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MTCC Celebrates 2022 Graduates & Record-Breaking Success

McDowell Technical Community College proudly announces highlights from the college’s annual graduation and a record-breaking year for student success and the Class of 2022.

Graduation was held Friday night, May 13 2022 at Nebo Crossing in Marion. Approximately 283 graduates completed degrees and other credentials in 2022 for a total 341 degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Around 60 students will complete credentials by the end of the summer 2022 semester for a total of at least 343 graduates. This is a record year. Over the previous decade, the highest total was 246 graduates during the 2018-19 academic year. From 2012 through 2021, the average class size was 227.

Paola Lopez Cervantes receives her Associate in Arts degree with High Honors from Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President.

Recording-Breaking Student Success

“Historically, during periods of low unemployment, community colleges experience significant declines in enrollment and graduation completers,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “However, through the efforts of our faculty and staff to proactively recruit and retain students, and with the support of our Learn & Grow Scholarship Program, we increased our number graduates and credentials awarded. This represents more people who can enter the workforce or continue their education at a senior institution and contribute to our local economy.”

Additionally, 32 students completed an adult high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate. Some of these students will continue their education at the college level while others will enter the workforce in jobs they might previously have not qualified for due to not having one of these credentials.

Part of MTCC’s graduation success in 2022 can be attributed to the adoption of an open-sourced data tool developed by Wake Technical Community College called Finish First NC. This powerful data tool helped advisors and student services staff to more proactively know when students completed credentials but had not claimed them. Across the North Carolina Community College System, it is a common trend that students working towards degrees stop-out and do not realize they have the credits to be awarded a certificate or diploma. Finish First NC now allows MTCC to award earned credentials more immediately and to guide students with personalized information about the closest path to completion.

Inspiring Commencement Addresses

Retired Col. and decorated U.S. Army veteran, Alex “Alpo” Portelli, delivered the college’s commencement address and challenged the record-breaking Class of 2022. “You are the backbone of this great nation of ours,” he said. “You will keep us on track… Without you, it is not going to happen.” He challenged graduates to build upon the knowledge and skills that they learned as a student at McDowell Tech and to continue growing their “toolkit.” “Find a mentor,” he said, “and learn from them.”

More importantly, he challenged graduates to, “Make the time to pay back your family and your community. Pick a ‘heart’ cause—something larger than you—and pay it back.” Illustrating what he had said, he told the class what his nanny used to say to him when he was growing up and his ego was getting just a little too big. “Show me your hands,” she had said. If ever he got into heaven, he continued, God wouldn’t want to see all the medals he had won for his accomplishments. Instead, she told him God would want to see the calluses on his hands, proof of what he had done for the betterment of his fellow man.

Portelli asked the Class of 2022 to show him their hands and then challenged them to look at their own hands. “You have a head start,” he told graduates.

Student Government President, Lauren Buchanan, herself a part of the graduating class, also delivered special remarks to fellow classmates, focusing on their resilience. “We were thriving and growing in a perfect, stable environment. Everything was as it should have been,” she said. But on March 13, 2020, COVID-19 “…came through and ruined our perfect environment. But we regrouped—we are resilient… We can adapt, and we can do hard things because we are resilient.”

Concluding her remarks, she told graduates: “Let us not forget where we came from and what we have endured. In the weeks and months ahead, I challenge each and every one of you to rise above and be resilient.”

A Special Remembrance: Travis Bryon Good

Machining instructor Wayne Stines paid special tribute to a member of the graduating class who passed away on January 8, 2022 at Hospice House of Rutherfordton. Travis Bryon Good was a Machining student in Stines’ class. Stines said Good was more than a student; he was a laborer, craftsman, artist and friend. Good and his family were able to receive his diploma and the credentials he had earned at his bedside prior to his passing in January thanks to efforts by Stines and Good’s WIOA (Workforce Investment Opportunity Act) Caseworker, Ms. Watkins.

Special Tributes

During the commencement ceremony, three long-time MTCC employees who will retire in 2022 were honored: Dr. Penny Cross, Dean Judy Melton, and biology instructor, Terri McClelland, are retiring in the coming months, and they were recognized and honored during the ceremony for their decades of service to the college.

“A few things are certain,” said Merritt. “McDowell Tech will continue to provide equitable access to higher education; we will continue to promote workforce development in all that we do; and, we will always find innovative approaches to put students into the workforce to find good careers that earn a good wage. Our trustees and administration are proud of our students, faculty, and staff, for their unprecedented efforts in the face of adversity. We have learned a lot about ourselves this year and will continue to evolve and grow.”

Photo: Paola Lopez Cervantes receives her Associate in Arts degree with High Honors from Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President.

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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