Find Your Passion: A Product of Positivity

By Katy Echols

Caroline Hensley in UA Laboratory
Hensley stands in a UA laboratory. The chemical engineering major is an Honors College student. (Jeff Hanson)

A competitive spirit can motivate.  It can give you the necessary edge to finish on top. But, when that spirit is coupled with a positive attitude and a goal-oriented mentality, it seems it’s a recipe for extraordinary success.

Caroline Hensley, a junior in chemical engineering at The University of Alabama, is proof of that. An exemplary student and world champion water skier, Hensley is a force on the water and in the classroom.  Rather than letting failures keep her down, Hensley says she keeps an “in with the good and out with the bad” outlook on life, growing through the challenges.

It seems this mentality has eliminated the bad and garnered not just the good, but the great — the greatness of a world champion title.

Hensley began her journey to winning the Under 21 World Championship of water skiing at age 9. Watching her dad and sister, Laurel, water ski piqued her interest in the sport. Hensley began skiing and quickly found her competitive edge as she worked to keep up with her sister, who is five years older.

Following her attendance at a water skiing clinic at age 10, Hensley began realizing her potential in the sport. Cory Pickos, a 24-time world record holder, led the clinic. Pickos told Hensley if she was willing to put time and energy into water skiing, she could be a world champion.

Caroline Hensley ski jumping
With a love of water skiing that began at age 9, Hensley later won the Under 21 World Championship in France.

“I decided that day that I wanted to be a world champion and was willing to do whatever I had to do to make it happen,” says Hensley.

With a love for the sport and a competitive personality, Hensley took the water skiing world by storm. Each year, Hensley and her dad would discuss the goals for the next season, keeping a long-term perspective. She described her experience with water skiing as a rollercoaster ride that required significant commitment, courage and persistence.

“At times I was on the top of my game, loving every minute of the program. But, at other times, I found myself not performing to the best of my abilities. I had to really push myself and reassess the situation to find the confidence to get me back on top of my game,” says Hensley.

Despite its ups and downs, Hensley’s journey has been a rewarding one, she says. It has allowed her to travel to four continents representing the United States, compete in numerous international competitions and, ultimately, win the Under 21 World Championship in France.

Perhaps most importantly, she says, her journey taught her what it takes to be successful: preparation, confidence and a positive attitude.

“Having a positive attitude and staying focused on my goals allowed me to be the best I can be. I build on the best part of each experience and stay positive, leaving all negativity behind,” says Hensley.

Hensley says she carries that mentality into every aspect of her life, especially her academic career. Staying positive has helped her handle one of the most challenging aspects of life: time management.

That’s critical, she says, in balancing academics and water skiing. Even in choosing which university to attend, she searched for that balance.

While maintaining her water skiing was important, Hensley’s first priority was to find a university with exceptional academics. UA offered both, and even challenged her water skiing skills.

 “Alabama offered the entire package. With an outstanding engineering program and a phenomenal water ski team, it was the perfect fit for me,” says Hensley.

Caroline Hensley water skiing
Hensley shows her determination on the water.

While at the Capstone, the cooperation of teachers and coaches has given Hensley the support necessary to manage her unusual schedule of travel for competitions, she says.

“It is tough at times, but I try not to let school or skiing get the best of me. It’s easy to get bogged down in it, but this is where a positive attitude really is a lifesaver. I learned from my mom that a positive attitude is the key to everything,” says Hensley.

Rather than letting a near overwhelming schedule stifle her love of science, Hensley says she has kept her appetite for knowledge.

“The world of science and physics never ceases to amaze me with its new discoveries and opportunities. It plays crucial roles in our lives — defining us as human beings and allowing us to be creative and innovative. It provides insight into how our world works and how to improve it,” says Hensley.

Hensley’s gusto for the field of chemical engineering is evident in her achievements.  She is a member of Phi Mu, the Honors College, the Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She also received the Phi Mu Sorority award for having the highest GPA and has been on the Dean’s List every year.

Hensley plans to participate in an internship this summer to gain more experience and insight into which field of chemical engineering best suits her.

“I haven’t decided the specific industry I’m pursuing yet, but I’m open to most anything that allows me to apply my chemical engineering skills,” said Hensley.

She looks forward to graduation in the summer of 2013 and plans to take an exam to start the process of becoming a certified Professional Engineer. Though she doesn’t have a specific “dream job,” Hensley wants to work with a company in the Southeast that is well-respected and innovative.

“I’m a true Southern girl, and I’d like to plant my roots here,” Hensley says.

While she hopes to continue water skiing after graduation, Hensley says her career in chemical engineering will always be her first priority.

“Obviously, I would love to do it all! But realistically, if I can’t maintain a healthy balance, my career will have to come first,” Hensley said.

With her priorities set, her goals in mind and her positivity at the forefront, Hensley seems ready to take on whatever comes her way.

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Katy Echols is a senior from The Woodlands, Texas, majoring in public relations. She serves as a student writer for the College of Engineering.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.