Spotlight on Nels Henderson, Faculty & Alumnus
by Marissa Whisman
Nels Henderson has been teaching at Antioch University Santa Barbara for nearly 20 years. What his students and colleagues may not know is that Henderson is an alumnus of Antioch University, and he arrived at his teaching career by serving the Santa Barbara community in other ways.
Henderson was born and raised in Carmel, California, and was drawn to Santa Barbara when he attended University of California, Santa Barbara years ago. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science and immediately started doing campaign work for a California senator.
“What I enjoyed most about politics was believing in someone and the difference they can make,” said Henderson. “Especially on a local level, your mayor can really make a difference.”
He spent 12 years working with volunteers, voters, and the community until he decided he wanted to go back to school. Henderson received his Master’s in Organizational Management from AUSB in 1998.
“I was really fascinated with leadership, how to run a company, and the foundation for how organizations can thrive and grow,” he explained.
When he was earning his graduate degree at Antioch University, the student body was much different than it is now. In the following years, he noticed the university’s student demographic shift from the “middle-aged, returning to school” crowd to include more young students in their early careers, taking classes to earn their bachelor’s degree. Henderson observed the immediate need for tech skills among teachers and students alike. Technology started booming during his years as a graduate student at AUSB, and basic office computer skills were in high demand.
Henderson’s teaching career kicked off in response to this need. He started teaching classes in computing for beginners, and after a few quarters he expanded his classes to teach marketing and communications. As technology grew, Henderson observed that these subjects were related and needed integration.
“When I work with students, I’m in touch with what’s going on in the world for younger people,” Henderson said. “How my students view the world of business and marketing is really important to me as I get older.”
As the world of marketing and technology continues to evolve rapidly, Henderson remains on the cutting edge, making sure his curriculum is based in the most relevant and useful modern practices. Henderson hopes to bring new concepts to his courses at Antioch University in the future, particularly in the area of automation, which is the technology behind command features like Alexa and Siri. User experience is a central theme in Henderson’s marketing and advertising coursework.
Tapping into his knowledge and experience in multiple fields of business and leadership, Henderson has decided to channel his skill sets into a community-based direction. He has started creating short posts on his personal Facebook page “Marketing Minute,” in which he explains core concepts and theories behind marketing and business structure.
He also feels strongly about choosing the kind of people he wants to work with in business and marketing. “Over the years I have really learned that I want to work with people who are good people. It sounds really simple, but it’s not,” said Henderson. “It’s easy to get caught up in corporate life, in making money and having that dream house. I just don’t want to do that anymore.”
Henderson has always been active in the local Santa Barbara community. In the early days of his career he spent a lot of time working with nonprofits. He worked in community education with an HIV/AIDS education nonprofit, educating thousands of high school students for more than four years. Henderson was involved in legislative activism with a coalition that pressured the Bush-era administration FDA to apply a warning label on lambskin condoms. He served as president of the board for AIDS Hospice for a decade when the mortality rate from AIDS was at its highest. Henderson also served as president of the board of the Citizens Planning Association which focuses on “keeping Santa Barbara beautiful” and careful water use planning.
“I was lucky enough to be able to stay in Santa Barbara and be involved after I attended college here,” explains Henderson. “It took me longer to buy a home, or even a condo, than some of my colleagues that moved to a LA or the midwest, but the quality of life here is much better. It was worth it.”