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Incoming president Scott Ralls tours Wake Tech ahead of taking reins in April

Scott Ralls visited Wake Technical Community College for the first time since being named its next president and was immediately struck by the scale of the opportunity before him — and before the college and region as a whole.

“I’m just chomping at the bit to fully be here in two months,” said Ralls, who will officially start his tenure on April 11. “To be part of this team and be a part of this county and a part of this community.”

Ralls, the North Carolina Community College System president from 2008 to 2015, arrives at Wake Tech on the heels of spearheading substantial gains and growth at Northern Virginia Community College, and he comes ready with ideas for pushing Wake Tech farther. However, his first order of business is to understand the initiatives already implemented by his predecessor, Steve Scott, and allow the current team to continue executing on those strategies.

“When you come in, one thing you have to be a little bit patient about is not coming in with ideas that this is what you want to do,” Ralls said. “Because, it’s like today, you discover things that you haven’t seen before. People here, they have ideas, they know how to grow. And it’s my job to make sure that we keep moving forward and grow into Wake Tech.”

Rendering of new automotive and collision repair building at Wake Tech’s north campus. Courtesy of Wake Tech.

Some of that growth-in-progress was on display during Friday’s tour. Ralls spent most of his time in the automotive repair and heavy equipment programs, also stopping in and observing the HVAC and cosmetology programs.

The automotive and heavy equipment programs share a space on the north end of campus that measures about 43,000 square feet. Ronald Lowe, administrative department head of applied engineering and technologies, showed Ralls renderings of a new, 95,000 square foot facility solely for automotive and repair that will be built at the North Campus. The expanded digs on North Campus will allow 45 prospective students on the wait list to enter the program.

Meanwhile, the space on South Campus will be used exclusively for the heavy equipment program — a program that has carried a waitlist for 15 years and will now bring 60 prospective students into the program.

“I think our future is growing our programs into those campuses,” Ralls said. “Growing with Wake County as it continues to grow, and it’s really about growing opportunity.”

After a ride-along on a Deere, Ralls spent time in the heavy equipment simulator. Seated in an interactive chair in front of three angled screens, students (or, as was the case on Friday, Ralls) can practice operating heavy equipment in a safe and controlled environment. 

“One of the things that attracted me here is this is an innovative college,” Ralls said. “Steve Scott … I think really was a leader in creating a culture where it allows people to be creative to look for opportunities to advance opportunities for students.”

Incoming Wake Tech president Scott Ralls takes a turn on the heavy equipment operator simulator. Rupen Fofaria/EducationNC

Ralls saw another example of the innovation at Wake Tech when he got a chance to play with one of the 15 Oculus VR goggles the school purchased through a Perkins grant. The school had programmers create apps that allow current CTE students a chance to practice their future trade in a virtual reality space. The school has also been recording their students as they use the goggles and using these recordings to allow prospective students in high school and beyond to experience what Wake Tech students do during their coursework.

Ralls talks a lot about opportunity and innovations, and his track record suggests that he will be a capable custodian of those notions at Wake Tech. Before leaving, he touched on another notion that excites him and energizes him as he looks to take the helm in April.

“A very cool thing about community colleges, and I think that’s here at Wake Tech, is we make stuff,” Ralls said. “We do stuff, you know, and so when you’re walking around a place like this you feel that [spirit of], ‘Let’s do it. Let’s create it.'” 

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.