From BRCC to NASA: Grad Fondly Remembers Influence of Professors

Wed Sep 19, 2018 at 02:59 PM

Michael Hensley, Class of 1984After a less than stellar beginning to his college career at Virginia Tech, Michael Hensley enrolled at Blue Ridge Community College in 1982 and knew he’d found a home.

“I immediately felt like I belonged there,” Hensley said. “I was impressed by how invested the students were in bettering themselves. That seriousness about education really rubbed off on me.”

Hensley recently reminisced about the “vibe” of the College in the early 1980s and how the patience and influence of his academic advisor and several professors got him on the right path to transfer to a four-year school (University of Richmond) and to embark on a great career.

“I very much appreciated the nice Shenandoah Valley people, the small campus and student body, and the low-key environment,” he noted. “I was assigned an advisor named E.B. Cox. He and I had many lively debates over my course schedule, much to our mutual amusement and laughter. I enjoyed his company immensely.”

Currently, Hensley lives in Washington, DC, and has worked at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, MD, for 24 years on earth science satellite projects. Prior to NASA, Hensley worked for SAIC in Tysons Corner, VA, on President Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense system.

Hensley said the dedicated teaching of faculty at BRCC was the most enjoyable part for him. “They thoroughly enjoyed teaching and their enthusiasm was contagious and made learning fun,” said Hensley. “They were personable, accessible, and knew all their students’ names. Class sizes were small, prompting discussion, and there were often light-hearted moments and laughter.”

He remembered four teachers who made a big impression: Becky Eller (mathematics), Darrell Hurst (English literature), Frank Carver (calculus), and Houston Lynch (physics). He recalled Lynch’s innovative teaching methods made the learning of complicated physics formulas become innate.

“He always prepared several analogies to every day occurrences to help explain new concepts and ideas. He had the ability to present the material on the beginning student’s level, and he never lost patience. When introducing a new formula, he would not just write it on the board, and say, ‘Memorize this.’ He would ask the class what should go into the formula. That way, if we forgot a formula, we could usually figure it out by remembering individual components.”

The two kept in touch through Christmas cards and email, ever since Hensley completed a recommendation for Lynch when he was nominated for a teaching award. “It's been great keeping in touch. Mr. Lynch is an excellent artist. His Christmas cards are his pen and ink drawings of historic buildings and other structures,” Hensley noted.

Christmas card art by Houston Lynch
Detail of Houston Lynch's artwork on Christmas cards sent to Michael.