After working at Southeast Community College for 30 years, it almost seemed surreal that Dr. Dennis Headrick, vice president for instruction, was spending his last days while working from home during a pandemic and the College would be closed.
“It seems weird that my last few days were working from home and I had limited impact with others and students,” Headrick reflected. “But I'm confident this will pass and we will get back to business. I do think this situation will have an impact on the future of education and how it is delivered.”
Headrick started working at SCC’s Beatrice Campus in 1990 as assistant campus director. His titles evolved and changed over the years from interim campus director to campus president to chief academic officer to vice president for instruction.
“I have several name plaques over the years,” he remembers. “As it was changing I would get a new one, as well as new business cards.”
When he started at SCC, each campus had its own independence, even though each operated under the Southeast Community College umbrella. That focus changed so they were all “one college” instead of three. Similarly, if the same programs were at more than one campus, they needed to have the same courses and content. Back then, Beatrice was the only campus with transfer classes.
“Then we added (Academic) Transfer to the Lincoln Campus, and more focus was spent in that area and growth in full-time equivalency,” he said. “But it seems in the last few years there is more focus in terms of jobs and training needs for employers that there is more focus back on career and technical programs.”
Headrick said one of the biggest changes he’s seen is the way courses are being taught, especially now with the world is experiencing a massive shut-down and students are learning from home and employees are working from home.
“With the COVID-19 situation, I think we will see a continued surge in online delivery and also see the areas that weren't offering education online will be in the future,” he said.
Originally from the small town of Shickley, Headrick was told by his high school counselor that he should skip college since he wasn’t a strong student academically. Instead, he enrolled at Fairbury Junior College and was a member of one of the first classes to graduate from the newly-named Southeast Community College in Beatrice. He then received a B.A in Business Education from Kearney State College (now University of Nebraska at Kearney) and worked as a teacher and coach in Wolbach, Palmer and Grand Island.
“I learned how to drive a school bus, and also coached volleyball, football, girls’ basketball and junior high track and field in addition to teaching,” he added.
He and his wife Lorie moved back to southeast Nebraska in 1980, and he worked at the Beatrice State Developmental Center for 10 years as a budget officer and then business manager. He missed the field of education and went to work at SCC. He never looked back.
Some of the things he’s most proud of include converting the College from a quarter academic calendar to one on semesters, the creation of the college’s first website, the Nebraska Transfer Initiative, the growth of online courses, dual-credit courses, The Career Academy, and the Nebraska Entrepreneurship Task Force.
He’s also had his share of challenges, including tornado damage, bomb threats, flooding, arson, a cross burning, facility issues, budgeting, and opposition from the Faculty Association. All in all, it’s the relationships with students and employees that will leave a lasting impression on Headrick.
“What I’ve enjoyed the most was interactions with students and employees and to see the success they had while at the College,” he said. “I had the opportunity to work with some excellent instructors and other employees at the College, but also statewide and nationally. I've been blessed to meet and work with people at levels outside of SCC that I would never guessed I would have.”
Headrick isn’t sure about his legacy, but hopes that this message will get across to students who don’t think they have what it takes to go to college. Headrick went on to earn his M.A. in Public Administration from the University of Nebraska Omaha and his Ph.D., with an emphasis in Higher Education, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I always hoped that we were making the College a better college,” he said. “We were trying to provide opportunities to other students who were like me, not perceived as being college material, and have the opportunity to be successful.”
Headrick and his wife will spend their retirement years traveling and hanging out with their daughters and grandchildren. He may even take up some new hobbies and continue teaching.
“I'll keep busy, but SCC will always be in my heart as I bleed SCC blue,” he said. “It’s been a great career.”