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Grace, the pandemic, and trailblazers in our community college system

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Welcome to the latest edition of Awake58. We appreciate you allowing us into your inbox. If you received this email without a subscription, please click here to subscribe to this newsletter.

Our podcast with A-B Tech president John Gossett and vice president of instructional services Beth Stewart is now live… We are publishing the NC State Belk Center Trailblazers series this week… Findings from Louisiana’s FAFSA pilot…

“This pandemic has caused a societal change that is unlike anything we have ever seen,” Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College president John Gossett shared recently. “Employers are begging people to come to work. And they’re just not coming back. We’re begging students to come to school. And they’re slowly trickling in, but not like we thought they would.”

This comment comes from our recent podcast with Gossett and his colleague Beth Stewart. Based off our recent travels, it seems as if many of you would echo that comment.

I was in Robeson and Scotland counties last week with my colleagues Bridgette Cyr and Katie Dukes.

We spent a morning at UNC-Pembroke understanding the institution’s perspective in their role as a regional institution and the afternoon with the Lumbee Tribe at their cultural center. At both stops we dove deep on the region’s health outcomes, opportunities to bolster social mobility, and vaccine hesitancy in the region.

We were also hosted by Robeson Community College along with our partners at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

The next day we traveled to Scotland County to meet with their economic development director, the county manager, elected representatives, and Dale McInnis’ team from Richmond Community College.

Along the way, we discussed the past, present, and future of the region. A common thread was the role of the ongoing adaptations and iterations of our 58 community colleges to meet the demands of our shifting economic landscape during the pandemic — and the needed changes that might unfold in a post-pandemic world.

We will share more of our lessons from the road soon on

Thank you for reading Awake58 this week. Please know how much we appreciate you being part of our community.

I’ll see you out on the road,

Nation Hahn

Head of Growth —

EdNC reads

Listen | On grace, the pandemic, and A-B Tech

Over the course of 15 months, A-B Tech’s leadership team sat with me for conversation after conversation. I was fortunate enough to record many of these conversations in their entirety — and our talented podcast producer Alli Lindenberg worked with me to shape our most recent Awake58 podcast documenting the complex, chaotic, challenging last 15 months for one of our community colleges.

I hope that you will give our podcast a listen.

The stories that Beth Stewart, Vice President of Instructional Services for the college, shared would be well familiar, including this one:

“On March 13, there were 1,167 sections of classes in session. Only twenty-one percent of those classes were 100 percent online. We faced multiple challenges moving so many classes to a virtual environment including a skills gap for some faculty, inadequate technology to teach remotely, and concerns about Internet access, to name a few. To overcome these challenges, we identified technology resources scattered across campus and reassigned them to faculty. We launched rapid professional development on a variety of topics like Zoom, Moodle, and online best practices. We also offered virtual labs to our faculty where they could get individual help redesigning their classes. We secured virtual labs for science classes and simulators for Allied Health classes.”

Yet for all of the challenges, their hope for the future is what I take away from our conversation:

“This gives our students better opportunities to be able to take classes … and that’s going to be better for our parents who are students … who maybe can’t take classes during the day,” Stewart said. “They’re gonna be able to take those same classes at night or on the weekends, because they don’t have to have the physical access to the equipment … and that is going to do a lot more for access.”

Gossett echoed the need for A-B Tech, and other colleges, to continue to adapt:

“Our industry is created for the 18- to 21-year-old, with no mortgage, no bills, and no obligations… who can set aside two years, four years, and put everything else on the back burner… That is not reality anymore.”

As you may recall, many of these quotes also appeared in our long exploration of the lessons we took away from our time with A-B Tech.

Once you give our latest episode a listen, please let us know what you think!

Click here to listen

Trailblazer Profiles: Celebrating leaders of color in the North Carolina Community College System

In another special Awake58 podcast episode, my colleague Emily Thomas sat down with Dr. Audrey J. “A.J.” Jaeger to learn more about the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research’s Trailblazer Profiles project. According to the Belk Center, this project “highlights and celebrates the work of Asian, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx leaders in the North Carolina Community College System, specifically focusing on current and former community college presidents.”

Give the podcast a listen by clicking here.

The first edition of the Trailblazers project that we republished is focused on Pitt Community College president Lawrence Rouse. This quote from Rouse explains how his biography influences his leadership today:

“As an African American, I know that there have been times where I felt that my story was not heard or that I may not have been listened to on my journey to becoming a community college president. So, I always make sure that, as the head of an institution and as a person, that I and my leadership team treat everyone equitably and also with dignity. We cannot just push people aside. We make sure that everybody feels good about who they are, where they’re from, and where they’re headed.”

The profile explores Rouse’s personal story and his career trajectory. Rouse also explains part of his vision for Pitt CC:

“No matter your background, we want to make sure that we are addressing your needs and also that we are working with our local business industries, with our local universities like East Carolina, NC State, and Campbell University. We can be that launchpad for students. My ever-present priority is to make Pitt more responsive to the needs of our students and to the needs of our community.”

Read the full profile by clicking below.

Read the Trailblazers profile on Lawrence Rouse

Around NC

A-B Tech president John Gossett wrote a guest perspective that I encourage you to read:

“Connection also means with our community. It means we need to serve everyone. Everyone! Every citizen in Buncombe and Madison Counties should feel they have a place at A-B Tech. Whether that is taking a class to earn a high school equivalency, preparing for university transfer, earning skills to get a better job, or learning something new just for fun, we want to be the community’s college.”

Mitchell Community College hosted North Carolina Community College System president Thomas Stith recently.

Nash Community College received support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The local paper cited NCC biology professor David Beamer explaining the grant: “This planning grant will be used to develop STEM learning modules connected to ongoing DNA research as well as a scientific field and laboratory tasks associated with data collection and analysis. Funds will be used for program development and instructional materials.”

According to the local press, Pitt Community College “is working with the John M. Belk Endowment, Greenville-Eastern North Carolina Alliance and Pitt County Economic Development to host the ‘Better Skills, Better Jobs’ job fair at the Greenville Convention Center.”

Richmond Community College hosted their convocation last week. The local media featured Richmond CC president Dale McInnis’ remarks: “Many of our students lost so much of their high school experience to the pandemic. We have to put in the extra effort for their academic, emotional and psychological recovery… The next 24 months will be an exciting and historic time for us. We have so many opportunities now, more than any other time in our history. New programs, funding, resources, spaces, services, and partnerships will continue to reshape our college.”

We visited Robeson Community College with Blue Cross NC. We had a lengthy dialogue about the impact of COVID-19 on RCC and the future of the college.

Wake Tech will partner with Wake County Public Schools on an early college that will be based in Research Triangle Park. The college will be called the Wake Early College of Information and Biotechnologies.

Other higher education reads

Key Takeaways From Louisiana’s FAFSA Now Pilot

The Education Commission of the States featured a guest perspective on lessons from Louisiana around their FAFSA Now work. This was a compelling takeaway on the importance of marketing:

“To educate students and parents about the benefits of FAFSA completion, LOSFA launched its FAFSA Now campaign. The campaign encourages families to complete the FAFSA to ensure they receive as much gift aid (free money) as possible to minimize loan debt. The FAFSA Now campaign also highlights the reasons students should complete the FAFSA. Namely, it’s free and students can possibly qualify for need-based, merit-based, special circumstance and/or institutional aid by completing the application. The campaign also reminds families to complete the form early, increasing the chance that students receive their college award letters sooner so they can know how much aid they will qualify for.”

Read the full post for additional lessons.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.