Elon shapes the education career of superintendent Andrew Houlihan ’01

Andrew Houlihan’s ’01's journey to superintendent of Union County Public Schools all started with a visit to Elon University.

Andrew Houlihan poses for a photo with two children
Superintendent Andrew Houlihan poses with students at a symposium.

During Andrew Houlihan’s ’01 junior year in high school, the search for a suitable four-year university in North Carolina led him to an unexpected yet fateful visit to Elon University.

His parents, having visited Elon for a work event, encouraged him to explore the campus. The moment he stepped foot on the grounds, he knew it was the place for him. Enrolling in the fall of 1997, he pursued a degree in elementary education and immersed himself in various extracurricular activities. He participated in intramural sports, was President of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity and studied abroad in London.

Houlihan received a full tuition scholarship as a North Carolina Teaching Fellow, a prestigious state award for high school students dedicated to teaching for at least three years. The award provided Houlihan opportunities he would not have had otherwise.

“This scholarship enabled me to work alongside my Teaching Fellows peers as a cohort and helped provide various activities that range from state/national education policy work to the study abroad experience,” Houlihan said. “In addition, I was able to really benefit from high quality teaching and learning experiences through the school of education.”

Gravitating toward leadership

Group of people pose together
Houlihan and his Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers.

Upon graduating from Elon, he embarked on his teaching career at AB Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Initially, Houlihan resisted following in his father’s footsteps in becoming a superintendent. His perspective evolved once he began teaching.

“As the son of a superintendent, I grew up never wanting to do ‘what he did,’” Houlihan said. “My perspective changed, however, when I began teaching. I gravitated toward leadership and leadership roles, was supported to pursue such by my principal and took the necessary steps to attain additional degrees that would qualify me for such.”

After completing his master’s degree and doctorate, he became the principal of Parker Elementary School, a music magnet school in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) in 2010.

A positive impact

Houlihan then took on several district level roles within HISD, including Chief Academic Officer, with the goal of becoming a superintendent in the future. In 2016, Houlihan was named superintendent of Union County Public Schools, just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Group of people pose together
Houlihan and his Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers.

“The most rewarding part of my journey has been the positive impact made for the students I have served, and the success they are having after graduating from high school” he said. “From teaching a 7-year-old how to read, to watching my students perform in national concerts as a principal, to celebrating our high school students’ plans for college, career or military enlistment now as a superintendent, the journey so far has been beyond rewarding.”

Elon University played a crucial role in preparing Houlihan for his career. The comprehensive lessons and leadership experiences he gained equipped him with essential skills and strategies.

Andrew Houlihan poses with a group of children
Houlihan and students in a classroom.

Elon’s emphasis on time management, organization and collaboration further honed his abilities. The study abroad program in London broadened his perspectives and instilled values and beliefs that continue to inform his leadership and decision-making.

Elon’s investment

Looking ahead, Houlihan’s professional goal is to sustain and enhance the outstanding work at UCPS as ensuring that his school system is providing a high-quality education in a safe environment for all students.

“Personally, our family’s collective goal is to ensure our children are thriving and successful in whatever they decide to pursue after high school,” he says. “Our oldest graduates from high school next year and our youngest the year after. Getting them prepared for college and ensuring they select the right fit, like Elon was for me, is job number one”.

Houlihan attributes his success and the success of his peers to Elon’s investment in students.

“The faculty and staff, university leadership, school culture and sense of family truly separate Elon from many other colleges in our nation,” he says. “When students graduate, they are highly prepared to enter a world ready to be successful and equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to do so. I am so very thankful for my time at Elon, for the life-long friends I made and for the outstanding education I received.”