Reid Hensen: The Community-Builder

Reid Hensen

It almost seems like a fluke. Reid Hensen wasn’t really considering the University of Montana. But, as he says, “I was applying for schools while living abroad in Chile and didn’t know much about where I wanted to go. But I knew that I loved the mountains.”  He adds, “I just really liked the idea of Montana.” And so, the night before the application to the Davidson Honors College was due, he hastily wrote an essay and sent it off from Patagonia. Less than a year later, he was a Presidential Leadership Scholar. And now, in his junior year, he finds himself leading an innovative community-building program in the DHC that he helped design. Not bad for a fluke.

The Psychology major and Business minor hasn’t wasted any time getting and staying involved with his community here at UM. Whether he’s skiing with friends or strategizing about ways to strengthen the bonds between students in the DHC, Reid is committed to finding the balance between extracurricular activities, his studies, and “academic community involvement.” He wants to know "what makes students achieve, what is success," and to then understand "how some students excel at what they're doing."  It was this interest that sparked the idea of the DHC House Program. Reid teamed up with Dean Tessman and a group of other interested students to create a program in which five Houses, each with their own identities and activities, compete good-naturedly for a “House Cup” and other rewards at the end of the year. As the House Coordinator, Reid organizes activities and works with the House Leaders to make sure things are running smoothly. Next year, the Houses will participate in a Quest in which they attempt to find a solution to a question that affects the city of Missoula. Reid calls this Quest a “competition of academic inquiry,” and hopes that it will continue to build a sense of community and thereby increase the resilience of participating students. As he says, “just surrounding yourself by people who are equally as motivated can have incredible effects.”

Reid’s interest in resilience stems from his childhood in Colorado, and the years he spent leading wilderness trips. His experiences in the backcountry were the foundation of his academic interests now, since, in the wilderness, “You just get really challenged and you have to figure out ways to overcome those challenges. That’s one of the main definitions of resilience.”  Then, “when you face challenges in your day to day life, they just seem a little bit more surmountable.” In fact, he’s so intrigued by the ways that offerings such as the Freshman Wilderness Experience affect students’ wellbeing that he decided to study the FWE for a research project. Speaking of outdoor experiences, he says, "I understand that as something that can be beneficial, at least to me, and I wanted to explore whether that’s beneficial for other people, as well.” And, he’s found that UM offers the perfect backdrop for these studies. He may have applied as a fluke, but he’s never looked back. As Reid says, “I’d much rather be in a University with other people who care about the place they’re surrounded by.”