A Steward Inside and Outside the Lab

Donovan Henry '12 is a Research Coordinator at Northeastern University's Cognitive and Brain Health Lab. He's also one of the newest members of our Board of Directors. Read our Q&A with the star alumnus!
Donovan Henry ’12 won three individual State Championships as a member of CM’s track and field team . On the football team, he played alongside two All-Americans. Now, at 27 years old, he is joining CM’s Board of Directors as one of its youngest members in recent history.

Read our Alumni Spotlight Interview with Donovan, a Research Coordinator at Northeastern University’s Cognitive and Brain Health Lab who believes his experience at CM prepared him for success in college and beyond.

MK: Thanks for joining us today Donovan! It’s incredible how involved you’ve been at CM since graduating in 2012, especially with your hectic day-to-day schedule in the lab. What has kept you coming back to campus all these years?

DH: Thanks for having me! I always say that CM provided me with a lot of extraordinary opportunities to grow and develop as a young man, both academically and athletically. So, since graduating from CM and Northeastern, I've decided to stay involved with the school by returning to campus for different alumni events and panels. I like to come back and talk to seniors on different occasions, too. Getting more involved really showed me how important it is to stay involved as an alumnus.

Which CM panels have stuck out to you the most?

I’d have to say the Knights of the Round Table panel on diversity a few years ago. I was one of five individuals speaking on the panel. Each of us had graduated from a different decade of CM and were all African American.

How did that experience change your perspective of CM?

Hearing how many different perspectives there were on the ways in which CM helped each of us grow throughout the years really was incredible. Over the years, I’ve really kind of embraced and appreciated the amount of diversity there is at CM. That’s something I’ve really come to value, especially as someone who came from a suburban town like Sharon where there wasn't much diversity.

What impact do you think this diverse student body had on you?

The diversity of CM made me feel represented at the school. It made me feel like I wasn’t the only person who came from a particular background. It was also the fact that - when you have people coming from many different cities and different towns around the area - you get to interact with people who you normally wouldn't. This taught me how important it is to be able to talk and communicate with different types of people regardless of their background. That’s been invaluable to me since I graduated high school and college and entered the work force.

You were a Division I runner at Northeastern, where you captained the school’s track and field team and won several New England Championships. How did the communication skills you learn at CM help you succeed on race day and beyond the track?

As a leader, I like to think you always need to communicate with different types of individuals and figure out what it is that motivates certain people, especially your teammates. Or, if you're working on a group project, you have to figure out how to approach a problem from many different perspectives since everybody reacts differently to a problem. Coming from a place as diverse as CM, where I was exposed to people of so many different backgrounds, I was able to see a bigger picture and realize what a certain individual might need in order to help a group achieve its ultimate goal.

Speaking of group projects, I’m sure you constantly had to collaborate on projects and lab experiments as a behavioral neuroscience major. Where did this love for science come from?

Well, my senior year was one of the first years AP biology was offered at CM. I remember being really interested in it, plus I had always had a proclivity for the sciences since I was a kid. As an athlete, I was also curious about how the body functions. So, when it was offered to me as a senior, I jumped to it. The lessons I learned about how the body responds to injuries really piqued my interest in the field. That interest, I like to think, propelled me through Northeastern’s program.

Tell me more about your career in research. How far has it taken you?

As a behavioral neuroscience major, I learned about so many unanswered, complex problems that people had dedicated their lives to solving. It fascinated me and made me realize that I wanted to be a part of the field. In fact, research pushed me to think about different ways in which we can go about figuring out those problems. So, during my time at Northeastern, I was able to get a co-op job working in an exercise physiology lab at Tufts Medical in downtown Boston. I worked there for a little over six months and the experience exposed me to the process of how to properly conduct and execute a research project. Then, when I graduated Northeastern, I stayed to work in their Cognitive and Brain Health Lab.

What exciting projects are you working on right now?

In the Northeastern lab, the main research project I work on right now is with older adults. We’re having them exercise over the course of a year for different durations and intensities to test how exercise can improve their cognitive function. The hypothesis is that aerobic exercise, like power walking, biking, jogging, etc. can improve your brain health and possibly decrease the chance of getting some sort of mild cognitive impairment, such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease. The work has a lot of implications and I’m fortunate that I’m in a position where I’m able to contribute to this type of investigation.

You really sound like a person who has found a life-long vocation. You also sound like someone who genuinely cares about their profession. Were there any mentors you had at CM who exemplified what it meant to serve their profession with that same kind of genuine care?

I had a lot of great mentors at CM. I think it would be hard for me to choose just one. So, for now, I'll just point out my track coaches: Mr. [Vin] Catano, Mr. [Thomas] Beatty ’68, and Mr. [John] Finn ’88. They really had a tremendous impact on me as a person and taught me what it meant to commit themselves to their profession. They went to great lengths to provide my teammates and I with the opportunities to compete at the highest level. They would take us to meets all over the Northeast. This meant traveling as far as Dartmouth College and to the Penn Relays. Seeing how committed and invested they were really impacted our lives in a positive, meaningful way. It showed us that they really cared about us.

Do you have a memory of one these mentors stepping up when you needed their support most?

There is this one indoor track meet during my junior year that comes to mind. It was the national meet in the Bronx, if I remember correctly. I qualified for the event and it was something you had the option to go to as an individual, but not as representative of the school. So, it was optional for my coaches to be involved. However, each one of my coaches kept working with me throughout the week and traveled all the way to the Bronx to support me.

Wow, that’s incredible. I’d imagine that’s one of the reasons why you still have such a strong relationship with CM, right?

Oh, absolutely. But I’d also have to say my relationship with CM goes beyond myself. I have five other cousins who graduated from CM and still have one that goes there now. So, it’s really been a formative experience for my entire family. It’s important for me to give back because of how much the school has supported my entire family.

Amazing. This year, you’re also joining CM’s Board of Directors. At 27 years old, you’ll be one of its youngest members in recent history. When did you start thinking about joining the board?

It started two years ago at that Knights of the Round Table panel I spoke about earlier. Right after that event, I struck up a conversation Dr. [Peter] Folan. I still had a lot of relationships with many of my former teachers and coaches but was interested in learning more about how I could help influence the direction of the school. Then, earlier this year, Dr. Folan and I talked about the possibility of adding a recent graduate to the Board of Directors, which really excited me. I was really determined to impact the school at a much higher level than I had before. And what better way to give back than by being a part of the Board of Directors.

As a new board member, what are you most excited about?

I’m excited to see how I can help grow CM and especially in engaging with younger alumni to expand our network. It’s also important for students to see diversity reflected in the school’s leadership. Being able to add that representation as a leader in our alumni community helps our diverse student body envision what they’re capable of after they graduate.

Wow, it sounds like you have a lot to offer our board! Thanks for your time today. We’re looking forward to seeing you on Baker Street in the future.

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