To better understand the experiences and needs of transgender employees, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the LGBTQ Resource Center are hosting a focus group for transgender and nonbinary staff and faculty. The feedback and information gathered from this…
Unsung Hero Nichole Henry Empowers Others to Blaze New Paths
Nichole Henry didn’t quite believe it when she was told she had been named a 2023 Unsung Hero to be recognized at the 38th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in January.
Henry, director of admissions and recruitment in the College of Professional Studies, was told the good news by her colleague Marissa Willingham, a member of the MLK Jr. Celebration Committee and manager of the Intercultural Collective.
“I asked her, ‘The Unsung Hero? The MLK Unsung Hero?’” Henry says. When Willingham confirmed, Henry says she was in shock and in tears. “I didn’t do anything special. I just do what I love to do.”
Henry has devoted her professional career to welcoming and recruiting hundreds of students to Syracuse, through the College of Law and now in her current role.
She is also committed to students through her volunteer work as a dialogue facilitator for InterFaith Works, a FullCircle mentor and a lead instructor with First-Year Seminar.
For those who know Henry, her work, her care for students and her enthusiasm for higher education are an exemplary example of someone behind the scenes moving others forward.
Henry credits others around her for propelling her in the work that she does.
“I am so humbled and blessed to be named an Unsung Hero because I didn’t get here by myself. I’m recognized because I have been surrounded by, fostered by, comforted by and encouraged by so many individuals on this campus who go unnoticed,” Henry says.
At the MLK Jr. Celebration, Henry says they all walked the stage with her in spirit.
“I stand on their shoulders, humbly and lightly, because of what they’ve done for me,” Henry says.
Commitment to Community
Jimmy Luckman, associate director for First-Year Seminar, nominated Henry in a recommendation because of her commitment to the University and Syracuse communities, including her work as president of the Delta Alpha Gamma Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., which supports student scholarship. In the nomination, he weaved in comments from other individuals in support of Henry’s recognition.
“Nichole has been a visionary leader within Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. and has reimagined how to support students through the admissions process,” Luckman says. “Her warmth and love radiates to all those around her, so it was an easy decision to work with other members of the community to nominate her for this recognition.”
In her admissions role, Henry enjoys building relationships with all of those around her—mentors who’ve been at the University for many years and those coming up from the next generation—and make connections between everyone she meets, to empower others to find their passions and pursue their goals.
Henry calls her work in admissions “an energetic lifeline,” connecting her to the work that she loves to do. “You just have to really love what you do, and you have to love students and you have to love education,” she says. “Education is an outlet for people to do better, learn better, live better.”
Advocate for Students
Henry, who is pursuing a Ed.D. in educational executive leadership from St. John Fisher University, has also devoted time and her doctoral research to the advancement of students through the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). Henry, who was an EOP student (the name of the program at public colleges) at SUNY Oswego, has been a strong advocate for the role of such programs that provide various forms of support for those from marginalized backgrounds to succeed in higher education.
Henry has focused her research on such programs and advocating for the needs of students because she knows the benefits herself as an EOP recipient and the empowering effect such resources can have.
“My son has a learning disability; he has always struggled with reading. And it was a struggle for me with the school system to find the right way to deal with the issues,” Henry says. “Black males are at risk out of every population that goes into higher education—they have the highest dropout rate and they are at the highest rate among those who say they don’t feel a sense of belonging.”
Henry wants to know why they—along with other students from marginalized groups—drop out and how that can be fixed.
“How can we create a healthy, positive bridge for them to come to school and be successful here?” she says. “Syracuse University is a place with the tools,” she says, but we need to make sure they know the tools are here to help them.
Henry describes herself as someone who looks at the glass as half full but is centered in reality through her own experiences, growing up in a disadvantaged community in Brooklyn but finding a path to her goals through education.
“I understand that if we try as individuals, as educators, to recognize every student in the room, we can make such a great impact,” she says.
Winning the Unsung Hero Award also has given Henry more impetus to continue in the work she does.
“I have to continue to actively engage with like-minded individuals who want to do social action; civil engagement; diversity, equity and inclusion work; education work—those who are looking to encourage students in that capacity,” Henry says. “I have to take them as far as I can and let them blaze new paths.”