NEW PRESIDENT IN NATCHITOCHES
Former BPCC leader takes helm of university
On Jan.1, Dr. Jim Henderson officially took the reins of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches as its 18th president. Henderson succeeds Dr. Randal J. Webb, who served as president for 18 years.
Henderson had been chancellor of Bossier Parish Community College since July 2009. He was named chancellor of the Bossier City campus after serving as senior vice president for workforce and economic development for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
Looking back, Henderson said, “[I] leave BPCC as much larger in terms of the students it serves. [I] leave it with some new and enhanced programing that is aligned with the needs of the regional economy. But, most importantly, I leave it similar to how I found it with a dedicated team of faculty and staff that achieved the mission every single day.”
Henderson said he regards two of his accomplishments at BPCC as the most significant. One is the opportunities for more students to have access to assuring their own economic success through their education at the school. He also said the school has adopted innovative approaches to finding new ways of helping students achieve success. One was the advanced manufacturing center developed Louisiana Economic Development’s Fast Start program. Next, the BPCC Open Campus, online course sequences he said are being accessed in 101 countries around the world.
Henderson said he will meet with internal and external stakeholders at Northwestern begin to formulate the schools direction under his leadership. He said they will build on the university’s 130-year history, which makes it the oldest in the University of Louisiana System.
“I think over the next 90 days as I get ingrained in the culture at Northwestern and understand the needs of the stakeholders and learn some more of the ideas of the faculty and staff, we’re going to come out with a list of probably three or four very audacious goals for what Northwestern is going to be,” Henderson said. “I’m excited about that. You know, that’s the kind of challenge that really gets me pumped, if you will. From what I’ve seen, the conversations I’ve had with both internal and external stakeholders, there’s a real desire in the entire Northwestern community to become the premier regional university in the South.”
Henderson said he sees Northwestern’s role in the UL System as a “teaching college rather than being a research college. It’s really about preparing students for whatever comes next, whether that be continued graduate level study or immediate employment. And they’ve got some fantastic programs.”
He said the Natchitoches campus is noted for its teacher education and nursing programs as well as its engineering technology programs and computer information system programs. He said the communications and performing arts programs are as good as any he has seen anywhere in the country. Henderson said the faculty and staff are focused on moving the university forward. Asked about what he foresees as his biggest opportunity along the Cane River, Henderson said, “Universities are very complex organizations. I relish the opportunity to help Northwestern really articulate a very clear vision of what its future is. And to have a conversation with both internal and external stakeholders about how does this university become world class at solving real problems that affect the region. I want Northwestern to be the institution of choice for any student that wants to be taught. If they think that they can improve themselves through the programs that we have at Northwestern and then engage others in their pursuits, I think Northwestern is a great avenue to reach some of those goals.”
Besides the academic attractions, Northwestern also offers some other enticements for the new president. “[It’s] set in the most picturesque setting I think that exists in the state. The city of Natchitoches itself is just gorgeous. But, the Northwestern campus is one of the most beautiful settings that you could imagine for higher ed.”
Looking back, Henderson had some thoughts about his legacy in Bossier Parish. “You know, Bossier Parish Community College is soon going to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It has a rich history of serving a large number of students. I just want to be remembered as someone who played a part in helping it move to the next level. I fully expect the team of BPCC to continue the advancement of the college to even a higher level after I’m gone. And I’ll take great pride in all the future accomplishments that they attain.”