AUBURN, Ala. (EETV) - Auburn University Human Sciences Dean June Henton leaves a lasting legacy that transformed the conventional home economics to an innovative pursuit of science as she departs.
In 1985, Henton joined the former School of Home Economics as dean while similar colleges around the country were being disbanded. It seemed as though Auburn's program might disappear as well. Her faculty and donors responded with unconditional support to save the college.
“We would have been long gone if we hadn’t had this cohesiveness in the college. It was a time when we recognized the power and influence that we had,” Henton said. “If we could get the wherewithal to do something, we had the autonomy to do it. We can be innovative and we can be who we want to be in this college, and I think that gave us a lot of encouragement to move forward.”
The country saw a wave of name changes as surviving schools renamed their home economics programs. While some universities adopted names like family sciences or human ecology for their colleges, Auburn was the first to name a College of Human Sciences.
Henton moved forward as dean of the newly named college with the hopes to move away from stereotypes associated with the study of home economics. Auburn's college began to emphasize specialization, globalization, affirmations of diversity, professional development for students and trends in the apparel industry, which led to the creation of the National Textile Center University Research Consortium in 1991.
The brainchild of Henton and her professional advisors was later called ‘a model for America’ by U.S. Congress.
Bill Walsh, head of the textile engineering department in Auburn’s College of Engineering at the time, helped form a partnership between Auburn, North Carolina State, Clemson University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. This partnership was created to build the National Textile Center University Research Consortium and study ways to improve the textile industry by working with industry leaders, representatives and Congress.
After recognition and funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the group included eight universities. This initiative was the first step in gaining national recognition for Auburn's Apparel Merchandising, Design and Production Management program.
Henton, who was ahead of the curve in recognizing global education, not only assisted in gaining national recognition for the college, but she also elevated it to a global stage. Her International Board of Advisors, created in 1992, made sure every program in the college had a global element.
She realized other universities had permanent campuses overseas and connected with the mayor of Ariccia, a small town south of Rome, Italy, with the help of her international advisors. The city had recently purchased the Palazza Chigi from the family's last prince and wanted to use a portion of it for a purpose other than a museum. Henton said the stars aligned for Auburn to establish the Ariccia campus, which is still the university's only permanent campus overseas.
Students who participate in the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program call the palace home for 12 weeks. The program, which has a two-year long waiting list, celebrated its 50th group of students this summer.
“Dean Henton was the first to have the strength and desire to open up the horizon of the College of Human Sciences by pursuing an international campus and doing it with strong will and tenacity,” resident program director Maurizio Antonini said. “Dean June Henton is a visionary and an inspiring person, not only for the faculty that has worked under her, and I’ve seen that impact. Everyone’s been motivated by her.”
An entire unit of the college, the Global Studies in Human Sciences undergraduate degree program, is dedicated to the study of practical solutions to global issues. Every student in the program is required to study abroad to gain real-world experience that enhances their in-classroom learning.
Henton also promoted an attitude of social awareness through her work in the advancement of philanthropy on campus.
After Henton attended a meeting of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute in Dallas, The Women’s Philanthropy Board was formed to promote philanthropy through a network of dedicated women. Recently, the college added a philanthropy and nonprofit studies undergraduate major to fill the need for philanthropic-minded professionals, along with the existing minor.
Henton's promotion of philanthropy is most well-known through the message of the International Quality of Life Awards, which was launched in the mid-1990s. IQLA honors people who have made significant, lasting contributions to individual, family and community well-being locally and around the world. Honorees have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Apple CEO Tim Cook, among others.
“The IQLA program was a result of June’s strength and persistence. You can’t be around June unless you’re willing to think in an international way, and I’m indebted to her for that contribution,” said former Auburn Provost Tim Boosinger. “June is one of those exceptional individuals who epitomizes the IQLA through her work. She really is at the heart of it.”
Winners are honored at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, but this is not the college's only connection to the U.N. Henton and external relations director Harriet Giles secured a partnership with the U.N. World Food Programme in 2004. Henton and Giles were the only representatives of higher education at an initial meeting, and the pair quickly mobilized more than 300 colleges and universities worldwide under the banner of Universities Fighting World Hunger. This initiative engages students in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
Henton and Giles created the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn in 2012. The Hunger Solutions Institute specializes in research, outreach and partnerships to end hunger locally, nationally and around the world.
Human Sciences advisory board member Gerald Andrews said Henton is always in an innovative rhyme and rhythm.
“Of all the people in the Auburn University family, Dr. June Henton is probably best known for her quantum leaps,” he said. “You can’t purchase her creative substance. In scholarly halls, words are important but results speak with a greater eloquence, especially if they are out of the mind of Dr. June Henton.”
Henton's legacy has contributed greatly to the college's success.
“The way you start is the way you go forward,” Henton said. “What all of us hope for is that there will continue to be inspired programming and wonderful opportunities for students—and especially new buildings.”