10 things you didn't know about Steven Combs, president and CEO of Maryland University of Integrative Health

For Howard Magazine

Steven C. Combs, former executive vice president and provost at Drury University in Springfield, Mo., took over April 3 as president and CEO of the Laurel-based Maryland University of Integrative Health, a nonprofit school of alternative medicine. The Los Angeles native says his health journey eventually led him to Howard County.

Here, Combs, 60, shares some interesting personal facts, like his love of “Star Wars,” Bruce Springsteen and working outdoors.

1. He is thrilled to combine his avocation with his vocation.

Combs is a strong believer in the benefits of chiropractic, herbs and acupuncture, as well as nutrition’s effect on performance.

“I’ve had an ongoing awakening to alternative medicine,” he says.

2. A trip to the beach with bodysurfing defines his perfect day.

As a native of Southern California, spending time in the waves and eating a meal someplace “where I can smell the ocean” remains Combs’ ideal getaway. He and his stepbrother John frequently biked the five miles from their childhood home in Torrance, Calif., to Hermosa Beach as kids.

3. He spent a heavenly semester teaching in Japan.

After Combs was named dean of Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu in 2005, he delayed his start date until spring so he could spend the fall semester teaching communications, in English, at Tsuda College, a private women’s university outside Tokyo. His wife, Kerry, and kids, Hayley and Ryan, who are now 18 and 21, accompanied him.

“I taught two days a week. We home-schooled the kids, and we had no mortgage and no car. It was an exciting adventure,” he says.

4. He’s a diehard fan of Bruce Springsteen.

Combs doesn’t go to many concerts, but he says there’s something special about Springsteen and his E Street Band.

“His music and what he brings to a live performance — there’s no one quite like him,” he says.

5. Serving on a murder trial jury left an indelible impression.

Selected as an alternate in a gang-related murder case 20 years ago, Combs had no vote on the defendant’s guilt or innocence, but felt strongly that the prosecution won in court without proving the facts.

“Here was a 20-year-old kid who was going to [wrongfully] die in prison,” he recalls thinking at the time. “I felt a sense of outrage and was terribly morose; that was the most poignant day of my life.”

6. He practices Daoism.

Combs believes so strongly in the Chinese mystical philosophy that emphasizes harmony that he wrote a book called “The Dao of Rhetoric” in 2005. In it, he connected animated films to his studies, such as “Antz,” which focuses on a communal society that solves its problems by working together, and “A Bug’s Life,” which displays a Western mindset in which a hero saves the day.

7. He was on his college debate team.

With forthcoming topics announced each summer at the University of Southern California, Combs put so much effort into preparing that he had no time to read for pleasure. “It was a lot of work, equivalent to getting my Ph.D.,” he says. After graduation, he devoured “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit.”

8. Landscaping is a creative outlet.

Combs likes working with flowers, shrubs and trees. The hobby “literally connects me to the soil,” he says, and he’s looking forward to planning for four seasons. “In L.A., our seasons were brush fire, mudslide, earthquake and riot,” he says.

9. ‘Star Wars’ is his all-time favorite movie.

Released in 1977, George Lucas’ cinematic tour de force was “so far advanced” from any movie he’d ever seen, Combs says. For him, it’s tops in the science fiction and action genres, and he especially appreciates its “underlying spiritual dimension.” He’s seen it in the theater a dozen times.

10. He has two favorite baseball teams now.

Combs is enjoying rooting for the Orioles while maintaining his lifelong allegiance to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I figure it’s OK since they play in different leagues,” he says. That philosophy doesn’t translate to pro football teams, though. “I’m a Steelers fan by marriage,” he quips.

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