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Love — and attainment — at our 58 community colleges

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We all have our favorite love stories.

For Valentine’s Day, we hope you will enjoy these love stories that include our 58 community colleges, and some of our favorite community college storytellers.

Post your community college love stories on Twitter, now X, and tag @EducationNC.

Sparks really fly in this welding shop at Blue Ridge Community College

When I visited Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) in April 2021, President Dr. Laura Leatherwood and I stopped by to see Matt Broome. Broome teaches welding, and he had recently been nominated by a student for the 2021 Dr. Eliza B. Graue Extra Mile Award.

But what I remember most about that visit was a story Broome told us about family.

“We see our students day in and day out for two years,” said Broome. “This shop environment becomes essentially like a family. There is the accountability of a family. We rally like a family.”

At the time, there were three women in the welding program, and there had been as many as nine.

Broome told us about a student named Beth Dechant. She started the welding program at age 17 as a dually enrolled high school student, and she graduated with an associate’s degree in welding from BRCC at 19.

Broome said Dechant started out earning $19.50 an hour, but as soon as she passed her welding test at age 20, she was earning $31.50 an hour. Eight years later, she is currently employed as a welder/fabricator at KDS Windsor in Hendersonville.

“She was the one who got engaged in the shop,” Broome smiled. “She and her husband, James Pratt, came through the program at the same time.”

Courtesy of Beth Pratt

Broome went on to be in the wedding of his students in May 2019.

Courtesy of James Pratt

This video of the couple’s wedding created by Paige Broome — the welding instructor’s wife — reminds us why stories about love bring us hope and joy for the future.

“Students sign up for a welding course, but end up with family,” says Broome.

This couple’s journey continues at Robeson Community College

Editor’s Note: This is excerpted and edited from this story first posted by Cheryl Hemric for Robeson Community College.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Bobby Clark said, with his fiancé Rebecca Jones and daughter Miah by his side. 

Rebecca Jones, Bobby Clark, and daughter Miah. Courtesy of Robeson Community College

Clark and Jones decided to go back to school at Robeson Community College (RCC) “to leave a legacy to our children,” Clark said. “Something good, not bad,” Jones added.

Clark just recently graduated from RCC’s Barber Program and is currently working at an apprenticeship to get his license. Jones is working on completing her degree in cosmetology and should be finished soon. 

Clark and Jones were always interested in cutting and styling hair, but at times it seemed like that dream was out of reach.

“I’ve always wanted to do hair,” Clark said. “I grew up watching people cut hair.” 

“Vocational Rehab helped me pay for school,” Clark said. “It did a lot for me, paid for schooling, my test, and permit…. The Lumbee Tribe gave me gas money every two weeks… I thank God for that.”

“We cherish the life we are building together,” Jones says.

With hope and a future, the couple aspires to continue in the barbering and cosmetology industry, possibly opening up their own salon together one day.

It all started with a wink

Editor’s Note: This is excerpted and edited from this story first posted by Surry Community College.

“That boy winked at me. And I thought he was so cute that I winked back,” says Lu Ann Venable Browne. “I’d never winked at a boy before!”

Lu Ann first met her husband in a BASIC Language Computer Programming class at Surry Community College in 1980.

After each class, students could continue to work in the computer lab to complete their assignments. That same evening during the lab, Lu Ann walked up to the boy who winked at her to ask his name. When he said his name was “Charlie Browne,” she demanded to see his driver’s license thinking he was teasing her with a fake name.

“I never dreamed I’d eventually become Mrs. Charlie Browne,” she says, laughing.

The couple married in January 1985 and just recently celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary.

Charlie and Lu Ann Browne in 1981 and now. Courtesy of Surry Community College

Charlie says, “My degree at Surry served me so well. It provided a foundation for me to have a lifelong career in the medical industry. Because I learned about electronics at Surry, I was able to use that knowledge to work on x-ray machines, MRI machines, CT scanners, and more, and all that eventually led me to my path in medical information technology.”

Lu Ann received her associate in science and associate in arts degrees from SCC in 1981 and transferred to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) where she obtained a bachelor of science degree in computer science. She went on to have a career in information technology (IT).

“It’s wonderful to have a local institution where you can meet lifelong friends and get a good education that will serve you your whole life,” said Charlie.

Charlie and Lu Ann are the parents of Laura Browne, EdNC’s newest reporter.

Mr. and Mrs. Stephenson are “On the Way”

Courtesy of Derick Lee

A special shout out this Valentine’s Day from the whole EdNC team to Derick Lee Stephenson and Tamara Crochran. Derick proposed to Tamara at the conclusion of his spoken word poetry event in Charlotte titled “On the Way” on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, which was funded in part by the N.C. Arts Council. You can follow Derick on Instagram @justdamessenger.

The two met in Edgecombe County where they were both public school teachers. Derick now works with EdNC, and Tamara is a college and career coordinator for Central Piedmont Community College.

It was a night and is a love story our team will never forget.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.