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Even rock stars change careers

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Former Talking Heads percussionist Steve Scales tackles a math assignment at Housatonic Community College (Connecticut),  where he is pursuing an associate degree in human services.

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Photo: Housatonic Community College​

​Steve Scales had his Monday night planned—first, homework, then, watching football. It may have been a typical evening for a student, but it was a far cry from how Scales used to spend his evenings.

Scales is best known as the former percussionist of Talking Heads, a new wave band from the 1970s and ‘80s. He’s also recorded with Tom Tom Club, the Psychadelic Furs and Yoko Ono, to name a few. He’s toured with Tina Turner and Bryan Ferry and played with jazzman David Sanborn.

Now, Scales has a new role: student. The percussionist is in his second semester at Housatonic Community College (HCC) in Connecticut.

“Going from a full-time rock star to a student is kind of humbling,” Scales said.

A plan to help other veterans

Scales is working toward an associate degree in human services with a goal of being a counselor. He plans to eventually transfer to get a bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s degree.  Scales, a Vietnam-era veteran, hopes to use his education to help other veterans.

“I watch the news and see that there are a lot of veterans coming home with a lot of problems,” Scales said. “If I could get a degree in counseling, they would talk to me because I could relate to them.”

Getting used to school life has been a bit of an adjustment for the former “king of clubbing,” he admitted. Recently, he received an invitation to a birthday party for a friend—a well-known photographer. When deciding whether to go to the party, Scales had to take into account his class schedule—he has an 8 a.m. class on Thursdays.

It’s not just the schedule, though. The classes, too, have given him a little anxiety.

“It’s been a lot of years since I was last in school,” Scales said.

Algebra, especially, has been stressful. But Scales was able to use HCC’s tutoring services and it’s finally started to “click.”

“It’s a weight off my shoulders. It gave me the feeling that I know I can make it,” he said.

In good company

About half of the 6,000 students at HCC are considered nontraditional, ranging in age from 25 to 91. Some, like Scales, are working toward a new career. Some headed back to college to get their career started. Most take advantage of the college’s support services, including math and writing tutoring, and computer literacy training.

For students like Scales, who need a little extra help with math, the college offers Mega-Math Tuesdays and Fridays. Students can stop by the Academic Support Center​ and get math tutoring in small groups for classes ranging from basic math to calculus. It’s a popular program, according to HCC President Anita Gliniecki.

“There’s a reputation that if you really want to do well, the smart students go for Mega-Math tutoring,” Gliniecki said.

Scales also has a lot to contribute in his classes. After more than 30 years of traveling the world, he can add to in-class discussions on nearly any topic.

It can be intimidating for mature students to step into the classroom, but they bring life experience, Gliniecki said. Bringing together younger and mature students, with their different knowledge and skills, can make for a more “exciting class,” too, she added.

A new mindset

Outside the classroom, Scales hasn’t given up music entirely. He plays every week at church. He also performs at the Smooth Jazz for Scholars concert every year, which benefits the music department at Milford Public Schools in Connecticut. His real focus now, though, is on his studies.

Going back to school has taken a “new mindset” for Scales, but starting at a community college was the “best move for me to make,” he said. He  added that he feels comfortable at HCC, where he’s “not just a number.” 

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