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Jan. 2, 2024

Alumni assist graduate student achieve career in federal government

There was a time when Carson Long thought he would have a career as a math teacher and coach, but a graduate assistantship and a fortuitous encounter at Northwest Missouri State University changed all of that and modeled to him the impacts of the Bearcat network.

Winter 2023 magazine Cover thumbnail

A shortened version of this story appears in the winter 2023 edition of the Northwest Alumni Magazine. View the print version of the magazine in its entirety by clicking here.

Long completed his Ph.D. last summer in operations research at the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology. In October, he began work at the Pentagon as an operations research analyst with the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force Studies and Analysis. He achieved both with the guidance and care of Northwest alumni Dr. Jackie and Carl Henningsen.

Long, a native of Graham, about 20 miles away from Maryville in northwest Missouri, grew up around the University. Later, after completing his bachelor’s degree in mathematics at another institution, Long arrived at Northwest to pursue a Master of Business Administration degree and secured a graduate assistantship in the office of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“I knew their education was top-notch and that it would likely provide me with a better opportunity to find a job or a career shortly thereafter,” Long said. “I wasn’t entirely sold on what I wanted to do after my undergraduate degree, so I talked to my family and friends, and Northwest made a lot of sense.”

Then, during a summer day in 2015 on the Northwest campus, Long was walking from the Administration Building to the J.W. Jones Student Union for a lunch break when he exchanged greetings with a man sitting on a bench outside the Student Union. That man was Carl Henningsen, who was visiting the campus with his wife, Jackie, a member of the Northwest Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Carson Long (left) is pictured with his doctoral advisor, Dr. Brian Lunday, outside the Air Force Institute of Technology after defending his dissertation last August.

Carson Long (left) is pictured with his doctoral advisor, Dr. Brian Lunday, outside the Air Force Institute of Technology after defending his dissertation last August.

Jackie and Carl Henningsen

Jackie and Carl Henningsen

After Carl inquired about the reasons Long was attending Northwest and his career plans, they realized their common interests in basketball. Long mentioned he was coaching at Fairfax High School, and Carl shared that he taught and coached in nearby Rock Port during the late 1960s. Long also revealed he was working on his master’s degree with a hope of moving into government work specializing in operations research in Washington, D.C.

“Of course the light went off,” Carl said. “I told him, ‘You really need to talk to my wife because she just spent the last 25 years in the Pentagon with the Air Force.’”

Jackie retired in 2014 after a 29-year career in the Department of Defense that included applying analysis to nuclear deterrence and conventional warfighting assessments and serving as a principal analytic advisor to five successive top Air Force leaders. She, too, had begun her career as a math teacher and coach before earning a doctorate degree in industrial and management systems engineering, which propelled her to the Strategic Air Command’s Office of Operations Research in Omaha, Nebraska, and then to the Pentagon.

When Jackie returned to the Northwest campus that October for the Foundation Board’s fall meetings, she set up what she called “an informational interview” with Long to learn more about his career interests and goals. Jackie explained the myriad opportunities Long could pursue within the federal government

“Carson came for an interview prepared and he really impressed me,” she said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s got a real focus and presence.”

Recalling that meeting, Long said, “She was just so kind to me, and it was just a very special time in my life. That’s something I’ll never forget.”

After Long completed his master’s degree at Northwest in 2016, Jackie connected him with other leaders while continuing to mentor and advise him. After a stint at Cerner in Kansas City, with Jackie’s help Long joined The Perduco Group, a business analytics company and defense contractor in Dayton, Ohio, as an operations research analyst. He was placed alongside military veterans and skilled analysts providing algorithm development and analytic support for a variety of Air Force and Joint organizations.

“I mentor a lot of folks, but it was really a special joy working with Carson because he’s from Northwest and from my career field,” Jackie said. “I was math major; he was a math major. He was someone who really had an understanding of the path he was interested in, and it was a path I’d already walked.”

Then, in the fall of 2019, Long was selected as a SMART scholar, a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, to help him pursue a Ph.D. The four-year program was a stepping stone to civilian work with the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Studies and Analysis.

“Sending him to the Air Force Institute of Technology was the very best way to have him learn very quickly about the world that he was going into,” Jackie said.

Now with a doctorate degree to his name, Long hopes for a broad and lengthy career in military strategy while advancing his education further. He attributes his interest in lifelong learning not only to the inspiration instilled in him by the Henningsens but the knowledge he gained at Northwest and the faculty and staff who mentored him.

“They were so good to me in getting me integrated with Northwest,” Long said. “I’m just thankful for everybody that was there and, of course, those great folks in the dean’s office. I can’t leave them out because the professional development that I received from them was just incredible. It really helped me moving forward.”

As he progresses through his career, Long hopes he can do for future graduates what the Henningsens have done for him.

“It’s a special place, and we want to get all those Bearcats out in the world doing great things so that people can continue to see what Northwest Missouri State produces,” he said.


Dr. Mark Hornickel
Administration Building
Room 215