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MTCC Celebrates 2023 Graduates & Another Record-Breaking Year

Marion- McDowell Technical Community College proudly announced highlights today from the college’s annual graduation held Friday night at Nebo Crossing in Marion. For the second year in a row, student success set new records for the Class of 2023.

Recording-Breaking Student Success

Approximately 293 graduates completed degrees and other credentials in 2023 for a total 363 degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Around 68 students will complete credentials by the end of the summer 2023 semester for a total of at least 361 graduates.

These numbers topped last year’s record-breaking numbers by more than 20 students. Over the previous decade, the highest total before last year was 246 graduates during the 2018-19 academic year. From 2012 through 2021, the average class size was 227.

graduation 2023 a student receives their award
graduation 2023 a student receives their award

“We are defying the odds at McDowell Tech, and students are graduating at a record pace. We are making great strides to prepare students to enter the workforce or continue at a senior institution,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “Our efforts to proactively recruit and retain students are reaping great rewards for student success. With such low unemployment rates locally, regionally and nationally, we would expect to see our numbers declining significantly. However, that is just the opposite—students are excelling.”

The college’s Adult High School saw 29 students receiving adult high school diplomas and another 18 students receiving their high school equivalency certificate. These numbers represent an increase of more than 15 students over last year’s record-breaking totals as well.  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.

Across the North Carolina Community College System, it is a common trend that students working towards degrees “stop-out” before completing an associate degree and do not realize they have the credits to be awarded a certificate or diploma. Finish First NC, a program pioneered by Wake Tech in Raleigh, provides a data tool that is helping MTCC’s faculty and staff recognize and contact these students and work with them to receive their certificate or diploma. Going forward, MTCC students will earn their credentials more immediately, along with personalized information about the

Susan Mims graduation 2023

Inspiring Commencement Addresses

Dr. Susan Mims, CEO of Dogwood Health Trust delivered this year’s keynote address to the Class of 2023. Mims has two sons who attended North Carolina community colleges, and she expressed support and admiration for the mission of the NC Community College System, as well as the value it brings to both students and local communities.

Dr. Mims focused her remarks on “curiosity.” Curiosity, she said, is at the heart of learning and motivation to learn. She recounted curious questions her children asked as youngsters, and during her career as a pediatrician, and how those questions and others like them were the beginning of their desire to see, know and experience more about life.

She encouraged graduates to maintain their sense of wonder and curiosity as they begin their post-graduation journeys, whether in furtherance of their career goals or additional higher education.

Student Government President, Jose Rico Martinez, himself a member of the graduating class, also delivered special remarks to his fellow classmates, encouraging them to follow their dreams. He delivered his remarks in both English and Spanish, another first for the college. His leadership style this year as SGA president was described as very inclusive, and he encouraged his classmates to share these values as they ventured out in the world.


graduation 2023 a student receives their award
graduation 2023 a student receives their award
graduation 2023 a student receives their award
graduation 2023 a student receives their award

Special Tributes

During the commencement ceremony, Valerie Dobson, Chief Academic Officer, recognized two long-time MTCC instructors who will be retiring before the start of the fall semester: Andy Morgan, who taught a variety of courses over the years, ranging from physical education and nutrition to academic success classes, will retire later this summer, and Blake Madden, long-time photography instructor, is retiring this month. Dobson thanked each of them for their service and dedication to providing quality instruction to our students and graduates.

“A few things are certain,” said Merritt. “McDowell Tech will continue to promote workforce development in all that we do; we will continue to provide equitable access to higher education; 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.”

Stacy Buff

MTCC’s Stacy Buff Joins National Workforce Board

Stacy Buff, Vice President of Workforce Development at McDowell Technical Community College, has been elected as the North Carolina representative on the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP). The NAWDP is the largest workforce development association in the United States.

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Chris Saxton, 2024 Excellence in Teaching Award winner

Instructor, Students Receive Honors at McDowell Tech

Selection for the 2024 Excellence in Teaching, Teacher of the Year Award at McDowell Technical Community College was a particularly competitive process this year, with 11 instructors nominated for the prestigious honor. At graduation exercises last Friday, Richard Christopher (“Chris”) Saxton was announced as the winner after a series of interviews around the topic of teaching and learning by a peer selection committee during the weeks leading up to graduation.

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