Faculty and staff at McDowell Technical Community College put a gigantic bow on the fall semester Thursday by celebrating with two of their retiring colleagues who were awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by NC Governor Roy Cooper. The award is North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, reserved “…for persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.” Individuals receiving the award become North Carolina “Ambassadors” and members of “The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society.”
Dr. Penny Cross, who retired December 1st as Vice-President for Academics and Student Services, and Dr. Beverly Watts, who is retiring this month as Dean of Student Success, were presented the awards by NC Commissioner of Labor Josh Dobson, a McDowell County resident, joined by MTCC Board of Trustee Member Robert Ayers and Marion Downtown Business Association Director Freddie Killough.
Recommendations of the Honorees
“Dr. Cross has been an important part of McDowell Technical Community College for over 30 years, having served as instructor, Dean and Vice-President, as well as other titles and duties” said Ayers, who recommended Dr. Cross for the honor. In his recommendation, he noted that Cross had also been an active part of the community and her church, Pleasant Gardens Baptist. She is a board member of the McDowell Trails Association and past member of the Kiwanis Club of Marion.
“All these things she does with unassuming grace and humility,” he said. “You will probably never meet a more humble person who goes about her work with a quiet, always efficient work ethic, never wanting to be in the limelight.”
Killough was equally passionate in her recommendation of Dr. Watts for her award. “Dr. Watts is not only dedicated to her professional career at McDowell Technical Community College,” Killough wrote, “she is a vital part of community volunteers that make Marion special.” She noted that Watts has been organizing the Mountain Glory Festival Kids Korner for over 15 years after seeing the need while also working as a volunteer with Boy Scouts. Watts, she noted, serves on the City of Marion Tree Board, where she coordinated tree identification signs with QR codes made by students in MTCC’s welding classes. In addition to serving on the McDowell County Health Coalition, focusing on education and school attendance, Watts also served as supervisor of the Community Forum Program Director for five years.
“During all of these community involvements,” Killough said, “Dr. Watts was and is a dedicated daughter, wife, mother, and is actively involved in her church.” In summary, she wrote, “Dr. Beverly Watts is a compassionate and visionary leader and an asset to this community, her church and to McDowell Technical Community College. We are blessed to have her in our community.”
Dr. Penny Cross
Dr. Cross began her career with McDowell Technical Community College as an adjunct instructor in the nursing assistant program in 1991, later becoming a full-time instructor in the practical nursing program in 1997. From 2002 to 2007, she served as Director of Nursing Assistant Program and also helped the college start the Health Information Technology Program and gained CAAHEP Accreditation for that program. From 2007 to 2016, she served as Dean of Health Sciences and Director of the Practical Nurse Education Program. In September, 2016, she became Vice-President for Learning and Student Services, the position from which she is now retiring.
Dr. Cross holds a Diploma in Nursing (RN) from Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing, a Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration from the University of North Carolina at Asheville, a Master of Nursing Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and a Doctor of Educational Leadership from Western Carolina University.
“Dr. Cross’ focus in Education has been working with non-traditional students to ensure their success in higher education,” said Commissioner Dobson. “(She) embodies the spirit of Workforce Education in the Healthcare Industry.”
Dr. Beverly Watts
From 1990 to 1997, Dr. Watts was a teacher at Marion Christian Academy (MCA) in Marion. In 1991, shortly after beginning her employment at MCA, she also became an adjunct instructor at McDowell Tech, a position she held until December, 1997. In 1998, she became a full-time instructor in College Transfer and Mathematics at McDowell Tech. Ever passionate about classroom teaching, when she advanced to administrative roles at McDowell Tech, she continued teaching Mathematics, inspiring admiration from generations of students. From 2003 to 2011, Watts served as Department Chair of Developmental Studies, and from 2011 to 2020, she was Director of Developmental Studies and the Quality Enhancement Plan. In 2020, she was promoted to Dean of Student Success, the position from which she is currently retiring. In addition to her collegiate career at McDowell Tech, Watts also served as an adjunct instructor in Mathematics at Montreat College from 2010 to 2012.
Dr. Watts received both a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education at North Carolina State University, where she also did graduation work in the Master’s Program in Operations Research. Watts also completed a Master of Arts in Middle Grades Education with a concentration in Mathematics and received her Doctor of Philosophy in Education with a specialization in Higher Education and Adult Education.
Dr. Watts was twice the recipient of the MTCC Excellence in Teaching Award and was a Semi-finalist for the NC Community College System Excellence in Teaching Award in 2005. From 2003 to 2007, she was recognized as a Distinguished Chapter President for Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Watts has also been awarded the Silver Beaver Award for the Piedmont Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and the District Award of Merit from the Swamp Fox District of Boy Scouts of America (BSA). In October 2011, Watts was named City of Marion Citizen of the Month.
“It has indeed been my honor and privilege to work with both of these distinguished educators over my tenure at McDowell Tech,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “Both of them have provided exemplary service and leadership to this institution and to the students, faculty and staff whom they have served. Their work ethic, their commitment to our mission and their student-centered focus make them excellent role models for other educators and public servants. I can think of no better choices for the honor of receiving The Order of the Longleaf Pine than Drs. Cross and Watts. Congratulations and best wishes on your retirement!”