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‘Mr. Humility’ wins statewide award in teaching

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When asked why he was chosen for the 2024 Excellence in Teaching Award from the State Board of Community Colleges, Jere Miles was unsure. Miles, the lead instructor of information technology at Wilkes Community College, has spent 15 years in various roles on campus. He’s known for his unconventional teaching style, passion for helping students succeed, and his humility. 

“When I was first nominated for this, and I had to prepare for the state interviews and all that, I kind of didn’t want to because I honestly thought that I’m the most unqualified person for this. Everybody’s gonna have done so many more things than I’ve done. Because all I’ve done is just, in my opinion, what I needed to do for my students,” said Miles.

During his time so far at Wilkes, Miles has created a simulation gaming program from scratch and wrote a textbook to accompany it. He was the driving force behind getting funding and building a lab to accompany the program. 

Because of Miles, Wilkes Community College holds a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) designation from the National Security Agency, which only a handful of colleges and universities across the state have.

Tirelessly committed to students

“The only thing stronger than Jere’s work ethic is his humility. Jere is unflappable and tireless in his pursuit to improve the quality and level of learning for the students in the program,” said Joe Exposito, dean of business and public service technology at Wilkes Community College.

Exposito has worked with Miles for 15 years. He’s watched him and his students grow. Miles is always innovating, Exposito said. He’s full of ideas, many of which find their way into Exposito’s inbox regularly. While Miles is more reserved outside the classroom, he lights up when he’s with students.

“He does a great job in the classroom. It’s kind of funny because when you’re talking to him, he’s super humble and doesn’t really like to talk about himself much. But when you’re sitting in his class, he turns a switch on. He’s a lot more outspoken and dynamic in the classroom than you might think,” said Exposito.

While Miles has spent his career in information technology, it isn’t his passion. Helping students succeed is what drives him, and he especially enjoys working with non-traditional students. As a non-traditional college student himself, having gone to community college at 21 and then on to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at age 30, Miles’ affinity for working with older students is one of the main reasons he chose to work at a community college. 

“What really drew me into teaching was helping older people. When I was working in industry in the 90’s, I spent a lot of time helping, I refer to them as grandmothers, who were getting Windows 95 computers and learning at that time. I find it more rewarding to help older people. I don’t know, there’s just something about people either returning for career changes or people who are just trying a new thing. To me, it’s just a lot of fun,” said Miles.

Failing forward in the classroom

As far as his approach to teaching, Miles incorporates engaging learning techniques through a mentoring environment. He also encourages students to make mistakes. Miles will be the first to admit to his students when he doesn’t know something. He creates a classroom where students are encouraged to follow their interests, experiment, and problem solve. 

Miles starts off many of his classes by asking his students what they want to do. For example, in his programming class, students will often want to create a specific type of game. He will create groups and let the students experiment, assisting them along the way.

“You’re not supposed to know everything… I don’t teach off of a script. I don’t know what I’m going to do most of the time, and they see me have moments of being not sure how something works. They learn how to solve problems as opposed to how to follow the leader, and I think that’s a vital skill, regardless of what field you’re in,” said Miles. 

Miles lives by his teaching philosophy as well by constantly experimenting and finding new ways to support students. Right now, he is working on a weekly podcast for the department and hopes to launch it soon. While he may have been surprised to win the award, he feels validated by it. 

“I was just doing what my students needed, so I guess this really validates that what I’m doing is actually of value,” said Miles.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly said Joe Exposito was the chair of public services. It has been corrected to state his title as dean of the business and public service technologies division.

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.