Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Dr. Ken Boham’s career in education is recognized by the I.E. Ready Lifetime Achievement Award

Voiced by Amazon Polly

Dr. Kenneth Boham added another achievement to his decades-long career in education this spring when he was recognized with the I.E. Ready Lifetime Achievement Award by the North Carolina Community College System.

Boham began his career in education as an instructor at Central Prison and eventually became the president of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI) for 21 years. He has also served as an interim president at four other community colleges.

After four decades, Boham’s advice to other educational leaders is simple: “If you look at your decision-making through the filter of, ‘Is it good for the student?’ then you can pretty much bet it will be the right decision.”

When asked about his achievements, Boham pointed to his mentorship of future college presidents as one of the proudest accomplishments of his career.

Surry Community College president David Shockley worked under Boham at CCC&TI. In Shockley’s letter endorsing Boham for the I.E. Ready award, he wrote:

“Currently, there are three sitting presidents and one retired president who worked directly for Dr. Boham. And remarkably, all three of the current sitting presidents have received the NCCCS President of the Year Award. Additionally, Dr. Boham mentored three other current presidents in the NCCCS and one former president in the NCCCS who is now a president in another state. His impact on helping others develop into community college leaders further demonstrates his commitment to the NCCCS. A big part of his legacy has been to help prepare others to lead the community college system he loves so much.”

In addition to Shockley, Garrett Hinshaw and Mark Poarch, both current community college presidents, served under Boham at CCC&TI. When asked about Boham’s impact on the community college system, these three leaders shared:

“Ken Boham left a leadership imprint on the North Carolina Community College System that will pay dividends for the system for years to come. His legacy of preparing future presidents is second to none, and his passion for community colleges in North Carolina set the standard for future leaders within our system.”

– Garrett Hinshaw, president at Catawba Valley Community College

“Dr. Boham has spent over 40 years providing visionary leadership and advancing the mission of the North Carolina Community College System. His contributions to NCCCS epitomize the characteristics instilled by Dr. I.E. Ready and have left a legacy that will impact this system for decades to come.”
– Mark Poarch, president at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI)

“I was fortunate to work directly with Dr. Boham for several years, and he had a profound impact on my professional career. It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to learn from one of the best presidents and leaders to ever serve in the North Carolina Community College System.”
– David Shockley, president at Surry Community College

Poarch and Shockley both cited Boham’s commitment, love, and passion for the system as core to his legacy.

Before his tenure as president of CCC&TI, before serving as interim of four other colleges, and long before he mentored future college leaders, Boham’s interest in education blossomed in Northampton County.

Dr. Ken Boham in his office at the Caldwell Community College campus. Courtesy of Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute

From working in Central Prison to returning home and finding a career

In 1978, Boham was looking to leave his job at Central Prison when a job opened up in Northampton County, his home before moving to Raleigh to attend North Carolina State University (NC State).

Northampton County was served by both Halifax Community College and Roanoke-Chowan Community College. The two institutions wrote a collaborative grant to create a position that would serve the people of the county through both colleges.

“I quickly discovered this is the kind of work I wanted to do,” Boham said. “I could see a direct, positive impact from my work on the lives of those that I served.”

It was in those moments that education went from his job to his chosen profession. As Boham considered his own trajectory, he decided to purse a graduate degree. He enrolled in the Master’s of Education program at NC State while remaining in Northampton County.

Boham enjoyed pursuing his master’s degree while continuing to serve his friends and neighbors at home. According to Boham, he enjoyed much of his coursework, but it was his final course at NC State taught by Dr. Edgar Boone that proved pivotal.

Boone founded and led the Department of Adult and Community College Education at NC State. He would later hold the W. Dallas Herring Professorship as well.

Boone wrote words of praise and provided direction on Boham’s final paper in the course: “This is an excellent paper. I look forward to you applying to the doctoral program here at NC State.”

Boham wasn’t quite ready to make that jump, but he did accept a job as Assistant Housing Director at NC State, which both provided him with income and the ability to take classes at the university for $5 a semester.

“You know, that was a pretty dang good deal,” he said, smiling.

Boham’s work at NC State kept him in education, but it had removed him from the kind of service-oriented work that had originally inspired his career.

“I felt like I was taking care of Maslow’s lower hierarchy of needs only,” he said. “The campus needs someone in that role, but it wasn’t generating the kind of impact that I wanted to achieve.”

Dr. Boone’s assistant reached out as Boham wrestled with his next steps and said, “Dr. Boone instructed me to keep an eye out for your application for the doctoral program. When can I expect it to arrive?” Boham filed his application for the program shortly thereafter.

As Boham worked on his doctorate, he also accepted a role at Wake Technical Community College.

Boham learns what it takes to “sit in the president’s chair”

Gov. Robert “Bob” Scott served as the president of the North Carolina Community College System from 1983 to 1995. Boham was 10 years into his tenure at Wake Tech. He had earned his doctorate while serving in a variety of roles at Wake Tech, and he had spent time with Dr. Boone, Dallas Herring, and other community college leaders across the state.

In 1994, Scott called Boham to ask if he would consider serving as interim president of Mayland Community College.

“You didn’t say no to Governor Scott,” Boham said.

Then-Wake Tech president Bruce Howell made what Boham labeled “an instrumental investment” in his career when he allowed him to go lead Mayland as an interim while retaining his position at Wake Tech. This move was not unprecedented, but it was rare. Boham said that the knowledge of his job remaining open at Wake Tech allowed him a certain comfort level to say yes to the interim role.

Boham enjoyed the experience of being a college president for the first time. When he returned to Wake Tech from Mayland, Howell called him in for a meeting and told him, “Well, now you know what it is like to sit in the president’s chair. I don’t expect you to be here much longer.”

Soon thereafter, Boham began to search for an opportunity to serve as a full-time college president. He was a finalist at Cape Fear Community College but didn’t get the job. The presidency at CCC&TI opened up shortly thereafter.

Boham assumed the presidency at 39 — and for some time had the honor of being the youngest president in system history. Boham served as president of CCC&TI from 1995 until 2016.

Over the course of his tenure, CCC&TI experienced significant growth on their Caldwell campus with several new buildings and enrollment growth. The college also launched a Watauga County campus for the first time.

Dr. Ken Boham with his family early in his tenure at Caldwell Community College. Courtesy of CCC&TI

One key decision for CCC&TI under Boham’s leadership was to place an employee in each high school in the county.

“I knew the counselors were overworked in the K-12 system,” said Boham. “I asked the then-Caldwell County Schools superintendent Tom McNeel if we could place an employee in each high school.”

The ultimate outcome of this strategy exceeded expectations.

CCC&TI would end up enrolling one in three high school graduates from Caldwell County Schools annually by the end of Boham’s tenure. This strategy was a precursor to the college and career coaches now at work statewide.

“I believed deeply in community colleges serving high school students and serving them well,” Boham said.

CCC&TI later became one of the first community colleges to make a commitment to launch an early college, and that early college became a national blue ribbon school.

Here is a partial list of Boham’s accomplishments:

  • During his tenure, the college grew significantly. Additional buildings were added to the Caldwell County campus, including the John Forlines Building, the Faye A. Broyhill Building and Appalachian State University Center, Caldwell Early College High School, and the Transportation and Public Safety Center.
  • The college established and expanded CCC&TI’s first permanent campus in Watauga County, which now includes seven buildings.
  • The college was an early pioneer in establishing a seamless pathway from high school to community college to university. They were one of the first colleges to launch a middle college and an early college. Boham also led the college to offer Appalachian State University the ability to have a facility on the CCC&TI campus in Caldwell County.
  • He was the first college president to establish career coaches (transition advisors) in area high schools.
  • He was awarded the 2003 NCCCS President of the Year.
  • He increased accessibility to higher education through the expansion of the CCC&TI Foundation’s Dream Scholar tuition guarantee program.
  • He supported the county’s economic development efforts through the establishment of the state’s first NCWorks Career Planning and Placement Center.

Boham was also the recipient of numerous awards and accolades during his time as president. A building on CCC&TI’s Caldwell Campus is named the Kenneth A. Boham Building in his honor. He received several awards, including the Caldwell County Chamber of Commerce Visionary Award, the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission Herman Anderson Award, and the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission Partner of the Year. He was also awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

After his retirement from CCC&TI, Boham did not stay away from the community college system for long. NCCCS board member Scott Shook called him and asked if he’d be interested in helping out Martin Community College. Boham promptly said yes.

He would later lead James Sprunt Community College after James Sprunt’s president Lawrence Rouse left to become president of Pitt Community College.

As his tenure at James Sprunt drew to a close, Boham was asked to return to Martin by the college’s board of trustees.

“I was honored to return to Martin. My second tenure lasted long enough earn about 425,000 Hilton Honor points since I lived at the Hampton Inn,” Boham joked.

“It really is nice to know that there’s more than one board of trustees in the state of North Carolina that would want you,” he said.

Reflections on a long career

Boham fondly remembers “sitting at the feet” of the system’s “founding father” Dallas Herring both at his home in Rose Hill and the casket factory where he made his living.

“Dallas Herring came up with the idea of a system that would take the individual from where they are to where they want to be,” recounted Boham. “His vision became an amazing accomplishment. This idea became a reality and helps hundreds of thousands of people across North Carolina every single year.”

Herring, Boham said, was a major proponent of community colleges serving as open door institutions, and he had a lot of anxiety about any move that would lead to community colleges moving from an open door to an “open door with screens or locks on the door,” Boham said.

The community college system’s commitment to serving all students and “taking them from where they are to where they want to go” was a guiding light for Boham’s career, and it is one of the primary reasons he loved his job.

“I have no idea what it is like to go to a job that you dislike,” Boham said. “That has to be a miserable, miserable feeling.”

When asked to try to sum up his career, Boham said:

“I’ve run into some extraordinary issues while leading. I’ve faced challenges and had to straighten things out. I believe in our system’s mission. I believe in making a difference. There are lives to change and people who need us, and we are ready to serve them. And as long as this is our work and our mission, then it will never be drudgery.

People I respect, and who have respect for me, will say that I was not shy in terms of speaking up. Sometimes in speaking up, it was misconstrued, but I hope people know that it was from the heart. When I spoke up, it was aimed at making things better and it was filtered through the lens of making things better for the students.

I was truthful in what I said, and people did not have to wonder what I was thinking.”

— Dr. Ken Boham

As far as his hope for the future of the North Carolina Community College System, Boham said, “I hope that people know, see, and feel the value of our community college system for a long time to come.”

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.