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Auburn Nanney a Cheerleader for Community College Education

Marion- Perspective is often a derivative of time and circumstance. When Auburn Nanney was in high school, there was a stigma about going to a community college. “People shied away from 2-year colleges,” she said. Now, less than a decade later, Nanney is a real cheerleader for community college education.

“First of all, it saves you an insane amount of money, particularly with McDowell Tech’s pledge to be tuition-free through 2023” she said. Nanney received Federal Pell Grants and scholarships during her first year of college, and Learn and Grow Scholarship funds during her second year. She graduated college debt-free and even received money for books, a calculator and Cengage subscription, which was required for some of her classes.

Auburn Nanney in her office

Like a lot of other students, over time Nanney also discovered that an associate degree is not inherently any less valuable than a four-year college or university. “A two-year associate degree is what you make it, like a lot of other things in life, especially when you have to struggle and overcome the challenges that life has thrown at you.”

And Nanney knows a thing or two about struggles, challenges and overcoming. As a young twenty-something, she struggled to raise her daughter as a single mom and distance herself from her child’s father, who had developed a drug problem. For a few years, she moved to San Antonio, Texas to live with friends. When she returned, she worked as a server at Pepperoni’s Pizza and then at J. Hartmann’s for two years, becoming bar manager during that time.

When she enrolled at McDowell Tech in the fall of 2019, the increasingly painful effects of a congenital birth defect known as sacralization resulted in her having to start classes in a wheelchair. By February of 2020, she had to have major back surgery to help ease her pain and improve her mobility. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and all of her classes went online.

As if that weren’t enough, with public schools shuttering in-person learning, Nanney found herself at home trying to teach her daughter Halen, a kindergarten student, the intricacies of the alphabet using the “Letterland” curriculum.

“By the grace of God, I made it,” she said. Made it indeed, as Nanney graduated with high honors from McDowell Tech in May with an associate degree in Business Administration and a concentration in Marketing with a perfect 4.0 grade point average (GPA) and membership in two honor societies, Phi Theta Kappa and National Technical Honor Society.

“No one in my family had a college degree, and having that degree is already paying off for me. A college degree is truly worth its weight in gold. Besides the education itself, having that degree proves to employers that you have discipline and perseverance. My daughter is in the third grade now, and I stress the importance of education to her every chance I get.”

As a college student, Nanney participated in the Work Study program through the Financial Aid Department and was assigned to work at NC Works Career Center on Baldwin Avenue, known to some as ‘JobLink.’ “That made a world of difference in proving to future employers that I not only had a degree, but experience in my field. I would encourage anyone who is eligible for the Work Study program or work-based learning programs to take advantage of them.”

After Nanney graduated in May, she was surprised to be offered a position training to become a property and casualty agent with Jeff Kincaide Insurance Group. “My degree is basically in marketing, so I was not expecting to get an opportunity like this,” said Nanney. She accepted the position and began studying to take the licensing exams required to become a property and casualty insurance agent and recently passed those exams and now has her license.

Meanwhile, Walt Bagwell, previously owner of Nationwide Insurance Bagwell Agency, sponsored Nanney to join Marion Rotary Club, where she hit the ground running, heading up a project to collect thousands of ear buds for needy students in local elementary schools and working on the Red Sand project, taking a stand against human trafficking and exploitation.  

That same high energy, get-things-done attitude that has made Nanney successful in higher education and drives her to succeed in work and civic life may have yet another long-term target. “My 10-year goal is to run for county commissioner,” she said.

Auburn Nanney, r, with Attorney Sharon Parker
Auburn Nanney poses with Attorney Sharon Parker while working on the Marion Rotary Club Red Sands Project.

Right now, though, her major energy is focused on her job at Jeff Kincaide Insurance Group, her daughter and her impending nuptials to Justin Hudgins, who runs Race and Ride Power Sports in Nebo. She and Justin will marry on March 25, 2023.

“If I could give advice to anyone considering college, especially those with limited financial means,” she said, “it would be to apply for financial aid and ask for all the help that you can get. There are so many options available to you, including the free tuition program, and the worst they can do is say, ‘no.’ But with all the opportunities out there, the answer is more likely, ‘yes.’”

“Also, once you’re in college, take advantage of the help your advisor can give you. Use that person and let them be your ‘spirit guide.’ Tell them what you need and they will help you make it happen. I believe that 100%. Marc Hyatt was my advisor, and he gave me that kind of help.”

“As you can see, Auburn is a great cheerleader for McDowell Tech and the community college system,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “Our pledge to be tuition-free until 2023 –and hopefully longer—via our Learn & Grow Scholarship program, makes it possible for greater levels of college access in our community. Auburn’s success in the workplace is proof positive that community colleges are North Carolina’s workforce engine and the key to upward economic and social mobility. All Auburn needed was a chance, and she took a shot. Auburn is going places. It’s nowhere but up from here for her!”

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