Alumni Spotlight: Brandon Henderson '11

May 18, 2016

Alumni Spotlight: Brandon Henderson '11

Brian Henderson and teammate row in the US Olympic and Paralympic Team Trials

It’s no secret that Ohio State alumni go out into the world to do great things. The alumni of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry truly make a difference in their communities and represent the Department with the utmost dignity. One such alumni is Brandon Henderson. Brandon graduated with a B.S. with distinction in Chemistry in 2006, and graduated with a Ph.D in Pharmacology in 2011, both from The Ohio State University.

Henderson currently resides in California, but is originally from Clayton, Ohio, a suburb around Dayton, close to the Indiana border. His goal is to become a professor at a research institution, ideally here at Ohio State since his and his wife’s family all reside around Columbus. Every once in a while, Henderson gets to come back to Columbus and visit his wife’s family in Clintonville. During his visits, he likes to catch up on the latest happenings on campus and he’d like to come back to the area permanently, not for his wife’s happiness at being closer to his family, but because he’d “like to be a buckeye again, in an official capacity.” Right now, Henderson has a special research grant at Caltech (K99) which provides him with a total of five years of funding. He is in the process of negotiating how to wrap things up at Caltech before beginning a transition into starting his own lab.

During his studies at OSU, Henderson was influenced by some of the outstanding Department faculty, including the current Chair of the Department, Susan Olesik. Dr. Olesik was the one to inspire Henderson to pursue and complete research at the undergraduate level. She also introduced him to her husband, Dr. John Olesik, after which Henderson began to work in John Olesik’s lab as an undergraduate researcher. Dr. John Olesik and his postdoc, Dr. Noel Casey, were instrumental in Henderson’s development as a scientist. Their tutelage and Henderson’s hard work eventually culminates in an award winning performance at the 2006 Denman Undergraduate Research Forum.

Outside of his studies, Henderson became involved in rowing. Initially, he wasn’t aware that rowing was considered a sport until he came to OSU as a freshman. At that time, he was roughly 200 lbs. and uninterested in athletics. However, at the fall Involvement Fair, Henderson’s roommates met one of members of the rowing team and later coerced Henderson into attending a meeting. Despite the fact that they all went to the meeting, Henderson was the only one who went to the first practice. After a difficult first quarter as a rower, Henderson dropped down to 160 lbs. and gained a passion for the sport.

He competed as a lightweight among several other physical science majors and engineers and his best score was 6:30.0 (based on a 2K erg score, or 2,000 meter test), not necessarily impressive when compared to top athletes, who are 6:24 or better. Olympians usually fall between 6.04 and 6.16. When Henderson stayed at OSU for his PhD in pharmacology, he had already been involved in rowing for some time and noticed a connection between rowing and science. Both rowing and science were very competitive. In rowing you compete against others to win, and in science, you compete for funding and against other scientists for acceptance in the top journals. Henderson’s doctoral advisor, Dr. Dennis McKay, encouraged him to continue this line of thinking. Dr. McKay saw that Henderson’s competitive athletic involvements gave him a particular mindset that had the potential to make Henderson a better scientist. As a result, Dr. McKay devised a professional development plan for Henderson that entailed involving him in every scientific competition he could find. The outcome was that Henderson was continually motivated to work hard and perform well, which led him to being awarded funding, awards to boost his CV, respectable publications, and successfully being awarded his doctorate.

Henderson actually stopped his rowing activities in order to work on his PhD and career, but rediscovered the sport when he began work at Caltech. He began going to Long Beach to row once a week as a way to blow off some steam. His first weekend there, he was roped into doing a casual race in singles and ended up racing against people who had national team aspirations. Henderson did much better than expected and met the people who would later become his teammates for the Southern California Scullers Club (or the SoCal Scullers). During the next two years, Henderson got back into rowing shape, although it was a challenge because his elite teammates were accustomed to training at a much higher volume than what Henderson was used to in college. Although, the intensity was, in fact, much lower due to the fact that everyone on the team held full-time, professional jobs. Over time, Henderson worked his 2K down to his current best, 6.22.1, which got him noticed by other lightweight men who were either current or former national team members. The fact that Henderson also won the USRowing’s West Coast Speed Order in the lightweight men’s single also gave reason for him to be noticed (In the fall the American organization that governs rowing, USRowing, holds a race to determine the fastest rowers in various boat classes and weight classes. They have two: one on the east coast and one on the west coast).

As a result, Henderson caught the attention of Alex Twist, who was assembling a group of lightweight men to train short-term with his coach in Seattle, Washington. Six lightweight men were chosen with the intent of racing doubles of various combinations in order to identify who rowed well together, ultimately determining who would be partners in the upcoming 2016 Olympic trials. Twist, Tobin McGee, and Peter Schmidt were three of the members on the team who all had multiple national team appearances and had earned medals at previous world championships. In the end, Henderson’s friend and partner, William Young, performed at a level reminiscent of those who won medals at the world stage. After not making the team for the Rio Olympics, but performing well, Henderson is considering an aim for next year’s world championship teams in Sarasota, Florida.

His greatest professional inspiration at the moment is his current postdoctoral advisor, Henry Lester. Lester is a leader in Henderson’s field of research and has been invaluable in helping him develop his research program. Outside of that, Henderson finds inspiration in his teammates. Among his small club in Huntington Beach, California, there is an Olympic bronze medalist, as well as one gold and five silver world championship medalists. Training every day with such an admirable crew motivates Henderson to work even harder.

In the years since his undergraduate experience, Henderson has learned many things and his advice to recent graduates is to remember that OSU comradery does not end outside of Columbus and to not be afraid to branch out for that reason. For example, Henderson was recently in Washington DC and while he was eating breakfast at his hotel, he ran into a friend who had also been on the OSU rowing team. Six months before that, he was hiking in Malibu and met another OSU alum that he knew as an undergraduate at the height of the trail. Henderson says that situations such as these occur semi-regularly, at least once a year, outside of OSU alum events. In short, he wants young graduates to know that OSU alumni are everywhere and that “it’s easy to tap into the Buckeye spirit wherever you go.”

But that’s not all the advice Henderson has to give. Professionally, Henderson tries to encourage recent graduates to recognize the opportunities they have. Due to OSU’s large size, there many opportunities that provide a bridge into post-graduate life, whether that may be internships or study abroad programs, OSU offers no shortage of opportunities to ease transition into the real world. Henderson warns not to lose sight of these opportunities amongst the large number of events that happen on campus daily. He recommends utilizing the mentors that are available, such as faculty, older students, or academic counselors. He says, “There are plenty of people who can and will help but they can’t do so unless you ask for the help.”

There’s no doubt that Henderson is on an illustrious professional and athletic path. He has already accomplished a great deal in the short amount of time he’s been on his journey and will likely accomplish a great deal more- further down the road. It’s successful alumni such as Brandon who change the world and show students that they can go on to do great things as Ohio State Chemistry and Biochemistry Alumni. 

For more information on Brandon Henderson, visit his website.

By: Brittani Rable

Brian Henderson and Teammate row in the 2016 US Olympic and Paralympic Team Trials

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