My understanding and appreciation of the mission and the purpose of a community college and its role in the community is based on first-hand experience. Not unlike many North Carolina communities, I grew up in an area based largely on the furniture and textile industries. The economy in my hometown offered immediate employment without formal education. As a result, parents and students largely functioned in a culture of educational non-achievement.
Not surprisingly, when I graduated from high school, I was uncertain about my educational future. Seeking to broaden my experience, I enlisted in the Marine Corp Reserves. On April 1, 1987, I was discharged from the rigorous active duty commitment required of all Marines. Within one hour of my return home, my mother, an elementary school teacher, had begun planning my college career.
My first community college experience awaited. As a freshman at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Virginia, I first discovered that learning could be a pleasurable, powerful, and enlightening vehicle for discovering one’s inner self and the surrounding world. Thus, my desire to help others achieve their utmost potential brings me here today.
Currently, I serve as the President of Surry Community College and embrace Dr. Dallas Herring’s philosophy that community colleges should “take people from where they are and carry them as far as they can go.” Each day, the North Carolina Community College System serves a diverse population of students who have many different motives for learning that are triggered by major events in life that require closure, such as the transitions that lead into the different stages of adulthood, changes in career, changes in marital status, or any other crisis that requires a solution.
Motives vary among student groups that are within different stages of life. Young adults are primarily interested in learning in order to obtain a career, older adults with good jobs desire career advancement, and those that are unemployed or underemployed are looking for employment. Older adults are often interested in learning activities that will enhance their quality of life and leisure. Through personal and professional experience, I have learned that successes in education produce additional successes; positive experiences in education promote further participation, and the educational cycle upwardly spirals often including the learner’s family, community, and even ethnic group.
I have witnessed the power that Surry Community College possesses to change lives. One nursing student refused financial support, instead living in her car until she completed her associate degree in nursing. Amazingly, she graduated top of her class and achieved the highest score on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing’s National Council Licensure Examination. Today, this student works as a trauma unit nurse serving patients who suffer acute injury or illness.
Eight students from our Mechatronics Engineering and Electrical Systems programs were hired in April 2018 as Maintenance Technicians at WestRock, Winston-Salem, right before their May 2018 graduation. WestRock had openings for four positions, but they hired all eight of the students because of their impressive entrance testing and interviews. The HR director described the students as “extraordinary, highly trained, and quality people.”
When Charlie and Ed Shelton started Shelton Vineyards in 1999, the Yadkin Valley wine industry was in its infancy and the brothers had to look elsewhere for talent. They realized that must change if the area was to become a bona fide wine region.
Nearly two decades later, after investing heavily in the winemaking program at nearby Surry Community College, the Sheltons hired winemaker Ethan Brown, a Surry County native and graduate of Surry Community College’s Viticulture and Enology program and Appalachian State University’s bachelor program in chemistry/fermentation science.
Brown is a proud alumnus of the college’s $5 million winemaking school and comes to Shelton Vineyards after working as winemaker at two Yadkin Valley vineyards.
Ed Shelton said, “Ethan is a good example of the quality people who attend Surry Community College and the graduates they produce.” This program, one of a kind, has produced much of the workforce that led to a $2 billion industry in North Carolina.
“Years ago when we began thinking about the Shelton-Badgett North Carolina Center for Viticulture & Enology, we envisioned graduates from the program at Surry Community College working in the local community to help it grow and prosper,” Charlie Shelton said. “We are so proud to make this a reality with Ethan Brown.”
Hannah Smith, a single mother of two, earned a Cosmetology degree at Surry and now supports her family with her own successful business called The Beauty Bar. She is a highly sought out stylist in the state’s wedding industry.
“When I struggled in certain classes, there was always a teacher who would let me and the other students come in and study, and they would really work with you until you got it. Because it’s Surry and it’s smaller, it really felt more like a family than a classroom,” Hannah said.
Surry helped her get through a dark time in her life, and she now enjoys making other women feel beautiful through her job. “I was at such a low point that I couldn’t see my own potential. I needed others to see that potential in me, and everyone at Surry really did.”
Many students aren’t successful in getting a diploma at a traditional public high school, and that is where Surry Community steps in with the High School Equivalency program. Rodolfo Garcia earned his HSE diploma at Surry.
“I want to be an example for my daughters and my family. I want to be a good example for my community, too,” he said. HSE graduate Gabriella Munguia added, “I chose to come back to graduate because it’s never too late to make your dreams come true.”
Surry Community College is a life changer and a dream maker for our students. We meet students where they are, acknowledge their potential, and help them achieve their life goals for higher education, leading to better jobs, better pay, and a better quality of life for them and their families. We can take the regret of past decisions and turn them into prideful accomplishments.
We have been serving the students of Surry and Yadkin counties for more than 50 years, changing thousands of lives along the way. We plan to keep doing that into the millennial and beyond.