McDowell Technical Community College has named Susan Long the Director of Student Enrichment and Adult Engagement. This newly-restructured position aligns with MTCC’s strategic priorities as well as the myFutureNC attainment goal to ensure that by the year 2030, 2 million North Carolinians have a high-quality credential or postsecondary degree.
As a former adult learner herself who graduated twice from McDowell Tech, Long will corral her years of experience as both a student and long-time staff member engaging and interacting with adult learners to directly support students to achieve their academic and career goals.
“I treat people the way I want to be treated,” said Long. “I like to talk to students and find out who they are and what their strengths are. Maximizing those strengths can set them on top. 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.
According to a recent data report provided to MTCC by the Belk Center for Community College Leadership & Research as part of the NC Rural Leaders Program, there are 26,813 adults, ages 18-64 in McDowell County and 7,013 (26%) have earned at least some college credit but have not completed a college degree. Approximately 4,338 (31%) of those individuals are in the 18-44 age group, for whom a college degree could have such a huge impact on lifetime earnings, career success and economic mobility.
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.”
Like the students she now mentors, Long found her own mentor and champion in Dr. Robert Boggs, retired MTCC President who served in the role from 1984-1999. Boggs frequently saw her in class or studying in the commons and over time, he struck up a conversation with her, which eventually led to more conversations over coffee in the commons. He encouraged her first 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 hope that I can be that kind of mentor and champion in my new role, which combines Student Enrichment and Adult Engagement,” she said.
In her new role Long will provide critical outreach to re-engage adult students who have stopped out from MTCC without finishing a degree or credential. She will work with students to create an academic success plan by engaging them in activities such as a career assessment to find pathways that match their interests and career goals.
Long summarized her thoughts on her new role, “Sometimes, certain students need to do a little more intense soul-searching. For them, 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.”
“Most of all, I want them to know that I care. For some students, it is clear that no one has taken a direct interest in their success before, and when they experience that, it can make a lot of difference in their growth and maturation as students,” said Long. “Ultimately, however, the decisions they make have to come from within themselves. Once they’ve made a decision, we talk about what skills and education they need to get to their destination.”
Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President, is excited about this new direction for the college. He stated, “At MTCC today, we strive to learn and grow, focused on individuals, our community, and our institution. One key priority to better serving our community is to reinvent and reimagine how we serve adult students and adapt to an ever-changing economy. Mrs. Long’s new responsibilities in Adult Engagement will help us identify students’ barriers and directly support them to re-enroll and, in many cases, lift them out of poverty by earning a degree and gaining a meaningful career with a family-sustaining wage.”
Long and her family are strong proponents of MTCC’s vision to better serve its community with a holistic student support system and strong sense of “family” in its environment. After completing her first associate’s degree in Office Systems Technology in May of 1999, 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. One of her daughters, Hillary Long Maher, completed her Practical Nursing (LPN) degree at McDowell Tech and later completed a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and is working at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Another daughter, Niki Long Hess, completed her associate’s degree in Cosmetology at McDowell Tech. Her grandsons, Harrison and Orion Hess, completed degrees from McDowell Early College before enrolling at Western Carolina. Harrison graduated from Western and is now working at RDM Electronics in Nebo, while the younger Orion is still completing his bachelor’s degree at Western. Scarlett Hess, the youngest of the Long grandchildren to enroll at McDowell Tech, is currently studying in the Early College.
“I’m not bragging,” said Long, “but since I started working at McDowell Tech, my 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.
Long began her new role on March 1, 2022. Adult students who are looking for support to create an academic success plan or re-enroll may contact Susan at 828-659-0418 or [email protected].