Taking a gap semester from Harvard University, Luke Heine came home to Cloquet this fall to reconnect with family, get his firearms safety training in advance of deer hunting season and do some sailing on a boat he described as an elderly woman's lawn ornament before he bought and renovated it.
The prestige university encourages the time away from school, said the exuberant 21-year-old, and it's allowed him to take stock of a life he feels is winding fast into the uptake reel.
"I wanted to take time to understand what I've learned along the way," Heine said, "to unpack the meaning of my actions."
Already the creator of a promising beta website called Summer Playbook that connects vacationing Ivy League globetrotters and led to one woman backpacking across Europe for two months on $54, Heine was in Duluth on Thursday to speak with a roomful of area teachers and guidance counselors. During a luncheon for the Alworth Memorial Fund, he introduced a crowd at the Kitchi Gammi Club to his latest endeavor.
Under a mop of blonde hair, he thanked them for all they do for the Northland's students and unveiled his new guide, "Applying to College," a treatise he's published online with the solicited help of 200 guidance counselors from the Midwest and the Harvard College Midwest Club, of which Heine is the current president.
Afterward, Heine told the News Tribune he respected and admired those in the audience.
"I wanted to give something back and hopefully it's useful to them," he said.
Free and weighing in concisely at under 10,000 words, the guide is a personal distillation of the college entrance process that's been both vetted and buoyed by the counselors' input. He put it together over two months of his current gap semester. It's easy to copy and paste and is full of compendiums, like the materials needed for submission to colleges, and sample essays he wrote that worked to gain him admission into multiple schools.
Among his peers at Harvard, Heine said, the talk isn't ever about how much money one will make upon graduation but instead how much of a difference they can make outside its brick walls. He said he hopes the online guide will be one of many future contributions to society. He's emailing it to principals and others across the Midwest using their published emails.
"He is one in a billion," said Patty Salo Downs, executive director of the Marshall H. and Nellie Alworth Memorial Fund, a scholarship Heine received as a Cloquet High School senior. "He made going to school count, which is a contrast from students who don't take it seriously as an opportunity waiting for them to take advantage of."
The Heine origin story is simple. As a high school freshman, his parents, Rick and Ruth, a paper mill employee and rural mail carrier, respectively, sat him down and explained to Luke they would not pay for his post-secondary education. They'd done the same for his older sister, so Heine said he sort of knew it was coming.
Heine didn't mope about it. Instead, the knowledge freed and fueled him. School was his job and he worked hard at it, carrying that ethic into his college application process. It wasn't all a montage of successes, either. His guide features a telling story about how he pulled an ACT score he wasn't proud of, only to learn from a weight room peer that he could study for it.
"I literally saw the heavens part," Heine says in his guide. He proceeded to study over weeks of bicep curls and retake the exam.
His grades - he was co-valedictorian - and his approach to school weren't lost on scholarship judges.
"He took a very entrepreneurial strategy," Salo Downs said.
Because of financial aid and other pieces, his roughly $60,000 annual Harvard education costs less than if he'd have stayed in Minnesota, he said.
Heine's guide features one paragraph that illustrates his industrious ways perfectly:
"The process that I used to receive a better financial aid package was applying to top-rated, high financial aid schools, and then using their offers to barter between them in order to receive a better deal. I started out by applying to a public school and getting a full-tuition scholarship, which I then used to negotiate with private schools."
Heine will go back to Cambridge, Mass., in February to continue his junior year, and he's scheduled to graduate in 2017. He interned last summer at eBay in California, and the computer science major is currently applying to intern at an even bigger Internet company.
When asked what the future has in store, he laughed off the notion that he knows anything at all.
"No idea," he said. "I'm just trying to live a good day. After that, another good day. After a while they link up into something unexpected."
Visit the guide
Find Luke Heine's "Applying to College" guide at www.harvardcollegemidwestclub.com