Rudy and Stephanie Heinatz said their time at Thomas Nelson was invaluable.
Stephanie Heinatz’s path from Gloucester High School to Thomas Nelson Community College was direct. Rudy Heinatz’s was not. However, the husband and wife both said their time at the College put them on the right road.
“It was the foundation of all my collegiate success,” Stephanie said.
“What it provided me was the basis for having to organize my time (and) perform well in the classroom,” he said. “Moving on through the rest of my college career, I had that baseline that I got there.”
The two, who have been married for almost 17 years, are partners at Consociate Media, a Gloucester-based company that helps businesses market themselves.
“Our whole mission is to help people get their story told, to help them make a difference in their lives, whether it’s grow their business or have some sort of advocacy or legislative change in Richmond,” Stephanie said. “We are a PR firm at heart.”
They are currently working on a memoir project for a family. Their story, they say, was fueled by Thomas Nelson.
For Stephanie, selecting Thomas Nelson was a practical decision, for numerous reasons.
“I really didn’t want to have student debt. That was a big genesis for it,” she said. “Plus, I was working full time and I was a commuter student and I knew I wanted to go to (Christopher Newport University, which she did) and I wanted to stay in the area. All of that pointed to Thomas Nelson.”
After graduating from Gloucester High School, Rudy attended Mary Washington University for a year, but admitted he “did not do well. It was not a good fit for me."
He grew up in Gloucester so he was familiar with Thomas Nelson. But he did look into another local community college.
“I just thought Thomas Nelson was a better fit,” said Rudy, who then transferred to CNU before earning his MBA at William & Mary. “Once I started at Thomas Nelson, it just seemed really smart to do the two years (there and then transfer to a four-year school). From a financial perspective, it was a much better option than going back to a four-year school.”
Neither one could point to a singular crucial or inspiring event at Thomas Nelson, but instead prefer to think of their total experience as one defining moment.
“I think what stood out for me was the quality of education vs. what my presuppositions were about a community college because I had gone away to a four-year school,” Rudy said. “I didn’t see a whole lot of gap in what actually happened in the classroom.”
Stephanie said “being able to learn at 18 years old how to juggle a full-time course load and full-time work, that’s really going into the real world right away.”
They remain advocates of community colleges.
“We constantly promote the community college system to even young graduates that are coming out now,” Stephanie said. “The breadth of what the community colleges offer now is really incredible.”
“For the cost of a four-year degree now, it makes no sense to me why someone, regardless of economic situation, wouldn’t look at a community college as a viable option for their first two years,” Rudy said.
Stephanie, 36, and Rudy, 41, have an 8-year-old son, and their business has grown to more than two dozen clients, many of whom are out of county and out of state. What began about six years ago with just one full-time employee (Stephanie) has grown to four partners, and they are getting ready to move to a new location in Gloucester, about a mile farther north off Route 17.
They give credit to their time at Thomas Nelson. In addition to obtaining a solid educational foundation, they didn’t accrue student debt.
“When we started our business … we had a newborn and Consociate Media had revenue of about $14,000,” Stephanie said. “But Rudy left his executive job to come to the company full time. If we were saddled with a lot of student debt, I don’t know if we would have made that decision. We might not have been able to start our business.”
Rudy likes to think they probably would be in the same place professionally if they hadn’t gone to Thomas Nelson, but he can’t say that with any certainty.
“I don’t know … because it provided an economic advantage because we didn’t have to take out student loans.”
Their company's means “to join together, unite in association.” They have never forgotten that their association with Thomas Nelson, which was formed about 20 years ago, was an important part of their lives.