Earlier this year, Jennifer Henderson, communication professor and former chair of the Department of Communication, was named Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs: Student Success. Since June 2021, she held the interim appointment for this position, which has been retitled from the post Michael Soto used to hold as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs: Student Academic Issues and Retention.
Henderson herself suggested that this position be retitled to better fit the spirit of the role as one that builds, empowers, and educates. “I think student success is not only more positive, but it reflects more of what this job does, which is trying to support all of our students in their success on their way to graduation,” she says.
More specifically, Henderson works to ensure that all students are able to have a network or web of relationships while at Trinity in order to support them in all aspects of their undergraduate career. Working very closely with Jamie Thompson, the assistant dean of students, Henderson often focuses on the relationships that develop in classes and with faculty. “When thinking about student success,” she says, “making sure that those connections work well is really important.”
In addition to helping foster student relationships at Trinity, Henderson cares about uplifting their voices. “Listening to students, I think, is one of the most important parts of my job,” she says, emphasizing that her role allows her to work with students one on one. “Students have really important stories and life experiences, things that they need to be heard about related to academics and things that are influencing their academics. So what I try to do in all our conversations is listen and try to figure out how we can support their journeys toward graduation.”
Teaching in the classroom gives Henderson even more opportunities to connect with and admire students at Trinity. “The students are the reason that I am at Trinity,” she says. What she loves most is getting to interact with them and seeing them grow during their years as Tigers. “As they learn, I'm always amazed at how our students start their careers thinking that they don't have any idea what they want or what they’re doing. And then to watch them evolve through all the experiences that they have here—I’m just impressed every day.”
Henderson also oversees many faculty and organizations on campus, such as the offices in the Tiger Learning Commons, the First-Year Experience courses, and the professional advising team for first- and second- year students. Although these are the three main areas reporting to Henderson, she points out that her job always expands beyond herself. Most of the time, she is doing partnership work with Student Life to figure out the best ways to listen to the students across all their experiences.
Megan Mustain, the vice president for Academic Affairs, explains that she is excited to work with Henderson as she takes on this role. “I am honored to work with Jennifer, whose expertise and dedication to our students’ education shows me every day that every encounter makes a difference in the life of our community,” she says. “Jennifer brings her full self to our shared work. She inspires collaboration and confidence in students, faculty, and staff alike. From partnering with Student Life colleagues to redesign New Student Orientation to serving as our academic lead in this year’s pandemic response, Jennifer has jumped into her new role with both feet.”
Henderson arrived at Trinity in 2002 and is a first amendment historian, teaching courses on the issues of media law and the ethics of media. In 2020, she contributed the chapter “The Literacies of Participatory Cultures,” which addresses eight literacies that need to be considered when engaging in a participatory culture, to Media Literacy in a Disruptive Media Environment. From 2010 to 2021, she was the chair of the Department of Communication and the board chair of KRTU. Henderson holds a bachelor’s degree from Drake University in advertising, public relations, and English and a master’s degree and doctorate in communication from the University of Washington.