“My mother always wanted me to teach, and believe it or not, at a young age, she wanted me to be a college president,” said Dr. Stephen C. Head, Chancellor of Lone Star College (LSC). Growing up, Dr. Head’s family moved around a lot due to his father’s job, and he spent a lot of time reading as a kid and playing sports. No matter where his family lived, he was always into the history. After he enrolled into college, he started out in engineering, and then went into business. His dad even wanted him to be an engineer because he worked in the oil business, but “history was just a natural thing to me,” he said.
Married with two children during the last year of his doctoral program, Dr. Head took a recruiting job at Texas Tech thinking he would just do it part time. He served in this role for a little while and received a few promotions. He then moved back home and interviewed for Director of Financial Aid at Lone Star College-North Harris. He served in this role for a few years and shortly after became a dean. Three years later, he became president of a college at a very young age. “I had just turned 38 or so, which was really young in our business for a short period.” At that time, Dr. Head was the youngest president in the state.
Being a college president is no easy task, and it requires a lot of hard work, but for Dr. Head, working hard is just something he does. “I just worked hard. I always liked working. I always got along with the faculty, staff, and others, and every time we had a problem someplace, I volunteered to fix it.” Most of the problems he faced were either money problems or people problems, “and those were two pretty easy things for me to resolve.”
In 2014, Dr. Head became the Chancellor of LSC. Ironically, he wasn’t going to do it. He had previously applied for the chancellor position when his predecessor, Richard Carpenter was chosen, but he had never really wanted to be a college president. It was others who were telling him, “You need to do that,” and “we want you to be this.” Outside of doing it for the people, his wife, Dr. Linda Head, who insisted that he apply for chancellor, and he did at the very last hour. It was never about doing the job as to why he was reluctant to apply, he truly enjoyed his life and family, and enjoyed being at the campus. On campus, “he could see the students and see the community,” which is what he loved.
Because Dr. Head had been at LSC for 30 years prior to becoming chancellor, and had served in every capacity, he was more than prepared and ready to be chancellor. When reflecting on how long he has been with LSC, he jokingly said, “I know why the light switches are put in certain places and why some of the room numbers are off in a couple of places. Got to be there to know that right?” Many people wanted Dr. Head to become chancellor because they knew him, they knew he was going to be “fair, consistent, and not do crazy, wild things.”
Dr. Head knew his life was going to change when he became chancellor, and he mentioned that to his wife, who serves as Senior Associate Vice Chancellor at Lonestar, a bond they share “for better or worse,” he chuckled. As a college president, his schedule was more predictable, but as chancellor he has to travel, report to nine different board members, meetings, and so much more. “I have dates where I feel like a ping pong just going back and forth.”
As a leader, Dr. Head is positive about what can be done at a community college and feels very strongly about Lone Star College’s role in the community, which Is to help students be successful. He mentioned not just successful in the classroom but being a human being as well. For that to happen, Dr. Head made it known about his expectations for those working at Lone Star and how they are expected to care about students. He has high expectations for all his employees, including himself, and refuses to put up with nonsense, but at the end of the day, Dr. Head cares about his employees and does not want them to worry about things they shouldn’t be worried about. He gave the example of COVID and how he didn’t want his employees worried about whether or not they were going to have a job. Everyone kept their job and LSC pushed through.
Regarding his leadership style, Dr. Head is very open, direct, transparent, persistent, and he doesn’t give up. He may “back up and try a different way,” but he never gives up. He also believes that anything is possible. “When you’ve been working in a place for a long time and you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time, you have a clear idea about what needs to be done and what’s possible…I think anything’s possible at Lone Star.” Lone Star College is one of the most premier colleges in the country and there’s a reason for that. “We do a lot of great things. We’re not just talking about it; we actually do it.”
One problem that Dr. Head is faced with is increasing the success rates for African American males. Confidently, Dr. Head said, “We can help anybody be successful if you give us enough time. I think it’s there.” When discussing the issues that surround student success, Dr. Head mentioned, “If you grow up in a family that did not go to college, you don’t even know what you don’t know. He took it one step further and discussed elements that occurred during the Clinton administration. “They cut pre-k funding and so even in our area in Houston and parts of Aldine in lower income areas, you’re going to see this and it’s just everywhere…so there’s a number of students to start kindergarten and they’re not ready for kindergarten.” He further illustrated, “They start the first grade and they’re behind, and by the time they’re in the fourth grade, they are reading at a first-grade level. When they’re in the seventh grade, they’re reading at a fourth-grade level, and graduate from high school reading about the seventh-grade level, which is not college prep.”
There are several things that are being done to ensure the success of students, and one is working with school districts, who are aware of the issue, and the awareness is growing at the state and federal levels, according to Dr. Head. He also discussed LSC-Houston North and the success that they’ve had, and how it all goes back to getting students when they’re young as that’s the foundation of where it starts. He also discussed how there is a clear correlation between socioeconomics in your family and whether or not you’re going to be successful or not. He is strong believer in education being the way out for whatever you’re doing.
When it comes to being chancellor, some of the challenges Dr. Head faces is philosophical and his desire to keep progressing forward. “I always want to keep us moving forward. I think if we get stagnant then we’re going to have a problem.” He also talked about the budget and the role it has when it comes to student success. With LSC being one of the largest community colleges in the country with 7,000 employees, it can be a challenge keeping everyone on the same page. Dr. Head made it clear that although there are multiple campuses that make up the LSC system, LSC is one college. “It’s the financial piece, it’s holding our culture together, making sure that we’re consistent in what we do, and that people, students, and employees are being treated fairly.” One of his primary goals has been to keep the faculty and staff as happy as possible.
Dr. Head has achieved so much in his 30 plus years at LSC, serving as president at three LSC campuses and Executive Vice Chancellor. Despite his success, the one thing that was really important to him was how well his kids turned out. “What I really care about though is that my children all turned out really, really, good. My wife and I are very proud of that.” He and his wife worked hard to balance family and work and it paid off. All his children are very successful, and they all attended LSC. Dr. Head also enjoys his role as a grandfather to his beautiful four grandchildren.
At the end of the day, Dr. Head is proud to be chancellor of LSC. Community colleges play a vital role in the community, and LSC not only serves their students well, but the community also. Dr. Head has left nothing undone and has accomplished everything he has wanted to do. In concluding the conversation, we discussed his legacy, and his answer was simple. “I want to leave the place in better shape than it was.”