A native of Buckingham, VA, Mark Henshaw moved to Falls Church, VA, in 1999 when he began working as an analyst with the Office of Transnational Issues, Directorate of Intelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
“As an undergraduate, I had never seriously considered attending graduate school, but a brief conversation with Professor Valerie Hudson [political science] changed my mind.
“She told me a graduate degree would open doors for me. I thought she was merely referring to job possibilities, but looking back I suspect she had more than that in mind. She was right,” Henshaw offered.
That encounter brought him back to BYU, where he enrolled in the Kennedy Center’s graduate international relations program. Hedging his bets, he also enrolled in the Marriott School’s MBA program. Henshaw elaborated, “I figured that while international study would be interesting, I would use the MBA to support myself after graduation. My attitude changed in a hurry. My time at the center not only prepared me to become an analyst, but encouraged my desire to pursue security studies.
“At the center, I first learned the satisfaction that comes from tackling important societal and political issues. Now that I’ve felt that same satisfaction in helping strengthen our national security, I doubt that many private sector jobs would be nearly as fulfilling. I’ve had Marriott School friends ask why I took a government job that pays half what I could be making elsewhere. Many of them don’t understand my perspective when I tell them it’s more about personal fulfillment than money,” he added.
Henshaw’s education was not limited to the classroom, “Looking back, I realize that I learned just as much outside of the classroom as I did inside. Other students and I frequently spent hours excitedly debating political theories, current events, and other subjects in the graduate carrels. There were probably times when I got a little too excited during those debates and lost my share of those discussions. I learned how to find the strong and weak points of an argument. I was exposed to points of view that I had never considered, and I was forced to take a hard objective look at my own viewpoint.”
The influence of the center’s interdisciplinary faculty, drawn from departments across campus, also left a lasting impression. “I developed strong relationships with my professors that were very satisfying. I spent hours talking with Professor Eric Hyer (then director of graduate studies) and Professor Hudson (my thesis advisor who I still keep in touch with) about a broad variety of subjects. I hadn’t really expected to become friends with my instructors—no student ever does—but it happened.
“The center took me to a whole new intellectual level. My professors helped me develop critical thinking skills that made me look at concepts and theories in a whole new light. In a few short years, I learned some of the same skills that many of my fellow analysts at the agency have tried to develop. Through my Kennedy Center studies, I became both a general scholar and a national security specialist in an area that lead me directly to the agency’s door. I joined the CIA right out of school, but from the beginning I was able to contribute,” Henshaw revealed.
“My only regret about the center is that there’s no doctoral program. If there were, I’d definitely go back when the time comes. That aside, I think my experience there was about as perfect as any graduate student can expect,” he concluded.
In 1999, Henshaw received a combined MA in international relations from the center and MBA with an information technology emphasis from the Marriott School. During his undergraduate years he served as a missionary in the Argentina Trelew Mission (1990–92). He also received his BA in political science and a communications minor from BYU in 1995.