Opening Up a ‘World of Possibilities’: McHenry Empowers Generations of F&ESers

While he was a student at F&ES 35 years ago, Tom McHenry came to understand the range of possible opportunities in the environmental realm. He's spent the past 3 1/2 decades working to make sure future students had the same experience.

By Kevin Dennehy

During his summer orientation at F&ES in 1978 Thomas McHenry ’77 B.A., ’80 M.F.S. realized that his classmates were a unique and special group that would remain close for the rest of their lives — and they have.
But it was during a series of brown bag lunches during the academic year that McHenry realized how diverse and accomplished the students were. At the time, second-year students were asked to share stories about their summer experiences, from banding birds in Central America to working for large timber companies, complete with Kodachrome slides.
“The projects were so interesting and so varied,” McHenry recalls. “The two years I spent in the master’s program opened up a window to a world of possibility.  There was this chance to participate in the environmental realm… And I’ve never lost that sense that there are terrific possibilities out there — and I think a lot of my classmates feel the same way”
tom mchenry leadership council
Tom McHenry during the 2015 meeting of the F&ES Leadership Council.
The important work being done by his F&ES classmates, and their many predecessors, made such a mark on McHenry, a California attorney, that he has devoted his alumni activities over the past 35 years to assure later groups of students would enjoy the same opportunities — and share that same exhilaration — that his class had.
Thirty-five years ago, McHenry and his classmates laid the groundwork for a fund, the Class of 1980 Fund, which has supported generations of projects by F&ES students. McHenry has helped coordinate the project, as well as another fund created later that provides scholarship dollars for F&ES students.
That worked propelled him into other leadership positions within F&ES and Yale University. For nearly a decade McHenry has served as co-chair of the F&ES Leadership Council, which earlier this year concluded a $10 million scholarship initiative in support of F&ES students. The initiative resulted in 22 new endowed scholarships at F&ES.
This week McHenry will be honored with the School’s Distinguished Service Award during reunion weekend. The award was created by the F&ES Alumni Association to recognize service to the school by an alumnus.
“Tom’s fingerprints are all over so much of the wonderful work being done at F&ES,” said F&ES Dean Peter Crane. “His leadership has made it possible for so many students to attend F&ES and, through the support of the Class of 1980 Fund, to carry out their own ideas of how to make a difference on campus and in the world.
“It’s this kind of generosity that makes our School such a unique and wonderful place, and why we continue to attract the best students from across the world.”
McHenry, who is now a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles, says his ongoing work for F&ES has been a labor of love. And in reality, he and his classmates began giving back before they even left.
Few of them had even landed their first job out of F&ES when they launched the Class of 1980 Fund. They raised only $1,050 that first year, but the fund has since grown to more than $370,000 and now provides about $15,000 to $20,000 each year for student projects, from film festivals and symposia to multimedia equipment and a pavilion at the School’s Yale-Myers Forest.

In addition to keeping classmates connected with one another, the funds have kept them connected to the School and the work being done by each class of student since each member of the class of ’80 is invited to vote for the prize recipients.
It’s been so successful that McHenry and his classmates started the second fund for student scholarships that now exceeds $379,000, said McHenry, who has helped raise money for the fund since the beginning, including the solicitation of annual and five-year reunion donations from his classmates.
I think of the class of ’80 as exceptional. But also in many ways typical of the students who are attracted to this School and use it as a launching pad to go do great things.
— Tom McHenry
In addition to his role on the F&ES Leadership Council and his work with the Class of 1980 funds, McHenry is an active member of the External Advisory Board of the Yale Institute on Biospheric Studies (YIBS). He is former chair of the F&ES Annual Fund and the Sand County Society. He has also received the Chairman’s Award of the Yale Alumni Fund for his service to its Board of Directors, and is a volunteer recruiter for F&ES in the Greater Los Angeles area.
He also helped to negotiate the funding of the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology, an F&ES-based project that seeks to better understand and enhance the urban environment.
McHenry says he continues to stay involved with F&ES because of the inspiration he draws from each generation of students — and from his own classmates. Members of his own class have gone on to careers in business, law, teaching, international NGOs and aid organizations.
“The mission of the Forestry School — which is to train national and international environmental leaders — is so important,” he added. “And over the years the School has become stronger in terms of its development programs and its ability to provide scholarship funding. We have more students than ever, cast a broader net for admissions that attracts more diverse students, and we continue to have them going off doing really interesting things.
“What’s not to like about helping to train the environmental leaders of tomorrow? What could possibly be more important?”