Posted May 13, 2009

Perseverance and change pays off for IS graduate

Bachelor of Science: Information Science and Technology


When Tara Maxayn Henderson receives her bachelor’s degree in information science and technology this week, she will be a completely different person from the one who enrolled at the university in 2001.

“She was much older than her fellow classmates and very shy,” remembers Rose McGinnis, director of the Student Career Assistance Center in Temple’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences. “Tara was a large woman who was very self conscious about her weight — hence she was very quiet in class.”

The truth was Henderson, 36, a single mom of two, was battling obesity, a problem that had affected her since she was 14. She weighed over 400 pounds and had problems just sitting in classroom seats or catching the subway to campus from her home in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

“I didn’t like people looking at me,” recalls Henderson, who carried a 3.0 GPA in her major. “I was picked on as a young person because of my weight and it affected my outlook on me. It’s a shame that society does that to people.

“In here, I just carried it, carried it, carried it,” she says, pointing to her chest. “My mom always said treat people how you want to be treated, but unfortunately, they didn’t always treat me the same way back.”

Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

Tara Maxayn Henderson lost more than 172 pounds and overcame great personal odds to finish her bachelor’s degree in information science and technology.


Finally, suffering also from depression, Henderson decided she could better herself and sought help from her doctor. “I said, ‘Look, I’ve been trying to lose weight but all I’m doing is gaining and it is affecting me.’”

Her doctor recommended the gastric bypass procedure and in December 2007 she had the surgery. In the year and a half since, she has lost 172 pounds and a new person — she now uses her middle name Maxayn—has blossomed.

“I tell people 410 lbs was Tara, this is Maxayn,” Henderson says with a laugh as her hand sweeps over her slimmer physique. “My mom says I smile a lot now. I’ll look over and she’ll be staring at me and I’ll ask why and she’ll tell me I’m like a whole different person now.”

With the loss of weight has come a gain in confidence: she bugged the CIS Department for nearly two semesters to hire her as a computer lab consultant and has since gotten to know and become more interactive with her fellow classmates.

“Now I feel better saying to my classmates, ‘Hi, how are you doing today,’” says Henderson, who also serves as treasurer of Temple’s student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery. “Also knowing one of my classmates is good in a particular area, I feel more secure in going to ask them for help.”

Henderson’s weight has not been her only obstacle while trying to obtain her Temple degree. She has also cared for her mother (breast cancer); youngest sister (non-Hodgkins lymphoma); two grandsons by her 18-year-old daughter Winter (who has had off-and-on behavioral problems); and her 13-year-old son, James.

“Personally, I’ve had a lot of knockdowns,” she says, yet she continues to search for a job that will train her and help her develop her skills further.

But through her own perseverance — and a bit of help from McGinnis and CIS faculty members Claudia Pine-Simon and Wendy Urban, who have worked with her on her resume, helped her buy a new suit for job interviews and even get a more professional looking hairstyle — Henderson has reinvented herself.

“Rose, Claudia and Wendy are the three nicest women I have ever met,” Henderson says with a smile. “They have helped me a lot. I wish I was rich because I would do something extraordinary for them.”

That’s understandable, since Henderson already has done something extraordinary for herself.