Since she became director of Smith’s Wurtele Center for Leadership last July, Erin Park Cohn ’00 has overseen a process aimed at engaging the Smith community in shaping the center’s mission, programs and partnerships.
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Hannah Henson ’22: Going Where Her Feet Decide to Lead
After growing up in a very conservative family, Henson left the University of Alabama to marry an Army man, then followed her husband to stations in Texas, South Korea (“where I taught English and played housewife,” Henson says) and eventually to Colorado—all before the age of 30.
“I just fell in line with what people wanted me to do,” Henson says. “I didn’t know there was life outside of those expectations.”
But at age 27, five years into her marriage, Henson realized she was unhappy and filed for divorce. She moved to Brooklyn (where she knew no one), took a part-time job with a non-profit running group, and enrolled at a community college.
“I’d back-burnered my studies after I got married,” Henson explains. “But then I realized I couldn’t move up the professional ladder because I didn’t have a degree.”
A random news article led her to Smith (“I think I remember googling ‘Barbara Bush,’” she says), and her world got a bit wider. “I’d never thought about going to school outside of New York City,” she says. “And the thought of being at a women’s college—a place with alumnae like Gloria Steinem—really excited me.”
A self-guided tour of the Smith campus over Thanksgiving break convinced her that she’d discovered her new home.
“I walked into the Campus Center and I saw all the posters,” she says, “and I thought, ‘These are my people! OMG, this is it!’”
Her job in Brooklyn involves managing volunteers, Henson says, “so I know it’s important for people to know that they’re supported. At Smith, that sense of support was really clear—there are groups here for everything.”
And in particular, she notes, “there’s a Quidditch team! That totally plays to the nerd part of me.”
A huge Harry Potter fan (“I’m a Gryffindor, which means I’m brave and protective”), Henson will bring her two cats, Sirius and Bellatrix, to her new home in Northampton. “They’ve already lived in four states and South Korea,” she notes. “I think they’ll be just fine.”
An Ada Comstock Scholar, Henson is one of 701 new students arriving at Smith this fall. Financial aid is helping to make her experience more affordable, and Henson says she’s looking forward to exploring new ideas with professors and peers.
A psychology major with a minor in public policy, Henson is contemplating a career that will allow her to increase support and funding for mental health.
Leaving Brooklyn and starting anew—again—is scary, Henson admits. But more than that, she says, she’s optimistic and excited. “My feet,” she says, “are in the place of going to Smith.”