For JCU Alumnus Geoffrey Henderson, a university degree is about taking what you learn and applying it to any area of your life. After graduating in JCU's first cohort with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Psychology, Geoff never worked in a field related to his studies. However, he is confident that he has used the knowledge from his undergrad degree to its full advantage.
Geoff graduated from JCU in 1973 in the very first graduating class of James Cook University. Reflecting on the JCU of old, Geoff comments on its community-style culture. “JCU was like a big high school – about a third of its current size and I’d say more or less 700 full-time students. The library was only half of its current size, as well,” Geoff says. “It was truly embryonic. The size helped people establish connections and keep in touch. We all knew each other pretty well and would see each other and our lecturers socially. You had no trouble interacting with lecturers. Whether you wanted to discuss classes or just chat, you could talk to them freely.”
Geoff moved from Sydney to Far North Queensland and began to study Psychology in his mid-20s. For Geoff, studying was about choosing to be better qualified. “High school and I didn’t get on very well,” Geoff says. “Five years after high school, my friends were doctors and lawyers. I was driving a truck.”
Geoff was the first in his family to go to university. “I have great respect for my father, who was an airline pilot and was always learning and educating himself about planes and the like. He was one of the most educated people I know who never had a formal education.” Geoff’s wife and daughters have gone to university as well. “There was always the option for me to go to university, and I took it later in life. I’ve always encouraged my daughters to take that chance as well.”
After leaving his truck-driving job, being the first to go to university, and being one of the first JCU graduates, Geoff had reached his goal of being better qualified. With his degree in hand, he stepped into the next chapter of his life.
“After graduating, I went back to my old job,” Geoff says. “But rather than driving the trucks, I was an executive. It wasn’t just the degree that helped me to become one, it’s because I had grown as well. University teaches you what to think but they also teach you how to think. So, that’s what I got out of university.”
Soon, Geoff left the airfreight company he worked with to make staircases and, two years later, started his own staircase-building company. “I had the staircase company for 21 years,” says Geoff. “And literally every subject I did in my undergrad degree, I used in my staircase company. Even the electives. Statistics, law, environmental science – it all contributed to the success of my business.”
When Geoff began making staircases, he realised that the methods could be improved. This improvement required technical innovation from Geoff. “I helped develop a digital program to create the plans for the staircases. Because of the time, I had to wait for software to be developed that could properly support what we wanted to do,” Geoff says. “We eventually hired software engineers and hardware engineers to create what we needed.”
As he values education (both formal and informal), Geoff chose to pursue further study after retiring from his staircase company. “My wife and I both did degrees in town planning. After that, I did a Master of Environmental Planning. Then I did a Master of Developmental Practice and learned to help re-emerging people and put emphasis on helping first-nation peoples.”
Between studying his various masters degrees, Geoff tutored at JCU in earth sciences. “Getting to see my old students is really nice. It’s satisfying, knowing I’ve helped them along.” Geoff enjoys tutoring at JCU not just because of his students, but also because of the university. “I say to people sometimes that I’m quite invested in JCU, even if I only have two of my degrees from here. JCU has a special place in my heart. I like the place. And it’s important to contribute to the university however we can since it’s close to the only place for people up here to go; we need to keep it in good shape.”
At 73 years old, Geoff has had a wide range of experiences since his undergrad degree in the first cohort of JCU. He may not have worked in a field specific to his study, but he maintains the value of that study. “JCU has definitely changed since I was here. But this university helped me learn how to live in the world, how to navigate it. And I believe it is still teaching students just that.”
If you are passionate about understanding people, consider what you can do with JCU Psychology. Or, if you’re interested in planning community-minded spaces and environmentally-aware communities, check out JCU Planning and JCU Environmental Management.
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