economics policy program, and directed a service-learning program and a program to increase community college students’ career readiness skills.  

In addition, she worked as a consultant with nonprofits, helping them with strategic planning and development.

“Along the way, I kept going back to school for more,” she said. “I did an MA focused on international relations, economics and development and then later I went back again to complete a Ph.D. in political science, focusing on comparative and urban politics. I am writing my dissertation now on how cities bounce back from economic shocks.” 

After the many years of applied work, Heffern Ponicki realized that she loved the training and teaching aspect of her career best. She began teaching at College of DuPage in 2019 in order to fully devote herself to it.  

“I love helping others find their passion and helping students see the many ways in which they can impact our world,” she said. “I want to help students see the power of knowledge and to better understand our political and social world. I want them to get excited about the world around them and see that they have the power to make a difference. I want them to see how energizing knowledge can be. I want them to take on the tall task of being a democratic citizen.” 

In addition to the energy she feels from her students, Heffern Ponicki is inspired by people who make a difference every day.

“The people who live with humility, who fight for making this world a better place, who go the extra mile, who lend a helping hand, who raise children to be good people, who teach us all to love deeper, forgive more, and to see this world in a different light—they are all around us and I love being touched by them.”

More about the Political Science program