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From UNL to the Pentagon

Jacqueline Henningsen started her professional career as a high school math teacher. She quickly found that girls in schools across the country were dropping math as soon as they had met minimum requirements. To encourage girls to stay in math, she developed a federally funded program using the theme of a popular commercial, “You’ve come a long way baby!” She asked rhetorically, “but is it really true?” Without a math foundation, she concluded, the answer was a resounding “no.”

She knew that women who kept their options open with math and science programs, enabling them to pursue non-traditional careers, would be rewarded financially and have career satisfaction. Accepting a personal challenge to succeed in a non-traditional career field, Henningsen began taking engineering electives at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

That was more than 20 years ago. Henningsen, a 2002 Master’s Week honoree, is now a Flag Officer civilian-equivalent and Director of the Air Force Studies and Analysis agency. From high school math teacher to the Pentagon, her path led to what would have been considered a woman’s non-traditional career only a few years ago.

A graduate of Omaha North High School, she attended Northwest Missouri State, majoring in math education. “I wanted to be a research chemist,” she says, “but in those days women weren’t allowed in the ‘back room’ (of the lab). So I completed my degree in math education instead.”

She taught math and psychology in Rockport, Mo. before securing a National Science Foundation fellowship in 1970 for a graduate program in mathematics education at UNL.

Although she continued teaching, she wanted a personal challenge. “I knew Larry Ehlers, who was teaching at UNL at the time, and talked to him about taking some electives. Larry suggested I sign up for his statics class. I found out I could do it with the math I’d had,” Henningsen said.

In 1979, Morris Schneider asked if she was interested in being an instructor in industrial and management systems engineering and working on an advanced degree. She joined the department faculty in 1980 as an instructor, completing an M.S. and a Ph.D. in industrial and management systems engineering in 1987.

“I commuted every day for five years,” she said. “We had a great car pool—in the early years it included Linda Pratt, John Ballard, Larry Ehlers and Grant Myers. I can remember being on campus and thinking, ‘They’re paying me to be here—to work with students and to study as well. I can walk into the library in the middle of the day.’ It was wonderful.”

In 1985, she accepted a civilian position as an operations research analyst with the Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base. “The job was a great match,” she said. “With my background, I was able to fill a gap, working on projects the military experts didn’t have time for or weren’t on their radar scopes.”

While at SAC, Henningsen worked on a wide variety of projects. She was chief of the Combat Analysis Group and served as a Battlestaff adviser during Operation Desert Storm, she also worked in the Cost Analysis Improvement Group in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon with responsibilities for space launch and strategic systems; Program Analysis & Evaluation, Regional Assessments, working with Partnership for Peace; and for the Senior Executive Service. She assumed her current position in 2001.

Among her many accomplishments, Henningsen has received the Air Force Award for Meritorious Civilian Service and the Department of Defense’s Distinguished Civilian Award.

“In today’s workplace it’s all about lifelong education. You have to be willing to continually refresh and renew yourself. A good math and engineering foundation opens a lot of doors. But then you have to find your passion and incorporate it into your daily life,” Henningsen said.

“When Larry Ehlers and Morrie Schneider continue to teach and serve the engineering college long after they could retire, they do it from that same passion. It’s the stuff that makes a difference in people’s lives.”

— Deb Derrick

Creating Escapes

Are you ready for an escape? When the hectic world of corporate America took a toll on Pamela Olson (IE ’84), she decided to get away for a while. In her travels—to all seven continents and 47 out of 50 states—she’s had to apply some of the problem-solving skills she learned in engineering classes. Like when she traveled to China.

“We arrived in Beijing after 24 hours of traveling,” she said, “and when we got into our hotel room, it was roasting inside. The fun began when I tried to explain the problem on the phone to the hotel front desk. Every time I said ‘temperature,’ they thought I was saying ‘telephone’ and that I wanted to make a call.

“The hotel then sent someone up to our room with a handful of hangars. My words ‘heat’ and ‘hot’ must have been taken to mean ‘hangars.’ We started gesturing to try to explain the real problem. In the meantime, one of my friends plopped down on the rollaway bed and it immediately collapsed to the floor.

“By this time, we were howling with laughter, and the poor guy from the hotel was red-faced. Like many of my travels where I didn’t speak the local language, I knew this trip would need my creative skills.”

After 15 years in the corporate world, Olson walked away from a six-figure income to start her own specialty tour company. INVITING ADVENTURE, Inc. provides opportunity for personal growth, fun and relaxation through a blend of creative and active activities. The weeklong “escapes” —in Colorado, South America and other parts of the world—combine a creative activity such as photography with physical activities such as hiking and yoga.

“The creative ideas are flowing faster than I can capture them,” she said. “We’ve hired professional artists to work with us. And we’re doing some unique activities such as hiking with llamas.

“Everything on our escapes is casually structured. You can participate in planned activities or create your own. Our trips are for individuals, groups, artistic rookies and veterans—anyone who wants to escape and add fun, relaxation, growth and creativity to their life.”

Creativity has been a common thread throughout Olson’s career. “I’ve helped run companies, developed operating strategies and new business, and determined corporate strategies,” she said. “Now I’m taking an idea and running with it, on my own time and dime.”

A Lincoln native, Olson worked as a manufacturing engineer at General Motors right out of school. In 1987, she went back to school full-time at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, earning an MBA in 1989.

“I’m passionate about creating endless possibility in this world,” she said. “That’s been evident everywhere I’ve worked.” She’s been a management consultant for SRI International and Booz Allen & Hamilton, operations manager for SAFCO and senior account executive with Navigation Technologies. “My last job [at Navigation] was the link that completed the circle because it used everything I had done before,” she said.

“In 1987, it was scary leaving a good salary and going back to school. But a whole new world opened up for me. It’s the fun of the journey, not the end result, that sparks my passion for life.”

That’s how she looks at this new venture, too. “I think the timing is perfect,” she said. “There’s a fundamental shift happening, away from the industrial age theme of suppression of self and creativity. We’re re-examining our lives, creating self-awareness, endless possibility and connection with others. We’re setting the path for what happens next—and that’s exciting.”

For more information on active/creative escapes, go to www.invitingadventure.com

— Deb Derrick
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