November 17, 2011
ATLANTA – Cathy Henson (J.D. '89) admits she was skeptical when Georgia State first announced the creation of a football program in early 2008. Now, with nearly two seasons of Panther football on the books, any doubts she had as to the merits of adding the sport have been erased.
"Football has value to the university in terms of raising the profile of the university and [attracting] a broader diversity of students," Henson says. "It's one of the important ways that GSU is building an infrastructure to be in the top tier of public universities."
This past spring, GSU President Mark Becker tapped Henson - an alumna, adjunct faculty member in the College of Law and proud parent of a GSU master's student - to serve as vice chair of the board for the newly revamped Georgia State University Athletic Association.
While most of Henson's career has played out in the realm of education, she's no stranger to collegiate athletics; she was a gymnast in college for the State University of New York Cortland.
Henson moved to Atlanta from her native upstate New York in the early '80s, and in 1985, she enrolled part-time in GSU's College of Law, six months after her son was born. (Her son, Patrick, holds a B.A. in political science from GSU and is scheduled to graduate with an M.A. in economics from GSU this semester.)
Upon graduation, Henson took a position at Long Aldridge & Norman, a fast-growing Atlanta law firm. She also began volunteering at her son's school, first as "clinic mom" - a stand-in for school nurse - and then as president of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Her involvement progressed from local to regional to statewide, and in 1997 she became president of the Georgia PTA. Two years later, she was appointed to the State Board of Education and became the first woman elected its chair.
"I got involved in education from the parental perspective, trying to teach parents how they could be partners in helping their kids succeed in school as opposed to selling wrapping paper and paying for cupcakes," Henson says. "I joke that my volunteer work got in the way of my paid work, so I had to give up the paid work."
In 2000, she founded the Georgia School Council Institute, a nonprofit created to engage parents, educators and members of the business community in a collaborative effort to improve public education in the state. The organization's website, georgiaeducation.org, displays the last 10 years of testing, demographic and other data side by side for every public school and school system in Georgia.
In addition to her work in nonprofits and education policy, Henson has taught education law at GSU since 2007. With positions on the College of Law's board of visitors and the GSU Foundation board as well as on the GSU Athletic Association, Henson is about as active in her alma mater as anyone could be.
"What I have really appreciated about Georgia State is, you can have a lot of impact as an alum," Henson says. "It's very gratifying to be involved in an institution that is still so welcoming and appreciative of everything you do for it."
By Kathleen Poe Ross
Director of Communications