UNM graduate student Brian Hendrickson is leading the charge on revamping how higher education recruits, teaches and retains students.


The Rhetoric and Writing doctoral candidate says the responsibility isn’t just on institutions – it is also on staff, faculty and graduate assistants to figure out ways to cultivate creativity in a liberal arts degree, while still providing students with critical thinking and analytical skills to prepare them for the job force.

“What is our role as educators in preparing students for college? And what is the role of college,” Hendrickson asked. “All these kinds of questions are part of our discourse.”

Hendrickson just returned to UNM from the 2017 Association of American Colleges & Universities Annual Meeting in San Francisco, where he was honored with the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award for his multifaceted work at UNM. This prestigious award recognizes graduate students committed to civic and academic responsibility, who are leaders in the development of future scholars.

“Brian has a documented record of achievement as a scholar, teacher and practitioner,” said Professor Charles Paine, who is also the associate chair for Core Writing and director of Rhetoric and Writing at UNM. “He epitomizes the scholar that 21st century higher education needs.”

The K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award provides winners with travel, lodging and admission to the annual conference. This year, the conference focused on making higher education a more viable experience, with many deans, provosts and administrators there to brainstorm ideas. As part of his prize, Hendrickson was invited to speak on the conference panel “Faculty of the Future: Voices from the Next Generation.”

Cross Scholars Panel

“It’s about creating those spaces within the structured curriculum where students can go out and meet challenges and confront real learning experiences,” he said. “It’s a question of how to create those kinds of learning environments in a way that students feel supported but also liberated enough to make tough choices.”

Hendrickson believes one way to reinvigorate institutions is by expanding higher education outside the classroom. This includes allowing tenured faculty to be creative in how they move their students from the classroom to the community – where the students can take ownership of their communities by using their education to find solutions to real problems. He says this conversation is taking place at universities across the country and the conference brought together a range of students, faculty and administrators to take part in the dialogue.

“I was able to hear how different people are coming at this from different experiences and disciplines,” he said. “That was very interesting, hearing how the different institutions are dealing with in from a top-down view.”

Hendrickson is taking an active part in the conversation by pursuing answers in his doctoral work. His dissertation, “Invention, Integration and Engagement With/In an Engineering Student Organization,” involves a three-year study of an engineering student organization in Bolivia. In it, Hendrickson works with the

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students to reinterpret writing and learning obstacles as opportunities for building partnerships and fostering a more holistic approach to engaged learning.

“Brian’s research, like almost all his work, contributes to the teaching and learning mission in higher education,” Professor Paine said. “It offers higher education teachers—across all disciplines—insights for enhancing students’ learning by incorporating writing into their curriculum to deepen engagement with disciplinary content.”

Hendrickson plans to defend his dissertation in the next few months, then is taking his ideas and research to Roger Williams University in Rhode Island – where he will be an assistant professor in the Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric and Composition. He is excited about the opportunity; but says the 7 years he’s worked at UNM and decade he’s taught at the university level, will continue to be foundational in his career.

“In representing the future demographic of public higher education in the U.S., UNM is the perfect testing ground for finding the best ways to provide all students a 21st century liberal education,” he said. “The challenge is just still in implementing them.”