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State Board of Community Colleges announces award winners

MC Belk Pilon of Charlotte, president and board chair of the John M. Belk Endowment, is the winner of the 2020 I.E. Ready Award, the highest honor bestowed by the State Board of Community Colleges.

The board also announced winners of the President of the Year, Excellence in Teaching, Staff of the Year and Distinguished Partners in Excellence awards on Jan. 17.

Named for Isaac Epps Ready, the first state director of the North Carolina Community College System, the award was created in 1983 to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the establishment, development or enhancement of the system.

Pilon has supported an array of signature initiatives for the state’s community college system, ranging from leadership and research programs to professional development to a statewide marketing campaign. The support has had an immediate impact on the community college system’s progress, through development programs for trustees and presidents, fundraising assessments, training seminars and pilot projects focused on college partnerships.

Through her work at the John M. Belk Endowment, Pilon has supported NC State University’s Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research and EducationNC, a nonpartisan media organization focused on education coverage. The endowment also provided funding for the system’s first statewide marketing campaign, aimed at showcasing the value of community colleges to students and families in North Carolina.

Her nominators noted that Pilon has not only invested financial support but also her personal time, commitment and energy, with the goal of enhancing the state’s community colleges.

“Without question, MC has been the most influential and significant champion who has supported the entire North Carolina Community College System,” wrote David Shockley, president of Surry Community College.

In addition to Pilon, the following people and institutions received awards:

President of the Year: Dr. Dennis King, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. King has served A-B Tech for 28 years, including five years as president, two years as special assistant to the president and 20 years as vice president of student services. King has been an active player in determining the economic future of Western North Carolina, by helping recruit New Belgium Brewing and GE Aviation to Asheville. King has had a strong commitment to expand and improve services at A-B Tech through technology and innovation. He also has focused on campus safety and state-of-the-art training and equipment for A-B Tech’s Allied Health programs. As president, he has been a staunch supporter of the college’s partnerships with business, public schools and four-year institutions. His signature program at A-B Tech is known as RISE, for Respect, Integrity and Support for Everyone. The program focused on student success, institutional service and a welcoming culture at the college.

Excellence in Teaching Award: Hardin Kennedy, chair of Transportation Technologies at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro. Kennedy has been chair at Wilkes since 2008, where he has been an active recruiter and mentor of students in transportation programs at the college. He has been a committed partner with the local school district, establishing Science Nights at elementary schools, Career Days at middle schools and engaging hands-on demonstrations for high school students. Kennedy is adept at building relationships with students and helping them grasp a concept he calls “education meets career.” Nominators said Kennedy makes learning fun, exhibiting a positive attitude that’s contagious. He engages his students in the classroom, automotive shop, parking lot, car dealership and at national SkillsUSA competitions, where hundreds have participated and have won awards. “He doesn’t settle for anything less than excellent and lives are being changed every day because of it,” wrote National Technical Honor Society Executive Director Peyton Holland. “He exemplifies the vigor and zeal that we need in education.”

Staff of the Year Award: Sara Schumacher, registrar at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock. Schumacher began her work at Blue Ridge in 2005 as a part-time employee while she was earning an associate degree there. She began a full-time job in 2006, went on to earn her bachelor’s degree and rose through the ranks to become registrar in 2018. She is credited with implementing a new electronic transcript service, improving admissions communications and assisting heavily with the college’s re-accreditation process in 2018. Blue Ridge President Laura Leatherwood called Schumacher “a dedicated, passionate and selfless employee.”

Distinguished Partners in Excellence: Wilkes Community College, GE Aviation. They were honored for their partnership in workforce development. In 2015-17 during GE Aviation’s $56 million expansion, the company worked with Wilkes Community College to train 105 new employees and 100 incumbent workers. The project resulted in 135 new jobs, and another customized training project brought in 75 new employees. The partnership has yielded new equipment, enhanced programs and growing enrollment at the college. GE Aviation donated funds for an electric vehicle project and provided technical training for college instructors. College faculty and staff offered courses during any shift to accommodate GE Aviation’s production schedule.


EdNC staff reporting relies on staff, interns, and columnists.