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James Sprunt Community College remains committed to Dallas Herring’s mission

Before I even had time to sit down, Dr. Ken Boham was telling me a story.

“Do you know about Dallas Herring?” He asked me just after shaking my hand. I didn’t. So, Dr. Boham spent the next 15 minutes telling me the story of a man whose wealth, generosity, and ability to work with people spurred what would become the North Carolina Community College system. It was a story of how good faith and front porch conversations can make good things happen, especially in small towns.

a walkway and bell tower
Views from campus at James Sprunt Community College. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC

Boham is currently the interim president of James Sprunt Community College (JSCC). But he’s worked in the community college system for more than 40 years now, and he clearly has a passion for preserving Herring’s vision of an institution built especially to serve local areas. As Boham often says of the system’s name, “Community is in there for a reason.”

Just inside the W. Dallas Herring building on campus, you’ll find a portrait of the man himself. Every community college in the system has a portrait of Herring somewhere on campus, which is the result of a coordinated effort between the system office and president’s association to send one to every college. But of all the colleges I’ve visited, only James Sprunt made a point to show it to me.

a portrait of W. Dallas Herring
Inside the W. Dallas Herring Building on campus hangs this portrait of one of the community college system’s most important architects. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC

Herring would probably appreciate that James Sprunt’s strategy is focused foremost on the needs of local industries. 

Like its neighbor Sampson, agriculture is a massive industry in Duplin County. All the trucks you see transporting animals need drivers, and they need mechanics. Road tractors run on big diesel engines that require maintenance. JSCC helps fill those needs with its large off-campus facility dedicated to its Diesel and Heavy Equipment diploma program. It’s getting a commercial driver’s license (CDL) program soon, thanks to a Golden LEAF grant.

a big rig in garage with equipment
At James Sprunt Community College’s new diesel technology facility, students learn to fix engines, often with plans to repair tractors after graduation. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC
diesel tech facility from outside
Home of the diesel technology program at James Sprunt Community College, this Warsaw location is about 15 minutes away from the main campus. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC

Layton Parker, who is earning a diploma in the program, said he works at a farm and helps maintain the equipment.

“I mess with it some now,” Parker said in reference to fixing the farm’s tractors. “I just don’t know everything. I’m here to kind of finish up my knowledge on it.”

transmission gears being turned
Parts of this transmission have been removed so students can see the inner workings. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC

Just next to the diesel building is a large facility that houses industrial kitchen equipment. The college rents out space in this building to local small businesses, who can store food supplies on-site. It’s another way James Sprunt is directly supporting its local community in Herring’s original spirit.

a shelf full of different food items
A collection of locally-produced products that are cooked in James Sprunt Community College’s industrial kitchen rental space. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC

In Duplin County, most of the area’s biggest employers are farms — Smithfield, Butterball, House of Raeford, and more. But nearby Duplin Winery offers a different career opportunity still rooted in agriculture. To prepare students for these jobs in the viticulture industry — that’s making wine — James Sprunt has a vineyard of its own.

Beyond agriculture, the college has programs that build the skills necessary to get people working fast. In the barbering department, students aren’t just learning about hair. They have to learn the anatomy of the face before making those precise cuts with sharp blades.

This is Lawrence Wilson. He’s making a career of a skill he’s developed for years.

Wilson said the toughest part of barbering is learning what’s behind the face — like the location of specific blood vessels, bones, and muscles. You also need the right tools, as Joshua Fryar showed me.

The college offers many other technical education programs, from swine management to cosmetology. The nursing department has been a staple of the college and has provided for the area’s workforce since its first class graduated in 1973. For clinical experience, the college partners with local facilities like Vidant Duplin hospital, New Hanover Regional Medical Center, and UNC Lenoir Health Care.

photo of first ever nursing class at college
In 1973, James Sprunt Community College graduated its first ever group of nurses. A class has graduated every year since. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC
mannequin with several more in background
A mannequin in James Sprunt Community College’s nursing simulation lab, which is set to expand into a new facility. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC

James Sprunt’s nursing department is expanding to a new facility thanks to a grant from the federal Department of Economic Development. College faculty seemed happy about that — at the time of my visit, every nursing program had to share the same lab, and there was a clear need for more space.

Of course, not all students graduating from JSCC will stay in Duplin County. In programs like basic law enforcement training and graphic design, students acquire skills that will serve them anywhere. The college also offers three different college transfer programs for students who plan to earn their bachelor’s degree at another institution.

worn in boxing mannequins
These dummies are used in basic law enforcement training. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC
a classroom with iMacs and whiteboard
Students in James Sprunt Community College’s graphic design create art with an army of iMacs. Robert Kinlaw/EducationNC

The future looks bright for James Sprunt. The college is currently in the process of revamping its welding department and creating new vocational and biology classrooms with Connect NC bond funds.

Before we parted, Boham acknowledged that he was still new to the college. “This place doesn’t need saving,” he told me. And if our meeting is any indication, his priorities lie not in reinventing the wheel but in fully realizing Herring’s original concept of an institution built specifically to serve its community.

Robert Kinlaw

Robert was director of multimedia for EducationNC. He is a journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker in the Triangle. Robert attended both public and private grade schools in North Carolina and graduated from the Media and Journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has produced video content for The News & Observer, ABC11-WTVD, UNC-Chapel Hill, The News Reporter and more. His short documentary Princess Warrior received an Excellence in Filmmaking award at the 2017 Carrboro Film Festival. Visit his website at robertkinlaw.com.