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Wayne Community College: Creating opportunities for every student

Jorge Martinez became an American citizen this year. He arrived in North Carolina and immediately signed up for an English as a Second Language (ESL) class to learn how to communicate with people in his new home. At Wayne Community College, the ESL program is known as QUEST Academy and teaches much more than the typical curriculum. 

“This opened the door for new opportunities to get a job and do something in this new country for me,” Martinez said. “This is not only for my family, it’s for the country.”

Jorge Martinez and student at Wayne Community College’s QUEST Academy. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

QUEST Academy is designed for advanced English Language Learners (ELL) and helps students learn English and go to work. “We are trying to help place them on jobs, internships, expose them to curriculum programs here on campus so they will be aware of the different job opportunities available and tie them to their training that they received in their country,” said Renita Dawson, Associate Vice President of Continuing Education Services. 

Many QUEST students are professionals in their home countries. This high-level program seeks to expose them to in-demand careers in fields such as billing and coding, welding, direct care, and more. Another student, Norida Hoyos Marin, said, “I think the QUEST program is very helpful for people who are looking to start a career or start a new job or start to expand to new opportunities into their lives … for people who are starting a new life in the USA, I think it is a good option.” 

Bulletin board at QUEST Academy. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Opportunities and options are two things Wayne Community College (WCC) seems determined to provide for their students. With QUEST, WCC aims to expand opportunities for those not native to Goldsboro. Additionally, they want to create more opportunity for training programs community members can utilize. For this, WCC joined the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) in 2010.

In layman’s terms, NC3 is an organization of schools with corporate sponsors whose partnerships help inform training and sustain future workforce. Craig Foucht, executive director at the Wayne Business and Industry Center explains the NC3 and WCC connection: “We look at where we have common issues amongst employers nationally, and we help develop curriculum to attack what those … skills gaps are.”

Students who complete coursework now receive a certificate that is endorsed by industry, the Society of Manufacturing of Engineers, and NC3. The certificate holds a trifecta of powerful stamps of approval and is a direct line into the workforce.

“As educators we are all trying to solve the same problem,” said Foucht. “How do we standardize this and solve it across the nation?” 

Not only is WCC part of NC3, but it also serves as a train-the-trainer site — one of six in the nation. This means that instructors from other campuses come to WCC to learn about third-party credentials and put themselves back in the classroom as a student. Train-the-trainer is hands-on, and industry partners such as Snap-on and Starrett are there with representatives to assist at any moment. Ernie White, Division Chair in Applied Technologies, stressed the importance of not just the training but of the instructor connections made. 

“Another benefit is we get the network formally,” White said. “We see each other often. It allows us to learn from each other.” 

Outside of programming and the classroom, Wayne Community College has a student body and faculty invested in one another. Chad Evans, a former student and now the minority student success coach, created a clothing closet with suits, sports jackets, belts, and khakis to get his students ready to interview. Not stopping there, he also started a food pantry called WCC N.O.W, which stands for no one without. Both the clothing closet and pantry flank his office. Once the food pantry took off, he charged the students with sponsoring shelves. Evans said, “I train them to pay it forward.”

Chad Evans, the minority student success coach at Wayne Community College. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Whether it is training students in the classroom, partnering with local or national organizations, or preparing students for success outside of school, Wayne Community College does all it can to widen opportunities for those it serves.  

Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is a multimedia storyteller for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, and STEM education.