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Alumni Spotlight

From Janitor to Executive

Dr. Lonnie Howard, San Jacinto College Class of 1993, was told in elementary school that he was not college material. Born in a small shack without running water, Howard defied the odds by becoming the first person in his family to attend college. As a first-generation student placed in developmental classes, Howard was not expected to excel in life. He proved the naysayers wrong, earning five college degrees, and 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. After leaving the military, Howard had 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 was laid off and decided to pursue college.

Having unsuccessfully tried another two-year college almost a decade earlier, he hesitated to enroll at San Jacinto College. However, that all changed after just one visit. “When I visited the campus, I found a friendly encouraging environment,” he commented. “The faculty and staff were simply amazing, giving me much-needed confidence. Despite requiring developmental 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 earned an associate degree in welding technology from San Jacinto College, and after earning his degree was encouraged by the retiring department chairman to apply to become his replacement. Howard followed up on the suggestion, and was named the welding department chairman. Howard said noncredit developmental classes were key to overcoming anxieties and doing well as a college student, something he once thought would never happen. “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 GPA) with a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Texas. He has also participated in post-doctoral training at Pennsylvania State University and Harvard University.

As an alumnus of two community colleges and now serving as president of a two-year technical college, Howard knows firsthand about the value of such institutions. “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 and 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.”

To read more about Dr. Howard, visit