Brian Howard, Southwestern Michigan College’s new Manager of Dual Enrolled Student Success, helps 554 high school students simultaneously earn college credits.
Howard, who lives in Cass County’s Howard Township, joined SMC after 14 years at private Holy Cross College in Notre Dame, Ind., bringing considerable experience collaborating on first-year experience (FYE), onboarding and raising retention rates.
He served as Director of Academic Advising from 2007-2019 at Holy Cross, which has some 500 students and was founded in 1966.
Howard grew up in Auburn, a city of 4,700 south of Springfield in central Illinois where 63 graduated in his high school class. The oldest of six boys, he was the first person in his family to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in recreation administration from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in 1994.
“My first job was in Chicago for the Oak Lawn Park District,” Howard said. “I learned to drive a Zamboni (to resurface) the ice rink. I was assistant manager at a recreation center and ran adult sports. After about a year I decided it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I had a great experience at my university, so I got a master’s degree (in higher education administration from Southern Illinois in 1998) so I could work at a college or university. I realized I was meant to work with people one-on-one and help them. Higher education changed my life.”
Prior to Holy Cross, Howard was an academic advisor for seven years, 1998-2005, at Southern Illinois, Edwardsville, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo.
“My job is supporting dual-enrolled students, which entails working closely with students, parents, high school guidance counselors and SMC faculty and staff,” Howard said, “whether it’s helping students get an associate degree through Early Middle College or helping them get started in a technical field such as construction or welding. I visit high schools and meet with students to discuss their academic plan and share strategies to help them be successful in college. I’ll be presenting at parent nights to help inform the community about these opportunities for affordable access to college.
“By making sure the high schools are well-served by SMC, these students hopefully will have a good experience and strong start to their college life. Students who participate in dual enrollment are more likely to graduate with a college degree because of confidence built early on. I would have had a much better idea of my major if I was exposed to the college environment earlier.”
Howard wrote his master’s degree thesis on factors influencing transfer students to enroll at Southern Illinois. “It seems obvious, but I found the number-one factor was feeling happy with your major,” Howard said. “The major is so important for retention. Feeling like you’re in the right field and it’s a good fit, you’re more excited.”
His own struggles as the first person in his family to attend college made him more aware of the importance of compassion in the advising process. Helping students lets him draw from his own experiences and be the person he needed in college.
Niles is centrally located between his wife Melissa’s family in Saginaw and his in Illinois. She is a geologist who does environmental work for Mishawaka, Ind. Their twin daughters attend fifth grade.