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McDowell Tech Employees Receive National Recognition

Two McDowell Technical Community College employees have recently been recognized at the national level for their efforts to promote achievement and success among community college students. Brandon Hensley, Dean of Career and Technical Education, has been chosen to join the 2024 Cohort of NextLevel Postsecondary CTE Fellows for the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE). Claudia Ward, a faculty member in Communications and Theatre was chosen to be a presenter at the 85th annual conference of the Association for Continuing Higher Education (ACHE).

“We are so proud of Brandon and Claudia for their leadership and commitment to student success, both on our campus and nationally,” said Valerie Dobson, Vice-President for Academics and Student Services and Chief Academic Officer at McDowell Tech. “Their dedication to providing high-quality, student-centered, lifelong learning opportunities in higher education is at the heart of our mission and vision at McDowell Tech.”

Claudia, a McDowell Tech faculty member since May 2016, presented VOICES: Variety of Input Creates Engaged Students TM during a concurrent session at the Association for Continuing Higher Education’s annual conference held in mid-October. According to information provided by the Association, the presentation was “…intended for transformational leaders seeking straightforward solutions to improve student success who are looking for implementable strategies to share with their institutions.”

Ward’s presentation of VOICES combined theories of mindfulness, learning styles and universal course design with the goal of making “success the bedrock for all students.” Ultimately, “powerful communication” is an expected outcome for instructors who implement VOICES.

“I am so appreciative of the opportunity to present at this conference,” said Ward. “What I love about the ACHE conference is that you get to connect with other faculty from across the nation. Most importantly, they embrace change and encourage growth.”

Claudia has worked in higher education for more than twenty years, coming to McDowell Tech from a position at Appalachian State University. Born in Hollywood, Florida, she has lived in North Carolina all of her life and currently resides in Hickory. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Theatre from Lenoir-Rhyne University and a master’s degree in Higher Education from Appalachian State University. She also completed additional studies in Communications from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and North Dakota State University.


Brandon was selected as a NextLevel Postsecondary CTE Fellow after a national review committee from the Association for Career & Technical Education determined that he would be “…a great fit for the 2024 fellowship year.”

According to information from the Association’s website, “The vision for the NextLevel Postsecondary CTE Leaders Fellowship is to help develop the leadership skills of current and emerging postsecondary career and technical education professionals.”

The fellowship is sponsored by the ECMC Foundation, a Los Angeles-based, nationally-focused foundation that seeks to facilitate improved educational outcomes, particularly among underserved populations. “ECMC Foundation’s vision is for all learners to unlock their fullest potential,” says ACTE.

Fellows in the program must work with professional peers and experienced mentors in a year-long professional development experience with the goal of developing evidence-based innovation that addresses a professional objective at the fellow’s institution and, as a capstone project, to implement the project to “realize a lasting impact.” Communication, collaboration, networking, problem-solving and effective use of time and resources are hallmarks of the professional development projects.

The 2024 Cohort of Fellows in which Hensley will participate is the sixth cohort of NextLevel Fellows.

Hensley is a McDowell County native and graduated from McDowell High School. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Technology Education, Industrial Technology concentration, with a minor in Graphic Communications from NC State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, also from NC State University. He went on to receive his master’s degree in Technology Systems from East Carolina University and is currently working on his doctorate in Workforce and Organizational Development at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

“We are blessed to have dedicated faculty and administrators like Claudia and Brandon at McDowell Tech with passion for higher education who are willing to go above and beyond their daily job requirements to promote success among our students,” said Ryan Garrison, Interim President at MTCC. “We especially look forward to working with Brandon to implement a meaningful project to reach underserved populations in McDowell County, which is a strategic goal for the college and a part of our Achieving the Dream Project over the next few years.”

Julie Padgett Buchanan

Keeping the Faith

A sweet and loving child of God returned to her heavenly father in the still and quiet of a bitterly-cold January morning earlier this week. Julie Buchanan, better known to most of her McDowell Tech family as Julie Padgett, ended her battle with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, on Wednesday, just a little more than 21 months after she was officially diagnosed with the disease.

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