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From Canada to NSM Valedictorian

When Corey Henderson left Toronto, he had no plans or destination. Tired and broken, he just got into his car and drove away, leaving his old life behind.

The unlikely story of how this Canadian went from entrepreneur to drifter to academic superstar involves lots of hard work and a university community where he found a new passion and vocation.

At age 37, Henderson graduated at the top of his class in UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics with a bachelor’s degree in physics and math. He was one of only two NSM graduates that year with a 4.0 grade average – his transcript an unblemished record of straight A’s in every course. He achieved these perfect marks while also undertaking undergraduate research projects and holding a full-time job as a software developer.

He chose to continue his education, and is pursuing a Ph.D. in plasma physics and nuclear fusion a the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  

Henderson grew up near Niagara Falls and found early success running a small software business in Toronto. However, his lifelong hearing problems eventually progressed to total deafness in his 20’s. Near the breaking point with frustration and exhaustion, he decided to quit and hit the road. He lived out of his car, crisscrossing the continent and camping at more than 100 state and provincial parks.

He eventually settled in Houston where his computer skills got him a job. Around this time he got a cochlear implant, which restored some of his hearing, and Henderson decided to pursue a college degree part-time.

At first, he just wanted a job credential to help him advance in his career as a software developer. But the UH experience turned out to be a lot more than he bargained for. He immersed himself in classes that first semester and earned straight A’s. More importantly, mastering the material was giving him immense satisfaction.

Semester after semester, he was plowing through math and physics courses, earning perfect grades. In addition to his coursework Henderson became involved in undergraduate research under physics Professor Edgar Bering.

Additionally, Henderson found at UH an academic culture where hard work was rewarded and where professors genuinely wanted their students to succeed. For someone who had spent years in the cutthroat world of the private sector, it was an eye-opener. Time and again faculty would go out of their way to help, Henderson said, and sought nothing in return but a student’s best effort.

“I hadn’t seen that kind of selfless kindness from people in authority before,” Henderson said. “I’m still coming to grips with the fact that places like this exist, where so many people are devoted to the idea of education.”