Career Path to President of Hampden-Sydney College

Ronald W. Holmes, Ph.D.


By Ronald W. Holmes, Ph.D.
Vice President/ Education Editor

The job of college presidents is complex and taxing. Presidents must be involved in the life of their institutions such as speaking, advising, meeting, consulting, cajoling, delegating and fundraising. While learning from people is an important part of the job of presidents, the critical questions to be asked are: What career path can lead to president of a college? What educational background and professional training are essential for this profession? What influenced Dr. Christopher B. Howard to pursue a career in this profession? What advice does Howard give to students desiring to pursue a career as president of a college?

Dr. Christopher Howard, a renowned leader, speaker and scholar, is the 24th and first African-American president of Hampden-Sydney College (H-SC). H-SC is a private, liberal arts college for 1100 men, located on its historic campus 60 miles southwest of Richmond, Virginia, and has been in existence since 1775. During Howard’s tenure with H-SC, the college improved in the school year 2011-2012, seventeen spots in the US News & World Report rankings, the largest increase of any of the top 100 liberal arts colleges.

Prior to his role of president at Hampden-Sydney College, Howard served at the University of Oklahoma as vice president for Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, director of the Honors College Leadership Center and professor. He gained several years of managerial experience at the corporate level with Bristol-Myers Squibb and General Electric’s Corporate Initiative Group. He also served active duty in Afghanistan (2003) as intelligence operations and plans officer with the US Joint Special Operational Command.

For his achievements, Howard has been honored and recognized with numerous distinctions such as the Dominion Power’s Strong Men and Women: Excellence in Leadership Series, African-American Trailblazer by the Library of Virginia and featured in an Association Press Story published by The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Globe. He also has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, interviewed on CNN, PBS and PRI’s The Tavis Smiley Show, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Centre College and received a Bronze Star for his military duty in Afghanistan.

As a native of Mt. Pleasant, Texas, and raised in Plano, Howard is married to Barbara Noble Howard from Johannesburg, South Africa, and they have two sons (Cohen and Joshua). After retiring from the military as an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Howard says that he pursued the college presidency path after contemplating whether he should continue working in corporate America, the military, a non-profit organization or higher education. His decision was motivated by President David Boren of the University of Oklahoma, who recruited him from General Electric and offered leadership opportunities at the university. His tenure was four years at Oklahoma leading to his passion to be in a small liberal arts college such as H-SC “that teaches men to write well and engages them into the greatest conversation of civilization fostering a better of understanding of history and their place in it as good men and citizens,” says Howard.

With a strong parental background, it was instilled in Howard that the road to success is a quality education. Howard’s mother and father achieved valedictorian at their respective high schools and went on to college although they came from families of very limited means. Inspired by their example, Howard received a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from the US Air Force Academy and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. A Rhodes Scholar, he received a master’s and Ph.D. in politics from Oxford University. At the military Academy, Howard also received the Campbell Award, the highest academic award in the country presented to a senior football player; and was inducted into the Verizon Academic All- America Hall of Fame.

In 2011, Howard was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as a member of the National Security Education Program Board. He has membership in a wide range of other professional organizations including the Board of Directors at the American Council on Education, the Board of Directors of the Council of Independent Colleges of Virginia, the Board of Regents at Baylor University, the Advisory Board of the Morehouse Research Institute, the NCAA Division III Presidents Council, and served on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Commission to Ensure Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government. He was recently appointed by Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Robert McDonald, to serve on the “MyVA” Advisory Committee.

For students desiring to purse a career as a college president, Howard says that they should know that this job is not for “the faint of heart. It is a very intense enterprise. It is a job that does not give a lot of breaks, so you need to be deeply committed to the institution.” You need to determine the reasons you desire to become a college president whether it is for the academic setting, working with students, teaching or other purposes. You also need to become affiliated with associations such as the American Council on Education that prepares individuals to lead American colleges and universities through the ACE Fellows Program.

Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of eight books, “Education Questions to be Answered,” “Current Issues and Answers in Education,” “How to Eradicate Hazing,” “Professional Career Paths” “Your Answers to Education Questions,” “How to revitalize the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.” “Completing the Dissertation: Tips, techniques and real-life experiences from Ph.D. graduates” and “Jacob’s Dream, A Story of Careers for Children.” He is publisher of “The Holmes Education Post,” an education focused Internet newspaper. Holmes is a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at .