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Preparing Global Citizens
Douglas Henck ’74 has a global perspective that today’s Rensselaer students would do well to emulate. Well-prepared for an actuarial career after earning his undergraduate degree in mathematics, Henck joined the new international department of the Aetna insurance company in 1981, spending the next several years traveling the world helping to set up new ventures. He later joined Sun Life Financial, becoming the president of the company’s Asian operations and retiring from that position in August 2005. During his tenure he oversaw the building of a substantive regional headquarters in Hong Kong, the opening and growth of a successful life insurance joint venture in India, and the opening and expansion of a joint venture in mainland China.
Moving his family to Hong Kong in 1987, Henck says, “put cultural differences in our daily lives.” One of the first lessons they learned, and one he thinks Rensselaer could try on campus, is “to learn what is ‘American’ about our own personality.”
“There are many elements of our personality how we react to certain things, for example that are distinctly American,” Henck says. “Once you are sensitized to this key point, you open your mind to learning how other cultures react differently, and your own reaction to other cultures takes on a new light.”
Henck says that his children reaped the benefit of attending an international school with classmates from diverse countries and cultures, and of visiting many countries on trips. “The results are clear: our children are ‘citizens of the world,’ comfortable traveling or living almost anywhere.”
The Hencks’ next step will add even further to their cultural experience. They are moving to Haifa, Israel, where they will volunteer at the Bahai World Center.
In addition to contributions of time over the years, the Hencks signaled their support of The Rensselaer Plan and the Renaissance at Rensselaer campaign through their commitment to establish the Suzanne and Douglas C. Henck ’74 Unrestricted Endowment.
Henck approves of The Rensselaer Plan’s emphasis on “global reach and global impact,” and he applauds the intention to expand exchange programs and other connections with international academic institutions.
“The most useful scientists and engineers in the world of business are those who can ‘bridge disciplines,’ ” Henck says. “Engineers with a sense of the consumer or marketplace, and scientists who can communicate effectively, are great assets.”
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