Run Your Own Road

Heather Han

MSU Denver '95

Executive. Mentor. Roadrunner.


There’s no polite way to put it - Heather Han (B.S. in business admin ’95) was a high school dropout, plain and pure. And she’ll tell you about it – straight up.

“I made some pretty bad decisions and ditched school a lot,” Han says. “I finished my freshman year in high school with straight F’s and halfway through the next year, I was kicked out of high school for lack of attendance.”

She moved out of her mom's house at 16 and in her words, “tried to make it on my own.”

Focus on that word “tried.” Here’s the thing: Today, Han is wiser and she’ll say – just as the great Jedi Master, Yoda, from “Star Wars” once said – “There is only do or do not. There is no try.”

And now Han is a shining example of the word “do.”

Sure it wasn’t easy growing up in Denver. She was like a lot of kids coming of age in the 1980s – a latch-key kid. 

“My mom and dad divorced when I was around 7, so I’d alternate who I lived with each year, which meant back and forth between schools. It made it harder to feel like I had a place and I wasn't really interested in school,” she says.

Then when she was in fifth grade came a life-changing event: She witnessed her dad having a seizure from a brain tumor. During surgery he suffered a stroke and never really recovered. He was moved to Iowa to be closer to his parents.

“I didn't see him very much after that. He spent the next 15 years in a veterans hospital until he died in 1997. It was really a devastating loss for me as a kid and I struggled after that.”  

Struggled? Yes. Gave up? Not a chance.

Han says after slogging around in the real world for a couple of years, she decided to go back to school. She got her GED, enrolled at Community College of Denver for a year and then transferred into Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“Honestly, I don't think there was another local four-year college that would have given me a chance with only a GED,” she says. “I also went into the Army Reserve the same year as Operation Desert Storm [the invasion of Kuwait], but for the most part it was over by the time I finished basic training so I was never deployed but I got on the GI Bill. MSU Denver was affordable, so with a couple part-time jobs, I made it through without any debt.”

It was at MSU Denver that she began to understand and build on her strengths. “I was always good with numbers and details, and at the same time, I was always very strategic and able to see the big picture. I think it's easy for people to miss the forest for the trees, so to be able to see both seems to fit in well for all three: business, management and banking.”

Today, Han is a senior vice president with U.S. Bank and manages a $5 billion portfolio of oil and gas loans. She mentors employees of all ages.

She’s also married and the mother of two girls, 9 and 6. “They think I'm pretty important at work and that makes me feel proud.” She should be. After MSU Denver, she earned her MBA from Loyola Marymount University in 2000 and then earned the chartered financial analyst designation in 2003.  

Her advice for today’s students: “If you do something and you don't succeed, don't view it as a failure. Nobody ever says, ‘Hey look at that poor toddler, she's failing at walking.’ That's not failing, that's learning.” 

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