Lawson melds experience with political, economic theory

From the moment he answers his phone, you get the idea that he’s a man with an agenda.

“Lawson,” is all you hear. So it’s no surprise that once Henry Lawson decided to return to school, he jumped in with both feet.

Henry Lawson
Henry Lawson is graduating with majors in international affairs and in political science, both from University College in Arts & Sciences. He is articulate, engaged and motivated, three attributes common to successful adult learners, says his adviser and University College Registrar Maria Hunter. – Photo by by David Kilper

Lawson will graduate today with majors in international affairs and in political science, both from University College in Arts & Sciences, and is planning on attending graduate school here.

Growing up in Gainesville, Fla., Lawson had a penchant for studying the sciences in general, and astronomy in particular. While in high school, he was part of several science symposiums and workshops outside the classroom.

He even spent a night on the beach with “about a million other people,” just to see Apollo 11 launch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into history.

But despite a love of the physical sciences, Lawson headed another direction in college. Backed with a Blue Key Scholarship — the first African-American so honored by the University of Florida’s alumni association — he went to medical school.

“By the time I graduated from high school, I hadn’t developed an idea of what I really wanted to pursue in college,” Lawson admits. “I had a reputation as a good student, knew some people on the board of admissions of the University of Florida School of Medicine and spent about two years there.

“But I realized I wasn’t interested enough in it to pursue it as a career.”

That realization, coupled with a marriage two years into college, sent Lawson into the work force, first with the Air Force and a stint in England, then with defense contractor McDonnell Douglas in 1982. After a brief period with Rockwell International in Anaheim, Calif., he returned to McDonnell Douglas and has been with them, and subsequently The Boeing Co., ever since.

Along the way, he was on the ground floor of one of the most successful projects in aviation history.

“(Early on) I stayed here in St. Louis, training for the Field Service Division of the F-18 program,” Lawson says. “I was in the first group of field service engineers assigned to the F-18, and I was one of the few intermediate-level field service reps they had. That was a very interesting experience.”

A few years ago, he decided to further his education and looked into Washington University. But history repeated itself — Lawson was again unsure of what direction to take.

Enter University College Registrar Maria Hunter.

University College
in Arts & Sciences

“As an academic adviser, I noticed straightway that Henry had a very broad range of interests, from astronomy to international trade,” Hunter says. “Henry also impressed me as being an extremely insightful thinker, perhaps from contemplating the world from the heavens above or maybe because he was a part of a company known for its global perspective and international interests.

“At our first meeting, Henry and I talked about classes he had taken previously, specifically about courses he found interesting and would like to study further. When Henry spoke about international relations, it was easy to see that he had spent a good deal of time considering the world from a ‘big picture’ perspective.”

So for Hunter, the recommendation was a no-brainer — international studies. It was something Lawson was ready for, as he had experienced both the melting pot of Florida while growing up and another culture entirely while in the Air Force.

“He is articulate, engaged and motivated, three attributes common to successful adult learners,” Hunter says. “Henry knew about his world from having experienced it and has the enviable knack of blending his experience with political and economic theory.”

So Lawson followed Hunter’s advice, and he has absolutely no regrets about the path he chose.

In fact, he’s planning on continuing down that path. He’s already looking into the University’s international affairs graduate programs.

In the meantime, he spends time with his wife, Janet, and daughter, Gabrielle — both are attending Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (his son, Darien, lives in Florida) — and is thankful for the opportunity he’s received.

“One of the things that’s helped has been the fact that my company has been supportive,” Lawson says. “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be able to afford to come to a school like WashU, but with their help and encouragement, financially and otherwise, it’s been a great benefit.

“I can’t stress that enough, along with the support from my family, it’s just been tremendous.”