Meet the Columbia College Nationwide directors

Stephen Stephany, director of Columbia College–Lake County, Ill., and northern regional director and Michael Matheny, director of Columbia College–Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: the joys and challenges of living abroad

jigsaw puzzle

Stephen Stephany, director of Columbia College–Lake County and the college's northern regional director, and Michael Matheny, director of Columbia College–Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are intimately acquainted with the U.S. military: Stephany through 23 years in the U.S. Air Force, Matheny through his time at Guantanamo. Stephany has traveled all over the world and Matheny was an at-risk teenage program wilderness guide. Now, despite living in what he calls "the largest gated community on the planet," Matheny has discovered unexpected beauty in Cuba – under the water.

Stephen Stephany, director of Columbia College–Lake County, northern regional director: the joys and challenges of living abroad

Stephen Stephany
Stephen Stephany, director of Columbia College–Lake County and northern regional director, has done things most people can only dream about: shaking hands with then-Pope John Paul II; traveling all over Europe; and living in Prum, Germany; Tanagra, Greece; Naples, Italy; and Brunssum, the Netherlands.

Stephany spent 23 years in the U.S. Air Force, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel and commanding an entire installation in Germany, among many other duties and assignments. He says he very much enjoyed the challenges of living in different cultures. It was not always easy but "as a family, we were lucky to be able to live on the local economy in Italy and the Netherlands," he says. "It’s the best way to learn about the culture. Our next door neighbor in Italy gave my wife Italian cooking lessons. You can’t beat that!"

Stephany says he and his family probably enjoyed Naples most of all.

"The people in Italy drive crazy and I loved it. It stayed with me – I tend to drive more aggressively than most drivers." And, he says the beautiful weather "allows for so many outdoor activities -- there was always something to do." Stephany also played on the Air Force softball team in Naples and in 1983 his team was the USAFE softball champions.

After those 23 years came the inevitable shift from military to civilian life. This can be a very difficult transition for veterans but Stephany succeeded, he says, because he knew he wanted to go into higher education and was lucky enough to meet someone who encouraged and mentored him.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Maria Malayter’s help [assistant professor, applied behavioral sciences, National-Lewis University]. I owe her much.”

Several family members had also worked in education and loved it, and he'd always been passionate about it. He taught at North Park and National-Louis universities, where his passion for teaching ensured his selection as Instructor of the Year in 2003. Stephany became director of the Lake County campus that year, director of the Illinois region in 2005 and director of the northern region, which includes the college's two New York campuses, in July 2008.

“Many of my leadership roles in the military were very similar to the structure of the Nationwide campuses,” he says, particularly being installation commander in Germany, responsible for, well, everything. Just like in Germany, he says, "my boss is hundreds of miles away and running the campuses requires constant, effective communication and following established policies and procedures. Communication is critical to success in both these roles," he says.

Stephany earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Regis University, Denver, Colo., in 1970 and his master's degree in business administration from Gonzaga University, Spokane, Wash., in 1980.

Michael Matheny, director, Columbia College–Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: wilderness guide and scuba diver

Michael Matheny
Michael Matheny, director, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also has endured his share of dramatic change, most recently a 3,400-mile move from the Puget Sound in Washington state to Guantanamo Bay, where his wife is a family practice physician at the naval hospital. Matheny was working as a financial consultant with AXA Advisors. He built a practice serving individual clients as a retirement benefits specialist and marketing his business within the public education sector.

"The autonomy of building a business and the quality relationships built with clients are the hardest things to let go of," he says from Cuba.

Matheny is a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School and has logged thousands of miles on foot, on skis and afloat as a wilderness guide for at-risk teenage programs. That experience led to more education and clinical training to serve kids and families in crisis with a company that operated boarding schools and therapeutic adventure programs.

He says the biggest adjustment from the cool, misty Puget Sound to tropical Cuba was the change in freedom and “living in the largest gated community on the planet,” he says, referring to the huge, sprawling fence surrounding the base manned by armed guards 24/7. "The fence line lit up at night that separates the base from the real Cuba is a haunting reminder of just how remote we are from the mainstream world,” he says.

Romance Cove
Still, he says, he likes it very much, especially after discovering the pristine waters of Guantanamo Bay. Five years ago, he registered for scuba lessons with the intention of becoming certified; he did become certified but didn't pursue scuba further. Until the "world class scuba diving" of Guantanamo Bay, that is.

Matheny says the clear water is due to the base's isolation and zero tourism. "The sea life here is like nothing I’ve ever seen before," he says. "I’ve had countless encounters with sea turtles, moray eels, sting rays, ocean floor cliffs and thousands of reef fish. These have become common experiences which remind me how great and rare an opportunity living in this place really is."

He says he also feels privileged to be helping educate military personnel. “Columbia College made a good decision to provide the base with higher education opportunities," he says, "offering the brave servicemen and -women a quality education. I've been very moved by their strong convictions and determination to get ahead in the service, or transition successfully to civilian life," he says.

Matheny became director of Columbia College–Guantanamo Bay in July 2010. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Kentucky and a master's of education in counseling and human services from the University of Idaho.