Leading the way in DEI: Jonathon Henderson

profile image of Jonathan Henderson facing the camera

Triple duck Jonathon Henderson, BS ‘07 Political Science, MS ‘09 Conflict & Dispute Resolution, PhD ‘15 Critical and Sociocultural Studies in Education, is used to leading the way. First in his family to graduate college, he developed a talent for having difficult conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion during his time at the University of Oregon. The College of Education honed these strengths and taught him the research skills now serving him in his current role as Associate Director of Research for Central Washington University. 

The path to a career in education and research was a circuitous one for Jonathon. He didn’t feel well-served by the schools he attended and left high school at seventeen to work in information technology. 

“I felt that discrimination wasn’t directly addressed. The school took a non-interventionist approach. That can be very tough for students who aren’t in the majority group.” 

When the dot-com bubble burst, Jonathon earned his GED and applied to the UO, where he studied political science as an undergraduate. He found, however, that as a non-traditional student he struggled to adapt to his new environment. That’s where student groups, scholarships, and student support services came in. He became a leader in student organizations such as the Black Student Union and the Alliance of Graduate Students for Diversity. 

“It was a struggle, being a non-traditional student. Without scholarships and work study, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Without the programs that support first generation and students of color, I felt like I would have been even more lost, I probably wouldn’t have made it through. I felt very isolated, but then I got involved with student groups and found a sense of community.” 

Jonathon went on to earn a MS in Conflict and Dispute Resolution, where he used his aptitude for technology to create digital conflict resolution tools, particularly for underserved communities. He found, however, that he wasn’t interested in pursuing a law degree, a common path for students graduating from the program. That’s when he discovered the COE. He applied to the first cohort of the CSSE program because he wanted to build on the foundation of his work improving equity for diverse communities. He was drawn to the freedom and approach of the CSSE program, and the opportunity to blaze a trail for future students in the program. 

“It was a new program. I liked that diversity and equity conversations were part of every class and that we discussed the digital divide. I could bring in who I was to that program and create my own path. It was exciting being in the first cohort, to have that extra freedom.” 

Jonathon also appreciated being able to incorporate his previous work in technology. 

“I studied the hidden lessons of educational technologies around ethnicity, race, and the digital divide.” 

During his time in the program, Jonathon worked on grant-funded projects with his mentors Jerry Rosiek, PhD and Joanna Goode, PhD. With Joanna, he focused on equitably bringing technology into STEM courses to help remedy the digital divide. He also created mentoring networks that help underrepresented groups find work in computer science and technology. 

Joanna said of Jonathon, “During his time as a member of the inaugural cohort of the CSSE program, Jonathon established a reputation for his steadfast commitment to research that examines, describes, and seeks to disrupt structural inequities in education systems. I’ve always appreciated how Jonathon’s collaborative approach to scholarship values the knowledge of practitioners, centers equity, and addresses problems of practice in education.” 

It was a natural transition for Jonathon from his work at the COE to his current role at the Central Washington University Office of Institutional Effectiveness. There, he manages a team of data analysts, conducts special research projects for CWU, and works to improve student success. He has served on several committees focused on diversity and equity including the Workforce diversity committee and works to make CWU a more welcoming place for faculty, staff, and students of color. 

Jonathon said “CWU has made great strides in diversity and equity over the last few years, which I am proud and excited to be part of.” 

“It was a great opportunity to use all the skills I learned at the UO. I use all the knowledge I developed to help look at student success in different ways. It’s more about new ways of thinking and bringing those equity and diversity conversations into the projects I’m working on.” 

When Jonathon’s son entered kindergarten, it spurred him to run for the Ellensburg School Board. His own experience of not having the support he needed in his high school education drives him to create a more welcoming environment for all students. 

“I had been wanting to get more engaged with community. We have a kindergartner about to go through this system and I want to make sure they have a great educational experience, but I also want to make sure that conversations about equity are taking place. Schools need to be proactive and have respect and empathy for all students. I think that would have prevented a lot of the situations I went through in the Beaverton area school system.” 

Jonathon sees his service on the school board and in the community at CWU as his way of giving back. An important part of his work in the community has been creating and sustaining the support networks that helped him navigate his own college experience. 

“It stuck with me how great it was to connect with other professionals of color [during my time at the UO]. Some people make themselves more available and more engaged. I want to try to do that wherever I am, to be an example.”