Alumni Profile: Justin Neel, Class of 2014

Justin Neel

Justin Neel loves Henderson and enjoys telling his students at Caddo Hills High School about his alma mater. Whether he sends them to Henderson for a conference or a campus tour, he is always recruiting.

Neel has served as president of the Arkansas Association for Career and Technical Education and the Arkansas Business Education Association. He was named the New Teacher of the Year by Arkansas’ Association of Career and Technical Education ACTE in 2017. 

When did you graduate, and what was your major?

I graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Education in Business Technology Education.

Why did you choose Henderson?

My grandmother attended Henderson and received a BSE in Business Education. I also attended an art club trip when I was in the seventh grade and always thought Henderson would be a great place to attend college. 

Who were your favorite professors?

My go-to professors in the School of Business were Dr. Andy Almand, Dr. Lonnie Jackson, Dr. Eunice Akoto, and Ms. Lisa Massey. They each made business fun and took a special interest in my career plan. In Teachers College, Dr. Brandie Benton and Mr. Don Benton became like parents who helped motivate me to finish. I also couldn’t have made it through without support from Dr. Judy Harrison, Dr. Celya Taylor, Dr. James Shuff, and Dr. George Ann Stallings. Each made a huge impact on my philosophy of teaching, and they supported me more than they will ever know. 

What is your current occupation?

I am a Business and Marketing Technology teacher at Caddo Hills High School. I also serve as the Career and Technical Education Director for the district. 

How did Henderson prepare you for your career?

Henderson prepared me to be the teacher I am today through the programs and relationships formed during my time on campus. Each person helped shine light into a different aspect of my professional career path. Ultimately, it was that Ole Reddie Spirit that has helped shape my career path. 

What is your favorite memory of Henderson?

Mrs. Carolyn Bell’s classes had to be some of my favorite memories. She always used stories to teach the class and I can always remember the feeling of being engaged. I really wanted to go to those classes with her. 

When was the last time you were on Henderson’s campus?

I was on the campus a few months ago helping some of my students learn about Henderson. It has always been a joy for me to bring students to campus and share my experiences that may help them see a way to be a Reddie someday. 

What other job do you think you’d be really good at?

I have always been interested in owning my own business. One reason I have a hard time committing is the fact that I enjoy doing a little bit of everything. I have not found any one thing I would like to do everyday, all day. That is why I love teaching: each day is something different. 

How do you relax after a hard day?

I love spending time with my wife Heather and enjoy just hanging around the house. We live in the Ouachita mountains so we try to explore the region as often as we can. 

Who do you admire the most, and why?

I admire Dr. Charles Dunn. I was fortunate to have one of his last classes at Henderson. The way he connected with people was always something I really wanted to do. He could make you feel like you were the only person in the room. His leadership was all about service to the institution, its members, and the community. I have tried to model that style of leadership in my life.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?

Attend the Battle of Ravine. It is something to experience. No one truly understands until you see the team march across the street or hear the bands play a little louder than they ever do. It is a very special tradition.

What’s the hardest lesson you learned?

How to fail forward. Failing is an aspect of everyone’s life. If you haven’t failed yet, just keep living. I went the wrong direction my first year at Henderson and ended up getting academically expelled. I went before the expulsion committee that week and pleaded with them to reinstate me. I was fortunate to be extended some mercy, but it sure cost me in losing my financial aid for a semester, as well as the time to get my degree. Ultimately it was a lesson that I have never forgotten and I have been able to use it as a motivator to my students when planning for their future. 

What are three interesting facts about you?

I have seen a Kubota tractor harvest a rice paddy field on a remote island in the East China Sea; I have been able to support teachers across southwest Arkansas as a FBLA district coordinator, and I work for the greatest school district in the world! 

If your life was a book, what would its title be?

Look what the Lord has Done

If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow, what would it be?

Be kind. Kindness is the rarest gift that should be overused.