LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 29, 2013) — William Henderson is driven to help young people succeed. As director of diversity programs and out-of-state recruitment for the University of Kentucky College of Engineering, it's part of his job description.
"If you want to go to college, you need to have a plan," Henderson tells Justin Truax, a 16-year-old recruit from Henry Clay High School in Lexington, here at UK for a campus visit. "You need to have a plan for how to get in, but you also need to have a plan to stay once you get here and have closure by obtaining your degree."
Education is Henderson's abiding passion. A two-time UK graduate, with both bachelor's and master's degrees in math education, Henderson was an athletic director, taught math, coached football and track for nearly a decade in local schools, and he has coached youth sports since 1996. From his perspective, education is not a process of filling students heads with facts and figures and ideas, but of developing their ability to think, which is latent within them.
"As one of my mentors always used to say, 'You've got to educe,'" Henderson says. "If you look at the root word of educate, educe means to bring out, or to develop. I work to bring out the potential that already exists in students. A good teacher will shine a light, point it in the right direction, and help to clear any obstacles in the student's path."
Henderson returned to UK in 2011. In his newly created role, he points academically talented high school students toward UK's College of Engineering. Henderson does everything he can to make sure that students who have both the ambition and the ability to study engineering have the opportunity to do so.
"There are a lot of misconceptions out there," Henderson says. "A lot of kids might think that college is beyond their reach, or that UK isn't the right kind of school for them, or maybe that they're not the right kind of person for UK. I have found that if I can actually get young people to come here in person, they can see for themselves just what UK has to offer — the kinds of resources we have available, and the real diversity that exists here, not just on campus, but in the College of Engineering itself."
Diversity has accelerated within the college in the roughly two years since Henderson came on board. In 2012, overall minority enrollment rose to the highest levels in the college's history, as did enrollment of women and out-of-state students. African-American enrollment grew by 30 percent, and Hispanic enrollment increased by more than 48 percent, compared to 2011 figures. Participation in the college's Minority Engineering Day has more than doubled, with attendance rising from 72 to 176 participants.
Henderson has focused recruitment efforts on metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Columbus and a few other select areas. Also, he has turned his attention to big cities in the midwest such as Chicago and St. Louis, where in-state cost of attendance is exceptionally high, and UK is a competitive option, even for students paying non-resident tuition.
As part of that effort, Henderson created the Chicago Area See Blue in Engineering (CASBE) Tour, which brings academically qualified students by the busload from Chicago and surrounding suburbs to UK for campus visits in the spring and fall. The program has been a tremendous success in its first year. From its inception, seven students were granted admission as engineering majors. Three of those ended up attending school at UK this past fall. Henderson looks to expand this tour to other cities that will produce “big results” for UK.
Darius Williams, a graduate of Team Englewood High School in Chicago, was part of the second CASBE tour, in December 2012. Williams says that, although he originally had his heart set on the University of Miami, a visit to his school by Henderson made him start to look at UK. Henderson convinced Williams to get on the bus and come take a look for himself.
"Kentucky already had my favorite basketball team," Williams said. "But when I came to visit, it made all the difference. Engineering especially stood out. When I went into the mechanical engineering labs and saw all of the different kinds of things people were working on, I just loved it."
Williams will begin attending UK this fall. He says Henderson's warm, engaging style helped to close the deal.
"Mr. Henderson makes it feel more like family," he said. "He's a very welcoming person."
With all of those years of experience teaching and mentoring, Henderson has some solid, practical advice for any high school juniors or seniors who wish to become engineers:
"Take Advanced Placement classes such as calculus, chemistry and physics now, if you haven't already. You're going to have to take them eventually, and if you do it before you get here, you'll be that much farther ahead and you will gain the necessary academic exposure to succeed in engineering. Most importantly, follow your passion, and make it match your academic endeavors."
Take it from the former math teacher. He knows what he's talking about.
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