Faces of Innovation: Gayle Henderson

Gayle went from tickling the ivories to tapping a keyboard

Gayle Henderson, IT Specialist, Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research.
Gayle Henderson, IT Specialist, Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research.

Gayle Henderson, an Information Technology Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) in Oxford, Mississippi, has seen extensive changes in the information technology realm. When she first began working for the Forest Service 28 years ago, the Oxford unit had only two HP terminals they used to access the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) mainframe. There were no personal computers, no network, no Internet access, and zero social media.

Since then, as part of the consolidated SRS Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research unit, Gayle has witnessed the back-and-forth exchange between centralized and distributed computing, worked with (and on) the unit’s expanding fleet of personal computers, managed DG and IBM servers, and provided unit-wide desktop support and services, including application development, web development, and GIS.

How did you start working for the Forest Service?

After junior college and a successful eight-year “break” teaching piano, I enrolled at Ole Miss to finish my degree. Two years later, I graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science. I was about to sign a one-year contract to teach for the university as a graduate assistant when one of my instructors recommended me as her replacement at the Forest Hydrology Lab. It worked out well because I did get the Forest Service position and also taught night courses for the university.

Did you know that SRS is celebrating its 20th anniversary? And, that the Forest Service is celebrating 100 Years? What are your thoughts?

We’ve come a long way — in so many ways! One of the biggest changes I’ve seen overall is the improvement in communications from the top down. It may always have been in place for project leaders and scientists, but in the early days information didn’t trickle down to people like me. I seldom heard anything about the budget, other SRS units, or what other people were working on.

Also, there’s now a more clearly defined enterprise approach to conducting business, especially within IT. For example, we now have standardized equipment and a Forest Service-wide Helpdesk. In the early computer days there wasn’t really much of an internal Forest Service support chain, especially for non-server issues. Often, your only options were phoning vendor support or finding a co-worker who knew something about computers. That’s how a lot of people, including me, ended up providing technical support for their units — especially those of us who didn’t mind working “under-the-hood.”

What changes have you seen within SRS?

There’s been a definite shift towards greater communication and transparency, establishing a more diverse workforce, and ensuring safety. We’ve also had great advancements in both our research capabilities and our ability to share our research with the public through our web and technology transfer efforts. Overall, I’m very pleased with the way our Station has evolved over the years. I think we’re very productive and well-respected. The same goes for our unit. We have a great bunch of very talented people, and we work well together. It’s a very team-oriented approach.

Can you tell me a little bit about your life outside of work?

My husband and I have been married for 37 years. We enjoy hunting and fishing, and even occasionally fish bass tournaments together. I also enjoy various computer activities and dabbling at wildlife photography. I was active in martial arts for a number of years (Isshinryu karate and Okinawan/Filipino kobudo [weapons]), and for most of my life I’ve either played or taught piano.

For more information, email Gayle Henderson at ghenderson@fs.fed.us.

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