Zenia Henderson
Chief Program Officer
National College Attainment Network (NCAN)

What drew you to the world of college admission counseling?
My first professional encounter with the college admission world came through a college internship with the national nonprofit, Peer Forward, back then called College Summit. I was thrown into these four-day summer workshop experiences in which 60 or so rising high school seniors navigated through a series of key college prep tasks such as writing a personal statement, creating a college list, learning about financial aid, and exploring the barriers to college that were present in their lives. In that deeply personal and humbling work, I immediately saw a young Zenia, not being too far removed from navigating my own college admission process at that time. The work of College Summit was familiar and motivating having grown up as a Trio kid participating in Upward Bound, the McNair Scholars program, and Student Support Services. I had fallen in love with the very work that I benefitted from as a first-generation-to-college student from a low-income background; and because I saw the many opportunities that were available to me in my pursuit and completion of a degree, I have been committed to the college access and success field since.

What is your favorite part of the job?
I have a unique role at NCAN in which I get an opportunity to hear about the varying needs of our hundreds of members across the country as they work to help students to and through their college journeys. I love that I get to have a role in helping professionals who are so deeply committed to student success do their jobs more effectively, learn new skills, and provide spaces to help them connect with other like-minded professionals.

How has NACAC played a role in your career?
Participating in NACAC’s Guiding the Way to Inclusion (GWI) has been one of my favorite things to do as part of the NACAC community. It feels like a gathering of a loving blended family because people come from so many sectors—admissions, high school districts, and community-based organizations—knowing we have a shared foundation in the work that we do. GWI has been a great space to take a deep dive into learning about the college admission processes from so many different angles.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
I worry about the rhetoric questioning the value of college and what that could mean for students of color who have historically been the ones shut out from pursuing higher education. As long as a college degree remains the first-class ticket to economic advancement in this country, I believe a college degree is necessary to truly break generational poverty. While I fully value the need and responsive shifts to helping students gain skills and be prepared to thrive in our workforce, a postsecondary degree opens doors that otherwise are oftentimes not even available to knock on.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?

I enjoy cooking and baking and can often be found hustling my homemade rum cakes and custom-made cakes in my community. I also love spending time with family and friends. You can usually find my husband and I hosting a fun kid-themed playdate for our 5-year old son, his friends, and their parents—who have been such a great support network and source of friendship for our entire family. Our favorite events have been last year’s Christmas cookie decorating party, our annual pumpkin-carving party in the fall, and a Valentine’s dance party for which my husband serves as the DJ!

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I would be Carmen Sandiego in a heartbeat! Not because I have a desire to be a thief, but because I just absolutely loved the computer game and the game show as a kid. I loved learning about so many different places and dreamed of traveling to them. Thinking back on this, it’s probably what gave me the travel bug as a young adult. I knew I wanted to explore and travel to new places all over the world. I now enjoy watching the Netflix series with my son and reminiscing on all the geography and fun things I learned about so many different countries.


Published Feb. 27, 2023