Love of teaching, physics keeps UMSL professor on campus for 50 years

BELLERIVE ACRES • The University of Missouri-St. Louis graduated its first class in 1967 — the same year physics professor Bob Henson, 82, came to campus.

The longtime professor has worked under all 11 chancellors in the young university’s history, and has watched the evolution of education, from chalkboards to online classes — two of which he teaches.

“It hasn’t seemed like 50 years to me. Fairly often I think, ‘Have I really been here that long?’” he jokes, adding that he’s not ready to retire until he’s “fulfilled everything I’ve wanted to fulfill in my career.”

He’s finishing a textbook he’s writing on his own, and he still really enjoys his teaching, from his online classes in meteorology and oceanography to his personal favorite: a graduate class called ‘Principles of Mathematical Physics.’

There’s a special place in Henson’s heart for his time at UMSL, the place he gained his tenure status as a professor. The southwest Missouri native earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Missouri-Columbia before venturing to Washington University for his doctoral degree. Other than UMSL, he’s worked only at the University of North Dakota for a few years as an assistant professor.

The physicist continues to develop questions he would like to answer through research someday. He put his research on helium vapors down some years ago to focus on teaching, and he misses it.

“We’ve had a lot of handicaps with research and inadequate facilities for research,” Henson said, chalking it up to “growing pains” over the years. He recalls sharing lab space with three other faculty members and, for a while, he and other professors having to move their offices on an annual basis as UMSL started to expand.

The physical space has changed, but the students haven’t. That’s important to Henson.

“UMSL has a very important purpose in this area,” he said. “People can’t afford financially to go away from school, but they can work their way through school here. That’s a valuable purpose.”

Henson will be honored by campus leaders Wednesday during the annual State of the University address.