San Jac Certified: From janitor to executive
12.18.2015 | By Rob Vanya
Dr. Lonnie Howard graduated from San Jacinto College in 1993 and now serves as president Clover Park Technical College. Submitted photo
San Jacinto College graduate overcomes obstacles to become college president
Dr. Lonnie Howard, San Jacinto College Class of 1993, was told in elementary school that he was not college material. Defying the odds, born in a small shack that had no running water, a first-generation minority student, and placed in developmental classes, Dr. Howard not only attended college, but also excelled, earning five college degrees. He now serves as president and CEO of Clover Park Technical College, a two-year college located near Tacoma, Washington.
After barely graduating from high school, attending college seemed remote. Academically ill-prepared and with no financial resources, he had few options except to join the U.S. Army. Following military service, with few marketable skills, he took the first job he could find as a janitor in “a very dirty industrial shop.” Through diligence, he worked his way up to a welder’s helper and eventually to a mid-level management position. As a journeyman welder in the North Channel area, he found himself laid off and heard about the San Jacinto College welding technology program.
Having unsuccessfully tried another two-year college almost a decade earlier, but still wanting a degree, he hesitated to enroll at San Jacinto College. “When I visited the campus, I found a friendly and encouraging environment,” he commented. “The faculty and staff were simply amazing, giving me much needed confidence. Despite requiring developmental classes (now called college preparatory classes), I remembered my mother’s favorite saying as child, ‘It doesn’t really matter where you start, the important thing is where you finish.’ So I was hopeful that San Jacinto College would help me get on track.”
He did more than just get on track. He performed so well as a student that Bill Root, the College’s welding department chair at the time, recommended that Dr. Howard apply to become his replacement. When Dr. Howard earned an associate welding technology degree from San Jacinto College, he decided to take Root up on his recommendation and was named the welding department chair whenever Root retired.
Dr. Howard says non-credit developmental classes were key to his overcoming anxieties and doing well as a college student, something he once thought would never happen. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rank my developmental education experience as 10,” he commented. “Developmental courses provided an excellent foundation for my credit classes, such as math and English. In fact, I still use some of that learning today in my job as college president.”
Dr. Howard adds: “If it wasn’t for my associate degree from San Jacinto College, I would never have earned a general studies associate degree from Houston Community College, a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree in occupational technology from the University of Houston.” He went on to graduate among the top of his class (4.0 grade point average) with a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Texas. He also has participated in post-doctoral training at Penn State University, and Harvard University.
He not only diligently prepared academically, Dr. Howard also applied himself diligently as an educator, successfully serving in key positions at universities as well as community colleges. He progressed quickly from department chair, academic researcher, educational consultant, associate vice president of instruction, interim vice president of academic affairs, director of university outreach, executive director of the school of professional studies, to college president.
As an alumnus of two community colleges, and now serving as president of a two-year technical college, Dr. Howard knows first-hand about the value such institutions provide. “Not everyone wants or needs a formalized four-year college degree,” he said. “Some want to earn a one-year certificate, learning entry-level skills for immediate employment. Others opt for associate degrees to enter the job market with professional-technical skills. And for those pursuing bachelor’s degrees, two-year colleges offer more affordable transfer options. Also, two-year colleges provide professional development and workforce solutions for business and industry.”
He says the low cost and open admissions policies are unique features about most community colleges that set them apart. “For many, cost is a huge factor and open admissions helps to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to transform their lives,” commented the San Jac Certified graduate. “Without us and the educational access we provide, their hope of achieving the American Dream would remain just that, merely a dream.”
Reflecting on his remarkable journey from janitor to college president, Dr. Howard says there’s no great mystery or secret formula for achieving success. “Anyone can achieve some measure of success with hard work, integrity, and education,” he said. “That’s my mantra. I am living proof. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can.”
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.