The daughter of a businessman in the rubber and plastics industry, Mary Lynn Henningsen once considered working as a chemist at the company where her father was employed. Instead, she decided to follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother.
Growing up in a family of educators, Henningsen was exposed to their shared passion for teaching. Entering her senior year of high school, she participated in a scholar program at Miami University where she discovered her interest in communication. A career as a college professor would soon follow.
“One of the key aspects of becoming a teacher is the desire to share that love of learning with others,” Henningsen said. “I love the interaction with students. The best days are when I get a lot of one-on-one time when I get to broaden their horizons and they broaden mine.”
Henningsen, who came to NIU in 2001, said that teaching at the university allows her to inspire students while she shares her passion for communication.
“If you can get them to think critically, it’s like a victory,” Henningsen said. “That’s what I hope to inspire in each class. It comes in different forms for each student. Sometimes it’s a slow, gradual process.”
Former student John Larson said that Henningsen’s determination is the reason she excels as a teacher.
“Her passion for these courses inspires students to really want to learn more in her classes,” Larson said. “She has been a fantastic mentor for me and many other students helping them with direction on which way to go in life.”
“Dr. Henningsen is a prime example of what a teacher should be,” said Kaitlyn Parrish, another former student. “Her commitment to her students’ academic success is why she is a perfect candidate for this award. Not only is she a great teacher, but she is a great person.”
For Henningsen, one of the advantages of working at NIU is its dedication to diversity.
“The students are young or returning. They are from rural or urban backgrounds. They have educated families, or they are the first in their family to attend college,” she said. “That aspect of Northern Illinois allows every classroom to have its own class culture that reflects the character of the students in the class.”
Henningsen resides in Sycamore with her husband David, a communication professor at NIU. They have two children, a 9-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter.
“I love working with my husband,” she said. “Our research collaboration dates back almost 20 years at this point. We get a lot of support from the fact that we share a love of communication and teach similar subjects.”