Campus Life

Heitzmann retires after 33 years of directing CAPS

Dennis Heitzmann will be retiring from 33 years with Penn State on June 30. Heitzmann directed the University's Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) from 1984-2016. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dennis Heitzmann will be retiring from 33 years with Penn State on June 30. Heitzmann directed the University's Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) from 1984-2016. In 2016, Heitzmann stepped down as senior director for CAPS to lead special projects in Student Affairs.

During the past year, Heitzmann has been able to visit 18 Penn State campus counseling centers to meet with chancellors as well as Student Affairs staff, faculty and student stakeholders to better understand gaps between student need and available services. His work, which helped secure forthcoming funding, will have a significant impact on future services for all Penn State students across the Commonwealth.

Heitzmann has been able to oversee the growth of counseling and psychological services and increased acceptance by students throughout his tenure at CAPS. In one of the most gratifying moments of his career, Heitzmann witnessed the 2016 senior class decision to create an endowment in support of CAPS — a gift that was subsequently matched by the Penn State Alumni Association.

“The momentum in support of psychological services for all students has continued up to the present with significant increases to CAPS staffing and budget, both of which will allow us to better serve students into the future,” said Heitzmann. “I couldn't have imagined all of this when I started, and couldn't be more excited about the future of counseling services at Penn State.”

Heitzmann’s entire career has been spent in university counseling services, supplemented by private practice and organizational consultation. Prior to his arrival at Penn State, Heitzmann served as director of the Center for Student Development at the University of Memphis and director of Counseling Services at Rhodes College in Memphis. He received his doctorate in counseling psychology in 1974 from the University of Texas, Austin.

As an affiliate of the clinical and counseling psychology doctoral programs at Penn State, Heitzmann has supervised numerous doctoral students in training, and served on doctoral dissertation committees.

Heitzmann is active in professional affairs, having served as president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) and as president of the International Association for Counseling Services, a national accreditation agency. In addition, he has been a consultant, workshop conductor, lecturer and program presenter on various topics including student mental health, students at risk, managed behavioral health care, and organizational consultation. In 2002 Dennis was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from AUCCCD for his career contributions to the counseling center endeavors.

"The best leaders create a supportive culture that encourages others to thrive and succeed, and they do so in a sustained way,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Penn State Student Affairs. “Dennis has been just that kind of leader for CAPS. He has helped and nurtured our students through his own work with them, but even more importantly by building a staff whose fundamental principle focuses on caring support for students. I believe we have the premier student counseling and psychological services in higher education, and I know that's largely due to Dennis' countless contributions for so many years. He will be missed."   

“What has mattered the most to me throughout my career has been the precious moments when I would sit quietly and alone with students in counseling, observing them move from struggle to strength, finding their pathway to a better life experience,” said Heitzmann. “Having passed on the directorship to an exceptionally capable new leader and his staff, I am free to recall those early career moments when I couldn't help but to wonder how it would all evolve, what I would become. Well as it turns out, family, friends and many Penn Staters have helped me to become the person I believe I was meant to be, and I am so grateful for that. I couldn't have asked for more.”

In tribute of Heitzmann’s contributions to Penn State, he and his wife, Marcia, are inviting colleagues and friends to contribute to the Dennis E. Heitzmann Legacy Fund for Counseling and Psychological Services at Penn State. The Heitzmanns’ created the fund as a discretionary fund for the director of CAPS to enrich counseling and psychological programs. Contributions to the fund can be made online at

Last Updated September 23, 2020