Amazing Students

Rachel Henderson

A portrait of Rachel Henderson with a phone and laptop.
Rachel Henderson has always enjoyed helping in the disability community. She chose her major—special education—in part because her mom works as a special educator. “I went with my gut on what I was passionate about and the rest unfolded along the way.” (Photo by Chad Obsurn/UGA)

Rachel Henderson, a special education major from Fayetteville, is passionate about loving people. She’s worked with Extra Special People and Java Joy. She’s always enjoyed working with those in the disability community. After graduation, she hopes to be an occupational therapist.


Degree objective:
Special Education — Educational Studies
Minor in Social Work

Expected graduation:
May 2022

Current employment:
In-home caregiver for an adult with disabilities
Interning at Christian Campus Fellowship

Where have you interned? What have you learned?
Java Joy—I worked as a communications and marketing intern for Java Joy, a mobile coffee cart service started at Extra Special People Inc. Java Joy employs adults with disabilities and brings added joy to businesses and events. As an intern, I helped create marketing materials, post on Instagram and Facebook, photograph and attend Java Joy bookings. I assisted in Java Joy’s social media launch for their San Francisco expansion in 2019.

Portrait of Rachel Henderon

This summer, Rachel Henderson is interning at Christian Campus Fellowship. She started attending the ministry in October. (Photo by Chad Obsurn/UGA)

What is your favorite class you’ve taken?
American Sign Language with my favorite professor, Brian Leffler. His passion for teaching us the language as well as deaf culture was so clear, and he made it so much fun. He was full of joy every day, and he took off a lot of the pressure academically by rewarding our effort in the class. The basics of ASL that I learned have helped me in my field of interest too, and ASL is amazing because it allows you to communicate with a whole new set of people. Brian cares about each individual student deeply, and if you run into him around town or campus, he loves having conversations and testing if you remember some ASL, but mostly he just wants to know how you are doing, and this kind of attitude and treatment helps make a huge place like UGA feel a little bit smaller.

How did you choose your major?
I have always enjoyed being with people in the disability community. My mom works as a special educator, so I learned a lot about it growing up. My goal is to go to occupational therapy school, which I discovered last spring. Being an OT will give me the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people and help individuals gain more independence. I had a really hard time making a choice on my major, so I went with my gut on what I was passionate about and the rest unfolded along the way.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself not to put so much pressure on choosing a path. Explore Athens more, and don’t overwhelm yourself with getting involved. Pursue things that make you happy and further your personal or professional growth. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and initiate conversation. Finding a mentor is the best decision, and it helps make some of the more heavy and scary parts of life a little bit less scary. Accept who you are. Wanting to improve and be a better version of you is good, but don’t let that shift into being critical of who you are in the moment.

Portrait of Rachel Henderson

Rachel Henderson has worked with Extra Special People Inc and Java Joy. (Photo by Chad Obsurn/UGA)

How did you decide to come to UGA?
I grew up in a UGA house, with my dad being an alumnus. I have always loved Athens and being on campus, and every visit I had here was memorable and sweet. When I started applications, I knew I was applying to UGA, but at the time, I was deciding between playing college lacrosse or just being a student, but when I opened my acceptance letter in fall of 2017, it just felt right thinking about life as a UGA student.

What has surprised you about UGA?
How small and homey UGA can feel. With how big the campus is and how many students there are, it can be overwhelming at times, but UGA provides so many opportunities for community that it makes it feel so much smaller and more personable. I do not feel overwhelmed by the size and the numbers anymore, and I see someone I know almost every day I am on campus.

Rachel Henderson and Adnan attend a football game.

Rachel Henderson and Adnan, an Extra Special People participant, attend the 2019 football game against South Carolina. (Submitted photo)

What are your top UGA highlights?

  1. The South Carolina game in 2019 when our club, ESP@UGA, held the first annual Dress Down with the Dawgs game. We partnered with UGA SGA and USC SGA in the first-ever partnership between the two schools’ student government association on an official proclamation. One of our ESP participants, Adnan, was invited to join the paintline on the front row of the stands and paint up. As the communications chair for ESP@UGA, I was able to organize parts of the campaign and create marketing materials, but spending the day with Adnan and making it possible for him to challenge expectations was my favorite part
  2. Going to Ecuador with UGA Wesley in March of 2020
  3. Hiking and camping Panther Creek with a group of friends freshman year
  4. Working as a Dean of Students Ambassador with Dean Bill McDonald
  5. Attending my first UGA football game as a student with my alumnus dad

What is your passion, and how are you committed to pursuing it?
I am, at the simplest level, passionate about loving people. I want to be the best occupational therapist I can be to help individuals gain independence back. I eventually want to own a business and employ adults with disabilities to provide opportunities for a population that sometimes gets overlooked in the workforce. I have and will continue to pursue opportunities that will help make these possible, and I will continue to surround myself with positive influences and mentor figures to support me in this process.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan to take a gap year and stay in Athens and then attend occupational therapy school in 2023.

I #CommitTo: Dreaming
I have always been a planner, motivated by achievement, so pursuing things where I might fail is scary. I want to chase dreams and support others chasing theirs and not always be wrapped up in plans.