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President Michael Helmick looks back (and ahead) as he retires from Western Piedmont

After 30 years in education, Michael Helmick is set to retire as president of Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC) on June 30, 2020. We visited Helmick just days before his retirement to hear about his proudest achievements as president of the institution, his career in education, the challenges of leading a college during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what is next for him personally.

Helmick has worked in the North Carolina Community College System for more than 10 years, including stints as president of Rockingham Community College and as a vice president at Western Piedmont. He has two decades of experience with community colleges.

Nation Hahn conducts a socially distant interview with Michael Helmick on June 23. Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC

Helmick pointed to a number of milestones during his tenure at WPCC, including building renovations, a deepened collaborative relationship with Catawba Valley Community College that he says is unique in the state, the college’s partnership with Burke Development Inc. on the Work in Burke initiative to address the need for talent recruitment and retention for local industry, and the arrival of the NC School of Science and Math’s western campus in Morganton.

As for what is next for him, Helmick told us with a laugh, “I don’t have any plans to do anything in education. I think a lot of people that get ready to retire spend the last portion of their career lining up the next thing, and it’s usually in education, and I really don’t want to do that. I have enjoyed my 30 years in education, but I have always wanted to make a living making stuff.”

Give our interview a listen below to hear what he predicts for Western Piedmont, the challenges facing the college as it considers face-to-face course offerings this fall, and his perspective on why collaboration is essential for community colleges in North Carolina moving forward.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.