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How the smallest community college responded to COVID-19

Welcome to Awake58. Thank you for allowing us into your inbox again this week. If you missed last week’s newsletter on the path to becoming a president at a community college and an in-depth Q&A on faculty pay, click here. If you were forwarded this newsletter, please click here to subscribe.

We caught up with A-B Tech’s interim president to understand the decisions they have tackled during the pandemic… Jim Ross shared the story of how Pamlico has responded throughout the spring… Our podcast series Hope Starts Here hosted Audrey Jaeger of the Belk Center… Our survey for community college students continues…

Pamlico Community College president Jim Ross and I caught up several times in recent weeks regarding how one of North Carolina’s smallest public institutions of higher education responded to the pandemic. 

According to Ross, Pamlico had a headcount of 846 as the spring semester began. The town of Grantsboro, which plays host to Pamlico’s primary campus, had 688 residents as of the 2010 census. Even while our small towns and counties felt a world away from the pandemic this winter, Ross and his team began to plan.

Internet access and affordability has been an issue in rural North Carolina for decades, but attention on the issue exploded when the pandemic came, as work and education moved online for many.  

Ross shared his perspective on how connectivity challenges affect day-to-day learning: “Students who had relied on a college computer lab to complete assignments have been scrambling to transition to using their smartphones, their children’s computers, or borrowed devices. Finding Wi-Fi hot spots for those without internet service has also been a challenge. Students in seated classes accustomed to using only one component of Moodle faced a learning curve transitioning to all Moodle. And many students have reported missing face-to-face interactions.”

For specifics on the Pamlico response, check out the full story.

Despite the challenges, Ross’ trademark optimism remains intact. In one of our final emails, Ross concluded by saying,  “And we will indeed get through this. This too shall pass. Daily, I remind myself to never miss an opportunity to be kind and compassionate to all I encounter, and I regularly share that message to our employees, trustees and community partners. I am also reminding our employees to be kind and gentle to themselves, telling them they don’t have to be perfect, to do their best in all they do and then declare victory.”

And for another read on the reality facing institutions of higher education this fall, check out this piece from NPR that is worthy of your time.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on our coverage by replying directly to this email or by tweeting @Awake58NC. And be sure to check out @Awake58NC on Twitter each morning for the latest community college news. 

Take care,


Director of Growth,

How an interim president guided A-B Tech’s COVID-19 response

All 58 community colleges have been working through their COVID-19 response throughout the spring, but only a handful are dealing with the pandemic during a leadership transition. I recently conducted an email interview with A-B Tech’s interim president Joseph Barwick regarding the response of his institution.

The entire interview is worth a read as Barwick walked us through his decision making and the institution’s approach.

My first question was whether his tenure at Carteret Community College, where hurricanes pose frequent challenges, had shaped his leadership style and approach in this crisis. “COVID-19 is different in that it has caused all of us to change our ways of life,” Barwick said. “Houses still stand, but they have become mandatory sanctuaries. Stores still stand, but their businesses closed. Western-style education, which for centuries relied on groups of learners in the presence of teachers, has shifted to a medium of electronic connection.”

I thought you all would find Barwick’s perspective on the role of community colleges to be an interesting one. Do you agree on his vision for the role of the colleges moving forward? Email me directly or text COLLEGE to 73224 to share your perspective. Barwick’s note is below:

“I know that some pundits are saying some colleges and universities might not survive this crisis. But the North Carolina community colleges were formed by the Omnibus Higher Education Act in 1963 specifically to transform the state into a new economy.  Our colleges are change agents, and we will continue — with whatever resources, despite whatever crises — to move our students, our communities, and our state forward. We have moved in a matter of days from a robust and prosperous economy to one of devastating closures and rollbacks. We are potentially looking at austere funding worse than the recession, and we are looking at new challenges to lead students back into an educational trajectory that promises greater, but delayed, rewards. But we have a mission, and we will not lose sight of it.”

LISTEN | Audrey Jaeger on the Belk Center and assisting colleges on COVID-19

My colleague Alli Lindenberg started a podcast during the advent of COVID-19 called Hope Starts Here. The intent is to share a much-needed dose of optimism and a bright spot from somewhere across North Carolina. She recently caught up with Audrey Jaeger, the executive director of the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research, regarding the work of the Center in recent months.

I found this portion of the interview to be illuminating as we all consider the educational landscape to follow and what might be demanded of college leaders across the country:

“In terms of skills — both prior to, during, and through the pandemic — it’s important that leaders have the tools to make very fiscally responsible decisions. In the pandemic, it is even more relevant as resources are likely to decline. Making really good decisions and knowing how to develop additional resources, where to seek additional resources, and how to think about additional resources is really critical.”

“But going hand in hand with that, I think, is the ability to develop partnerships in regions across the state, across educational and business sectors, because we’re all facing similar kinds of things.”

“And so having the opportunity to work across sectors, it’s going to be essential for everyone to move to whatever the new normal is. And then I also think, both in our current situation, but clearly both before and after a crisis, presidents need to be really strong communicators. And one of the things that our survey is addressing is how our leaders are communicating and they want to know if they are doing a good job communicating. Communicating is that foundation of a really positive, strong culture which helps institutions move forward.”
For the full conversation, click here to give it a listen.

Perspective | On the front lines with James Sprunt CDL, truck driving alum Brianna Williams

I grew up in a family full of truck drivers, so I have a soft spot in my heart for perspectives on the industry. This perspective looks at the role of truck drivers during COVID-19, noting the multitude of ways that truck drivers are on the front lines of our supply chain.

Brianna Williams, a 2019 graduate of the CDL/Truck Driving program at James Sprunt Community College, is spotlighted in the piece. Read the piece to understand her perspective on why truck driving is essential during this time.

If you want more content on truck driving, check out my piece on our visit to Caldwell Community College or our subsequent video.

Please share this survey with your students regarding COVID-19 

Thousands of students from across the state have taken our survey on COVID-19 in the last week. We’ve heard inspiring stories, as well as heartbreaking ones. We’re collecting questions, feedback, and insights. And we would love for your students to join the conversation.

Will you please share the survey with students on your campus? It should take them less than 10 minutes, and we will select two respondents to receive Amazon gift cards. The link is available by clicking here.

Some good news from Mitchell Community College

Mitchell Community College in Statesville has reached its $100,000 fundraising goal for a scholarship endowment to honor Jordan Sheldon, a Mooresville police officer who was killed in the line of duty in May 2019. A gift from NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski’s Checkered Flag Foundation last week put the college over the goal for the scholarship, which will be awarded each year to a student in Mitchell’s Basic Law Enforcement Training program.

Sheldon’s family helped the college establish the endowment, which was funded through private events, raffles, and concerts organized by Mitchell students and community members and by gifts from Lowe’s, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s foundation, private donors, and the Keselowski gift, said James Hogan, Mitchell CC’s vice president for advancement. The scholarship’s first recipient is Thomas Denny, a cadet in the BLET program at Mitchell who will graduate this month. For more information on the Officer Jordan Sheldon Memorial Scholarship endowment, click here.

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Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.