Susan Long Named MTCC’s Staff Member of the Year

To those who know her well, it came as no surprise when Susan Long was recently named the 2022 Staff Member of the Year at McDowell Technical Community College. Susan has superior customer service skills and a long track record of providing excellent guidance and support to McDowell Tech students, particularly adult learners. As a former adult learner herself, her commitment to helping students achieve their academic and career goals is unwavering.

“As the college’s Director of Student Enrichment and Adult Engagement, Susan is a critical partner in helping the college achieve one of its key priorities, helping more McDowell County citizens and more North Carolinians achieve a high quality credential or post-secondary degree,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “Every day she comes to work, Susan helps us identify barriers that might prevent students from achieving their goals, and provides results-oriented solutions to remove those barriers. She is helping us reimagine the way we serve our adult students, and she does it with immense grace and poise.”

Susan Long MTCC Staff Member of the Year 2022

Susan is much more modest about her role in student success. “I treat people the way I want to be treated,” she said.

“I invite them to come by my office or contact me when issues arise, whether it’s personal or academic.  Sick children, lack of transportation, struggling with a particular academic subject, communication issues with an instructor, domestic issues with a spouse, or family health concerns are just some of the issues I try to help them with. Most of all, I want them to know that I care.” 

“I like to talk to students and find out who they are and what their strengths are,” she continued. “Maximizing those strengths can put them on the path to success. What do they enjoy? What do they excel at and what energizes them? These are some of the things that can help them make solid career decisions. Some people come in knowing what they want to do from the get-go, while it took the rest of us a long time to decide what to do,” she said, referring to her own career and academic journey. “For those students who need it, we provide extra guidance through career assessments and career counseling, and that generally results in a degree of focus for them. After we talk through some of those things, we begin to focus on an academic plan, and as students begin to take classes, we provide an individualized array of academic supports, such as tutoring, disability services and so forth.”

Long knows the path of an adult student very well. Right out of high school, she worked at Baxter, followed by an extended stint working as an aerobics and exercise instructor at Pinebridge Fitness in Spruce Pine. There she also worked and interacted with athletes on the long-since defunct professional hockey team. It was a good gig while it lasted. From there she worked at Coats North America from 1985 to 1997, until word got around that the company was going through a merger, which concerned her and other employees about the long-term security of their jobs.

She decided it might be time to begin thinking about a new job or career. “I knew that I needed to do something,” she said. “So I started taking some computer classes at McDowell Tech. She learned a lot and took more and more classes. One day it occurred to her that she had already earned so many credits that she might just as well finish a full degree program. “I didn’t really start out thinking about a degree, but over time, I thought that I needed to get one.”

As she was making that decision to move forward with a college degree, she found a mentor and champion in Dr. Robert Boggs, who served as President of McDowell Tech from 1984 until his retirement in 1999. Boggs frequently saw her in class or studying in the student commons and over time, he struck up a conversation with her, which eventually led to more conversations over coffee in the commons. He first encouraged her to complete a degree program and then to apply for a position in Student Services at the college.

“One week before Dr. Boggs retired, in May, 1999, I became a full-time Assistant to Student Records at McDowell Tech, and it was his advice and support that made it happen for me. I strive to be that kind of mentor to students I am working with today. I want them feel the sense of accomplishment that I felt my first day on the job at McDowell Tech,” she said.

After completing her first associate’s degree in Office Systems Technology, she went on to complete a second degree, an Associate in Arts, in 2011, and then finished a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Appalachian State University in May, 2015.

Since she started working at McDowell Tech, Susan’s entire career has been about supporting students, directly or indirectly. “I’ve worked in admissions, coordinated the nursing application process, entered grades for our registrar, provided transcripts, read exams to blind and disabled students, overseen the peer-tutoring process, administered the TEAS exams to nursing students, ETS proficiency exams to graduating students, and Compass, Accuplacer and RISE entrance exams to high school students and others. Recently, I was an onboarding advisor for new students, and officially and unofficially, I was Director of the Student Enrichment Center during and following the long-term illness and death of our former director, Wingate Cain. Suffice it to say, ‘I’ve been there and done that’ and I know how to help students navigate the landmines and find the touchstones on their path to success,” she said.

“Knowing that I can help others be successful in college and achieve their vocational goals and dreams is what keeps me motivated. It gives me a sense of purpose knowing that I play a part in helping them find their path in life, finding a better job, and bettering themselves and their families socioeconomically,” she concluded.

“Susan is a selfless leader with strong initiative and commitment to students,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “Her nomination and award as Staff Member of the Year is well-deserved. In an ever-changing economy, staff members like Susan help us reach underserved, unemployed and underemployed populations every day, giving those students a hand-up out of poverty, in many cases, and helping them achieve career success and a family-sustaining wage. We are glad to have Susan on our team!”