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This first-generation college graduate is inspiring students to dream bigger

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When Christy Lefevers was a teenager, she worked as a receptionist at the Auto Works shop in Valdese. It was there that she met a man who jump-started her career at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC), where she is now the associate dean for workforce connectivity. Lefevers was recently named the 2024 Staff of the Year award winner from the State Board of Community Colleges, her first statewide honor.

Lefevers grew up in Morganton, which is located in Burke County next to Catawba County. While working at the auto shop, she met Mike Kidd, the human resources director at CVCC at the time. Lefevers got to know the Kidds over the years because his family came in often for maintenance on their cars. Eventually, Lefevers even started babysitting his kids.

Several years later, after earning an associate degree from Western Piedmont Community College and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Gardner Webb, Lefevers crossed paths with Kidd again at the State Employees Credit Union. Lefevers was a loan officer there, and Kidd came in for a loan. It just so happened that Lefevers was also interested in teaching at CVCC. She asked Kidd if the college was hiring and applied for an open adjunct position the very next day.

Learning to dream bigger

As a first-generation college student, it was important to both Lefevers and her parents that she attend college. The expectation in her family was that she work hard and attend community college. For Lefevers and her family, that college was Western Piedmont Community College in the town where she was born and raised.

“When I think about the community college system, one of my very first memories is my dad getting his GED through the community college in Morganton at Western Piedmont Community College,” said Lefevers.

As a little girl, she remembers going to see the fireworks display every Fourth of July at the college. Her family would take a picnic blanket and look out at the rolling hills. It’s a treasured memory for her. 

“No one in my family had ever gone to college. My mom would sometimes say things like, ‘One day you’re gonna go to school there.’ With my kids, I’m like, ‘One day, you’re gonna go to university.’ My parents I don’t think even knew for me to dream that big. I didn’t know to dream that big,” said Lefevers.

Lefevers still remembers the nervousness she felt on her first day of classes at Western Piedmont. She was overwhelmed by the size of the campus but quickly realized that the college was a welcoming place.

“I remember my very first class pulling on campus, and feeling nauseous like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ It felt big to me and now I’m like, ‘Why did it feel big?’ At the time, it felt big to me and it felt intimidating because you’re doing it by yourself. I remember my instructor, he was welcoming, he did some icebreaker games. All of the faculty members were really good to me, they connected. They cared about me as a person,” said Lefevers.

Christy Lefevers with her colleague Athena Smith from Catawba Valley Community College. Courtesy of Athena Smith

Finding her why

Having supportive and caring instructors early on in her college career ignited a passion for Lefevers. No matter where her career takes her, she hopes to inspire and support students the way her first community college instructors did for her.

“I know what those instructors did for me, and I think I’ve been on a mission to do that. When I see students, I think about the 18-year-old Christy that was nervous and didn’t know what she wanted to do and didn’t know anyone that had gone to college. It’s been my goal to help those students know this is just a stepping stone for you and there are other options, you know, you can definitely go on. There are other things you can do and help them dream bigger because people did that for me,” said Lefevers.

Lefevers is honored to win the 2024 Staff of the Year award, and she’ll be the first to tell you that she couldn’t have done it alone. Her passion for meeting students where they are and helping students no matter what it takes are a few reasons why her colleague Athena Smith nominated her. Smith is the executive director of technology and innovation and director of the Cyber Security Center of Excellence.

“Christy really walks the talk. She is just amazing, and she relates to these students. I think because she and I have shared our philosophy that these students are us. We wouldn’t be where we are today if somebody hadn’t taken the time to help us. She tries to be that person, and I see that every day. She is that person for the students. She just has this great passion for the students and for helping them in any way, shape, or form,” said Smith.

Lefevers and Smith both won the faculty and staff awards from Catawba Valley Community College for the 2020-21 school year. They realized their shared passion for community colleges and supporting students quickly thereafter and have been collaborating on projects ever since.

“My colleagues, they’re awesome people. To win here is such an honor, and it’s humbling and I’m full of gratitude,” said Lefevers.

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.