UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
May 2010
Student’s Unlikely Journey From Canada To NSM Valedictorian

By Rolando Garcia
College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Corey HendersonWhen Corey Henderson left Toronto more than a decade ago, he had no plans or destination. Tired and broken, he just got into his car and drove away, leaving his old life behind.

This month he graduated at the top of his class of the University of Houston’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics with a bachelor’s degree in physics and math. The unlikely story of how this Canadian went from entrepreneur to drifter to academic superstar involves lots of hard work and a university community where he found a new passion and vocation.

Henderson, 37, is one of only two NSM graduates this spring with a 4.0 grade average – his transcript is an unblemished record of straight A’s in every course. He achieved these perfect marks while also undertaking undergraduate research projects and holding a full-time job as a software developer at Continental.

This fall he will begin work on a Ph.D. in plasma physics and nuclear fusion at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.   

Henderson grew up near Niagara Falls and found early success running a small software business in Toronto. However, his lifelong hearing problems eventually progressed to total deafness in his 20’s. Although he could lip-read, running his business became increasingly difficult. Near the breaking point with frustration and exhaustion, he decided to quit and hit the road. He lived out of his car, crisscrossing the continent and camping at more than 100 state and provincial parks.

He eventually settled in Houston about nine years ago where his computer skills got him a job with Continental. Around this time he got a cochlear implant, which restored some of his hearing. The implant made day-to-day communication easier and so Henderson decided to pursue a college degree part-time.

At first, he just wanted a job credential to help him advance in his career as a software developer. But the UH experience turned out to be a lot more than he bargained for. He immersed himself in classes that first semester and earned straight A’s. More importantly, mastering the material was giving him immense satisfaction.

It was not easy. For every class he had to read and reread the texts, work extra problems and study relentlessly. Semester after semester, he was plowing through math and physics courses, earning perfect grades. In addition to his coursework Henderson became involved in undergraduate research under physics Professor Edgar Bering.

“I was really learning the material and having so much fun doing it, I’ve never had that feeling before,” Henderson said. “I wanted to keep going until I found my limit.”

Additionally, Henderson found at UH an academic culture where hard work was rewarded and where professors genuinely wanted their students to succeed. For someone who had spent years in the cutthroat world of the private sector, it was an eye-opener. Time and again faculty would go out of their way to help, Henderson said, and sought nothing in return but a student’s best effort.

“I hadn’t seen that kind of selfless kindness from people in authority before,” Henderson said. “I’m still coming to grips with the fact that places like this exist, where so many people are devoted to the idea of education.”  

In fact, the welcoming environment at UH set a standard that he looked for in prospective graduate schools, Henderson added.

At Wisconsin, Henderson plans to work on nuclear fusion research with commercial applications and hopes to one day start his own company, combining his previous business experience with his new academic expertise. This new life was made possible by his transforming experience at UH, Henderson said.

“This is like a mid-life dream come true.”
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