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Twin Ambition

April 22, 2009

They look a lot alike, sound a lot alike and even golf a lot alike.

Now, Kenneth L. and Steven C. Ender, identical twin brothers, are about to embark upon their second community college presidencies this summer. Call it fate or coincidence that their careers have mirrored one another’s in recent years, but the Enders say they could not have planned it better if they had tried.

Currently, the Ender brothers, 59, are wrapping up their first presidencies at institutions about five hours apart. Kenneth has been at Cumberland County College, in southern New Jersey, for 11 years, and Steven has been at Westmoreland County Community College, in western Pennsylvania, for four years.

In a few weeks, they will take over leadership positions they hope to maintain until their retirements. After pursuing multiple presidencies, Steven starts at Grand Rapids Community College, in Michigan, this May. Kenneth starts at Harper College in suburban Chicago, where he was recruited, this July.

Of the two, Kenneth first had ambitions of a career in higher education after working in student affairs while he and his brother were both undergraduates at Virginia Commonwealth University – where they both graduated with degrees in business management in 1973. After college, Kenneth worked as a residence hall coordinator at VCU before pursuing a master’s degree in education from the University of Georgia.

Steven was a soap product salesman for Colgate-Palmolive. When the corporate world proved not to his liking, he joined his brother at Georgia to study education. Smitten with the field, Steven stayed to finish his doctorate. Kenneth, however, returned to VCU, where he became director of student activities and later earned his doctorate.

After holding various administrative positions at Cleveland State University, Kenneth was named to the American Council on Education Fellows Program and studied under the leadership of Jerry Sue Thornton, president of Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio. This experience, he said, convinced him that he wanted to be at a two-year institution.

“[Thornton] spent a lot of time worrying about students, and I thought that was something I should be doing.” said Kenneth, comparing this to his experience at a four-year institution. “In fact, a lot of community college presidents spend their time doing that. That’s why I came into the business. It seemed a much better fit for me.”

After taking the presidency at Cumberland, Kenneth said he knew his brother would be an ideal fit at a community college.

“He and I share more in common than we do differently, especially our values and affinities for certain issues,” Kenneth said. “Even though he was a very important part of every university administration he’d ever been on, I just kept telling him, ‘This is the promised land. You’ve just got to find a way to get here.’ ”

As a result of his brother’s excitement for his new position and affection for community colleges, Steven took the presidency at Westmoreland, after more than 22 years in various administrative posts at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Both believe that the companionship of having a brother in the same position has been a boon to their careers, not a barrier. They even say they feel freer to discuss more sensitive matters than they might otherwise.

“When I was dealing with some rogue trustees, Ken was helpful as I tried to strategize how to handle those situations,” said Steven, noting that they talk at least once a week over the phone as well as exchanging e-mails. “We’ve even reached out to one another to discuss things like tuition increases or to determine what the future might look like at our institutions. We’ve been very helpful to one another throughout our careers.”

Kenneth shares his brother’s sentiment.

“The hardest thing for a president to do is find trusting colleagues with whom they can admit their foibles and uncertainties,” Kenneth said. “It’s a lonely job because there are not a lot of people to talk to. Fellow presidents are all right, but when you ask how things are going, they’re always going ‘terrific.’ Well, they’re not always ‘terrific.’ It’s good to have a twin who won’t love me any less for my shortcomings and will always be there to help me sort out a problem. Still, some days we don’t want advice and just want to grouse.”

This brotherly love will come to the test Oct. 24, two days after Steven’s formal installation at Grand Rapids. Kenneth and the Harper football team will be in town for a matchup the Enders have dubbed the “Twin Bowl.” Unbeknownst to both at the time of their hires, their new colleges’ football teams have been recent rivals on the gridiron.

Now, even before both have taken their new posts, the smack talk has started. But it's all in the spirit of fun and competition for the two brothers.

“Tell my brother I’ve got one heck of a defensive line, so I hope his quarterback’s a scrambler,” said Steven, taunting Harper, last year’s National Junior College Athletic Association Division III champions.

No matter the outcome of the big game, the Enders say they have had a winning relationship through the years as twin presidents.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I thought we wouldn’t be doing the same thing,” Kenneth said. “I just didn’t know it’d be presidents of [community colleges]. We’ve had a very collaborative, competitive way of doing things. That’s why this Harper-Grand Rapids alignment in which we find ourselves, in our 59th year of life, feels so good. I can’t say we planned it, but it seemed right.”

The Enders are not the first pair of siblings to simultaneously hold high-profile positions in higher education. Following World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower served as president of Columbia University while his younger brother, Milton, was the president at Kansas State University and later Pennsylvania State University. Soon after, Milton was president of Johns Hopkins University while Dwight was president of the United States. Harold Shapiro was the president of Princeton University during the 1990s while his twin brother, Bernard, was principal and vice-chancellor (the equivalent of president) at McGill University. More recently, Susan Herbst – new chief academic officer for the University System of Georgia – served as provost of the State University of New York at Albany while her older brother, Jeffrey, served as provost of Miami University in Ohio.

 

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