Distinguished Through the Decades: 2004, Nicole (Nix) Henderson

Progress 2022: Distinguished Through the Decades

“I decided to enter because, I remember, there was scholarship money available. I knew I wanted to go to UNA, and they had a full scholarship opportunity if you won. I thought, ‘I’ll give that a shot. What do I have to lose?’”

What indeed. As Franklin County Junior Miss 2004, it turned out Nicole (Nix) Henderson had nothing to lose; in fact, she won every category of the local competition. “I was shocked, to say the least,” she said. The achievement set the tone for her senior year at Russellville High School, knowing her college plans were solidified – and paid for. She went on to also place in the top four for talent and for self expression at the state-level competition.

As a volunteer with the Distinguished Young Woman program now, Henderson recounts her story as encouragement to present-day competitors. “All the girls that enter, I tell them: ‘One night of competing gave me four years of free college.’ You can’t beat that,” she pointed out. “It was very worth it.”

Although Henderson first planned a career in broadcast journalism, her grandmother’s influence changed her mind. Irene Nix taught at Phil Campbell for 25 years. “Seeing her, throughout my life, being a teacher and visiting her classroom – I realized that was what I wanted to do: work around children and be with children,” she said. “Teaching was what I truly wanted to do.”

That vision became reality for Henderson after college, with teaching jobs in Greenville, Huntsville and Madison County. She next taught in the Russellville City Schools system, and in 2016 she began teaching at Tharptown Elementary. In 2021 she accepted a job as special education teacher at Muscle Shoals High.

She said she sees her involvement with DYW as an extension of her career in education – just one more classroom where she can encourage and shape young people.

“From the very first practice, Dr. (Susan) Hargett lets the girls know they are supported and that they are going to support each other. You’re there to form friendships and bonds,” Henderson noted. “We just create an atmosphere of helping each other.”

During college Henderson went on to reign as Miss UNA 2006 and to compete for Miss Alabama. When she finished her education degree, she moved to south Alabama for a job for a few years. In 2010 she married husband Drew, who is an occupational therapy assistant, and she returned to UNA for her master’s degree in special education, which she completed in 2012. She now serves on the UNA Alumni Board and is the Miss UNA Affinity Group co-director. “I love UNA. I really do. They have been good to me.”

She earned her educational specialist degree in special education from the University of West Alabama in 2016, and she is working on her educational leadership doctorate from Samford University – with plans to defend her dissertation in March and graduate with her degree in April. Editor’s note: Since this article appeared in print, Henderson has indeed gone on to earn her doctorate. “I hope to teach at the collegiate level – that’s my goal, eventually – and work in student advocacy,” she said.

Henderson found her way back to DYW in 2014, when Hargett asked her to emcee the program. She then became part of the DYW board, and her involvement didn’t stop there. “Since then I’ve been the choreographer, and I’ve helped run the Facebook page and just really volunteered in any way I can – any way they need me,” she said. “I’m really passionate about this program. It really does make a difference in lives.”

She said she sees her continued support of DYW as a way to motivate and inspire the next generation. “I get to help them grow – to be their best selves – and encourage them,” she said. “For awhile, I was the one on stage and in the spotlight. I had those who were encouraging me and supporting me, and I know how much that is needed when you are a teenage girl.”

Outside of her career and her DYW service, Henderson stays busy as mom to two boys: Sons Isaiah and Christian are 8 and 7, respectively. “Out of everything I have done in life, they are my best accomplishment,” Henderson said. The family is active in their church, Calvary Baptist of Tuscumbia.