Ken Atwater likes being a big man on a small campus.
That's where the new dean of students at Howard Community College feels at his best, giving students individual attention and helping them as they proceed in higher education.
That's also where he finds his rewards: the knowledge that he has a hand in guiding students, furthering their goals and molding them into well-educated, productive members of society.
"It's just ideal," he said. "I like the opportunity to be able to respond to community needs. And I like the individual attention given to students."
In August, the 40-year-old Tennessee native took the place of Dean Walter Bumphus, who left to become president of Brookhaven College in Texas. Dr. Atwater won the position out of a field of more than 100 applicants nationwide.
As dean of students, Dr. Atwater is responsible for such areas as admissions, registration, financial aid, job placement and athletics.
Among his first priorities is to develop a computerized registration system that would allow students to sign up for classes by the touch of the telephone.
He also is working on setting up a system that would let students punch a button to hear and see professors talk about their classes before signing up for them.
Dr. Atwater, who describes himself as an avid golfer who likes to keep in close touch with his parents and two brothers in Tennessee, is no stranger to the area.
He worked at nearby Catonsville Community College, also as dean of students, from 1988 to 1990, when he left to become vice president for student development services at South Carolina's Midlands Technical College.
While there, he was an effective leader, said James L. Hudgins, president at Midlands.
"His greatest contribution was in developing relationships with the community and other institutions," he said.
Dr. Atwater jumped at the chance to come back to the Maryland area, and especially to work at Howard Community College, which he calls a leader in innovative thinking and strategies among two-year colleges.
"Howard is probably at the forefront at developing customer-oriented, student-oriented, high-quality education," Dr. Atwater said. The school also is aggressive about staff training and development, he said.
His interest in two-year college administration stems from his own undergraduate years at Kentucky's Murray State University, four-year institution.
He originally flirted with several majors, including premedicine and communications, before deciding on becoming an administrator at two-year colleges. He later graduated with a combined degree in speech, theater and sociology.
At the urging of a professor who taught higher education, particularly regarding two-year colleges, he went on to study guidance counseling at his alma mater. He later earned his doctorate in higher education at Southern Illinois University.
Dr. Atwater's operating philosophy is that hard work is the key to success. He tells a story about his best friend, retired Dallas Cowboys defensive end Ed "Too Tall" Jones, whom he has known since childhood and whose picture hangs in his office.
Mr. Jones played basketball throughout high school in Jackson, Tenn., and initially was recruited by Big Ten schools to play basketball, Dr. Atwater said.
Though he wasn't the best football player around -- his Tennessee State University coach gave him the nickname "Too Tall" because special uniforms had to be made to fit his 6-foot-9-inch frame -- Mr. Jones persevered and became a No. 1 draft pick.
When the two friends reminisce these days, they can't believe what they've accomplished.
He credits their successes to their close-knit childhood community in Jackson, Tenn., where neighbors watched out for neighbors' children and residents had a sense of responsibility for one another.
"The community in which we grew up . . . was the family," he says. "As I look at social problems of society today, the concept of the extended family is not there anymore. The extended family has a substantial impact on our values and development."