Geraldine Henderson: mentoring for a diverse faculty
By Emilio Bermeo | Student reporter
In the film Mr. Holland’s Opus, a music teacher comes to realize that his former students represent his legacy. They are, in other words, his masterpiece.
“That’s how I feel about my students,” says Quinlan Associate Professor Geraldine Henderson, who recently received a multicultural mentoring award from the American Marketing Association Foundation. It was an honor that helped her realize—just like Mr. Holland—that her students are her heritage.
“At the awards ceremony, they played this slideshow that had pictures of most of the students that I’ve mentored over the years,” Henderson says.
When Henderson was a student, she noticed there weren’t many faculty members that looked like her. So when she became a professor, she made it a point to mentor young students from various backgrounds. And she’s been an inspiration for many of them.
Mecca Johnson is one of those students. When she started her MBA at Quinlan, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to concentrate on marketing. But after taking one of Henderson’s multicultural marketing classes, Johnson was motivated, she says, “to follow the avenue that would allow me to help with the branding of multicultural America.”
“Professor Henderson doesn’t mind being a mentor and taking an additional role,” Johnson says. “She always talks about PhD students who she’s helped, or who she’s mentoring at the moment. She doesn’t mind connecting us with any of her peers, or any of her friends that are in the same area that we are professionally. She genuinely cares about the students and watching us succeed in life.”
From engineering to business
Henderson took a roundabout path to her career in marketing. She studied engineering as an undergraduate and took part in a co-op program with IBM, working on semiconductor fabrication and testing. But before her final year of school, Henderson was recruited by a manager in the sales division of IBM, despite not having any experience in that department.
“I wasn’t interested in sales because engineers don’t do sales,” Henderson says.
Still, she took the position. And she loved it.
While working there, Henderson wanted to learn more about business and completed the first half of her MBA in a part-time program. “One of the ways I transitioned to business was through getting an MBA at night,” she says.
She became so involved in her new field that she wanted to study it full time. She asked for a leave of absence and applied to the top business schools in the country. Her boss was supportive and transferred her to Chicago, where she completed her MBA.
Then, inspired by her father, who was a teacher, and by the realization that academia could offer her many benefits, she decided to get her PhD. The only reason why she hadn’t considered it before was because she thought it wasn’t lucrative.
“But I realized that I could have my cake and eat it, too,” she says.
Bringing diversity to the classroom
Just before finishing her doctorate, Henderson attended the very first PhD project conference, in Chicago. The PhD Project, which began in 1994, is a non-profit organization that works to increase the diversity of business school faculty—and by extension, create a more diverse student body and workplace.
Although Henderson never was on the student’s side of the PhD Project, she took an active role in the mentoring side from the beginning. Two decades later, the project is still going strong.
“We are five times the number of professors that we were before," says Henderson about the increase of university faculty members who are minorities. “The main thing is getting the information out, knowing what PhDs do.”
Making sense out of chaos
In addition to advocating for more diverse faculty, Henderson also conducts research on multicultural marketing.
“If I had one word to describe my research, it would be diversity. Two words: marketplace diversity. Three words: global marketplace diversity. And five words: global marketplace diversity and inclusion,” she says.
But for Henderson—who also received an award from students at the PhD Project—it’s the interaction inside the class that matter most.
Quinlan student Laura Martini says Henderson has been a big influence on her life. In an e-mail, Martini described Henderson as a rare combination of brilliance and enthusiasm. “Not only do I admire her intellect and knowledge in the field of marketing, but also the way she engages the classroom and brings discussions to life,” Martini writes.
Henderson’s recent honors show how devoted she is to her field—and her students.
“I’m not married, and I don’t have any children, so I like to think of my students as my children,” Henderson says. “I want them to be able to see a lot of chaos and then be able to make sense out of it.
“I tell them: ‘I’m not going be at work with you. You have to learn how to deal with messy data and information because life is messy, the world is messy.’ ”