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November 28, 2000

In Memoriam


By Jennifer McNulty

Ronald W. Henderson, a professor emeritus of education and psychology at UCSC whose research focused on improving educational opportunities for underrepresented minorities, died at his Santa Cruz home November 24 after a lengthy battle with melanoma. He was 67.

Henderson's dual academic interests in child development and education fueled his research on social and cultural influences on development, academic motivation, cognition, and mathematics and science education. His specific research interest was in the development of instructional approaches that would increase achievement and participation in mathematics by Latino students, women, and other groups that are underrepresented in math and the sciences. He specialized in the development of motivation to achieve and participate in mathematics.

"Ron did a great deal of work in the schools that focused on the needs of underrepresented students," said close friend Edward Landesman, a professor emeritus of mathematics who collaborated with Henderson on numerous projects in Watsonville schools. "He had a strong desire to make sure those children were successfully prepared for higher education and careers."

Henderson joined the UCSC faculty in 1977 and made numerous contributions to the campus during his tenure. He was named provost of Crown College in 1989 and served until 1993. He was a charter faculty member of UCSC's Bilingual Research Group and was active in the Monterey Bay Area Mathematics Project administered by UCSC. He served as chair of the UCSC Academic Senate from 1986 to 1988 and served on the senate's Academic Personnel Committee and the Committee on Budget and Planning. Henderson retired in 1994 but returned to campus on a part-time basis in 1995 to serve as dean of the Division of Graduate Studies. His illness, which had been diagnosed in 1995, forced him to retire in 1999.

Henderson was an early advocate of educational collaborations and considered his greatest professional contribution his work with numerous local and regional elementary and high schools, especially in Watsonville and Salinas. Such collaborations are recognized today as valuable enhancements to both K-12 education and university research, but Henderson took the initiative for UCSC in facilitating school partnerships.

Early in his career, Henderson concluded that a child's learning environment is a much stronger influence than socioeconomic status in developing intellectual competence. Henderson devised the Henderson Environmental Learning Process Scale (HELPS) to measure the characteristics of home environments. His early research revealed that the majority of variance in intellectual performance among Mexican American and Anglo American first graders could be accounted for by two factors: How much the parents valued language and school-related behavior, and the degree to which they provided a supportive environment for school learning.

In research based on their work with predominantly Latino students on the Central Coast, Henderson and Landesman described the complex interrelationship of factors that contribute to student academic achievement in mathematics, including the student's own motivation, his or her approach to tasks, home influences, and the nature of classroom instruction. Motivating children to study math will require a broad-based partnership among educators, business leaders, and community members, they advised.

Henderson and Landesman's highly regarded work received several grants from the National Science Foundation and the California Academic Partnership Program.

Reflecting his early interest in school partnerships, Henderson in 1985 was named chair of a new committee charged with developing policy for the campus's outreach to schools. He described his goal at the time to "try to encourage faculty to work with schools in any variety of ways which could result in an improvement in the K-12 system."

Henderson, who was born January 20, 1933, in Pocatello, Idaho, to the late Wilber T. Henderson and Delta Mae Howell-Henderson, received a doctorate in education from the University of Arizona, where he was a professor of educational psychology and coordinator of the Office of Child Research at the Arizona Center for Educational Research and Development before coming to UCSC. He was an assistant professor of education at the University of Oregon from 1966 to 1967. He earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento).

Henderson served in the United States Air Force from 1951 to 1955, including overseas service in Japan, the Philippine Islands, and Vietnam. He remained on Active Reserve status in the U.S. Air Force until 1960.

Henderson is survived by his wife of 41 years, Miriam Leatrice Peterson Henderson; his daughter and her husband, Paige and Mark of Lathrop, CA; his son and his wife, Tom and Jill of Alamo, CA; his daughter and her husband, Holly and Adrian of Santa Cruz; and six grandchildren: Amanda Nichole, Richard Joseph, Michael Lee, Maya Rose, Ryan Thomas, and Kevin Ronald.

Contributions may be made to Special Olympics Northern California, 3480 Buskirk Avenue, #340, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523; or Hospice Caring Project of Santa Cruz County, P.O. Box 670, Aptos, CA 95001.

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