Previous spotlight: Sue McHenry

McHenry recognized for outstanding contributions to the university

Sue McHenry
Photo by Todd Paris, Marketing and Communications.

"UAF has been an important thread in my life for more than 40 years now, starting in the late '60s when I was a psychology major interacting with people and ideas that were new to me." -- Sue McHenry

Susan "Sue" McHenry was named Academic Advisor, Emerita during UAF's commencement in May 2008. She is one of two people who have received this status as a UAF staff member. McHenry was recognized for her outstanding contributions to the university through her role as an advisor with the Rural Student Services, seeking ways to create supportive networks for students, dedicating her career to recruiting, advising and mentoring countless students, many of whom credit their academic and personal accomplishments to her guidance. McHenry credits the students for enriching her life as she had the opportunity to observe their academic and professional development: "How much respect I have for the countless former students who have found interesting ways to use their education to contribute substantially to their communities all over the state. It's quite fascinating and inspiring that these former first-year students are now working in tribal organizations and businesses, teaching and leading schools, serving as scientists, health providers or engineers, contributing in so many diverse roles. They are also raising children who assume that going to college is a possibility, even an expectation. That represents an exciting future for Alaska."

McHenry has been associated with Rural Student Services for 29 of the 32 years of its existence. She has made an impact on literally hundreds of Alaska Native people and rural Alaskans. McHenry's support for rural students reaches beyond the RSS office at the main Fairbanks campus. She has represented the university at rural college and career fairs and has been a strong advocate for students across the state. She feels that "UAF's rural campuses and distance-delivered programs are a valuable service to the residents of our state who are able to continue commitments without transplanting their families to an urban setting." Even in retirement, she is constantly engaged in efforts that create a network of support for students.

Sue McHenry advising early in her career.
Sue McHenry advising early in her career. Photo courtesy Rural Student Services.

McHenry was instrumental in developing the university chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which has been named national chapter of the year five times under her mentorship. She has also helped coordinate the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program. Her leadership in both these programs has directly resulted in their outstanding success and the success of the students involved in the programs.

McHenry graduated from UAF in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in psychology, and in 1976 with a master's degree in education focusing on college student personnel administration. She has taught student success courses for college freshmen and has been a Rural Alaska Honors Institute instructor. She has received many awards, including the  Edith R. Bullock Prize for Excellence from the University of Alaska Foundation, the Denali Award from the Alaska Federation of Natives for her efforts as a non-Native person whose work has been of great benefit to the Alaska Native community, the UA President's Make Students Count Award, the Associated Students of UAF Outstanding Faculty/Staff Award and the UAF Outstanding Advisor Award twice.

Sue McHenry and Skip Sinnok
Sue McHenry advising Skip Sonnok in 2008. Photo courtesy Rural Student Services.

McHenry has helped students from rural and urban communities navigate their way through university systems and processes. Her unwavering support, warmth and honesty have bolstered the confidence of many students who may otherwise have stumbled, but who instead achieved their goals and now contribute to the state's rural leadership and communities. McHenry's constant and consistent endeavor for lifelong learning was enriched when she had the opportunity to observe Chief Peter John in 1994. She recalls, "During a visit to the Fairbanks campus in 1994, Chief Peter John, the traditional chief of the Athabascan nation, explained how the Athabascan people had used this hill, known as Troth Yeddha', to gather together, share information, and learn from each other. It is meaningful to me that people from all over the state, this country and the world continue to gather here and learn from each other. The value of this exchange, especially with an emphasis on the peoples of the North, is underscored in UAF's mission statement and strategic goals."

McHenry was more than an advisor at Rural Student Services; she became a family member to many of the students that she worked with: "From a personal perspective, I have been enriched by enduring friendships and learning experiences throughout my association with the university. Students have grown into family members and I probably know somebody from just about every community in Alaska. What an opportunity for learning!"

She plans to stay involved with UAF and RSS in her retirement and says: "Because of the ways my involvement with UAF has benefited me, I look forward to exploring different channels to stay connected to UAF. I feel that as UAF alumni, we have a special vantage point from which to impact the lives of Alaskans in relation to our university, whether it is a chat with a prospective student or attendance at a UAF event or perhaps financial support for a scholarship or program that is of special significance to us. If you have a chance to encourage a current student, grab the opportunity to reinforce the idea that the effort they put into their education now will reap rewards for themselves and their communities later. It seems to me that the personal connections are the most meaningful, and even though they may feel like a small gesture, they mean a lot to the student at that moment. We can each make a difference in a small way."

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