Encore Performance

Published 5:05 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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AHOSKIE – As she begins her second year as President of Roanoke-Chowan Community College (R-CCC), Dr. Murray J. Williams has a tough act to follow – herself.

The college is coming off a banner year, leading the state’s entire community college system in the category of highest percentage of enrollment over a one-year span. The college saw a 41 percent increase, from an enrollment of 1,847 at the close of the 2020-21 academic year to 2,321 one year later.

Meanwhile, Williams entered R-CCC into a historic agreement with neighboring Martin Community College to increase the number of nursing students in the region. That agreement, signed in April of this year, had already made an impact as R-CCC boasts of its highest number of nursing students in years: 18 new enrollees and 21 advancing to the next level of the program.

RCCC applied for and received a $125,000 state grant shared with Martin Community College. RCCC received $85,000 and MCC gained $45,000 with all funds supporting the nursing program.

Founded in 1967 as Roanoke-Chowan Technical Institute, R-CCC opens its 55th year on Wednesday, Aug. 17 as classes officially begin, and Williams said she’s excited about the start of a new season of academic success and overall growth.

“Coming off a great year in 2021-22, we are thrilled with our growing enrollment,” Williams stated. “With more students enrolled we may have to hire a couple more faculty members. We have increased our full-time staff by hiring a new instructor for our Criminal Justice program and one for our Education program. We’re still looking for full-time nursing instructors.”

Williams stressed that R-CCC is open to serve a broad swath of the community. That includes helping those gain a GED, learn a trade or a skill and immediately enter the workforce, or earn a two-year associates degree with plans to complete those studies at a four-year college or university.

“We can help a student transition wherever they want…to the workplace or to seek education at a higher level,” she stressed. “We also offer continuing education classes on nights and weekends. We classes at a very affordable rate ($76 per credit hour) and for those who qualify they may not have to pay anything for their education. There are grants that cover the tuition.”

R-CCC also helps students with clothing, food, and transportation.

“When a student comes to you homeless and hungry, you’ve got to be able to serve that need,” she noted. “They struggle to learn when they’re hungry; they struggle in the classroom when they don’t know where they’ll lay their head down and sleep that night. We have to be prepared to help fill those needs.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Williams looks to continue to build upon the relationships she built in the community since arriving last year. Those relationships included quarterly clergy breakfasts and business and industry roundtables.

“It is very important to invite local clergy members here and pray over our institution,” she said. “Because of my faith, I believe there’s nothing we can’t get accomplished here if we make sure that God is leading us.”

At the quarterly meetings, Dr. Williams and members of the faith-based community discuss various ways that the college and local churches can interact.

“They have offered space in their churches for continuing education and college readiness classes and transportation with their church buses and vans to help out our students who sometimes struggle to find a way to attend classes,” Williams stated.

She also addressed the importance of the having local business and industry leaders visiting the campus for the roundtable discussions.

“When I got here one of the first challenges the board (trustees) gave me was to repair the relationship between the college and its workforce partners,” Williams recalled. “These roundtable meetings are one of the ways we are doing that. We support our workforce partners. We help them fill their labor needs and figure out other ways to help them.”

Williams pointed out that earlier this summer, RCCC hosted a “Weld to Work’ program, a partnership between college, Nucor, Republic Services, and the shipyard. Seven students graduated from that six-week program.

“We are now working to develop other partnerships with local businesses,” Williams said. “Our objective is to train these individuals to find jobs at family-sustaining wages and raise them up out of poverty.”

One of those partnerships is a medical assistant apprenticeship program with Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center.

Williams stressed the importance of her role, her presence within the local area.

“I’m involved locally; I was recently named to the board of directors at the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce and the Murfreesboro Chamber already had their board in place and told me that hopefully they can work something out next year,” she said. “It’s like the Murfreesboro mayor told me that things are looking good at the college and I had put the community back into the community college. That made me feel great.

“At a community college, we get to meet people where they are,” Williams continued. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a high school diploma, we can help you through our college and career readiness classes. We’re also the first community college in the state to become certified to do the Ability to Benefit program. That allows those without a GED, but who are taking college and career readiness classes in order to meet high school equivalency standards, to obtain Pell Grant funding. They can simultaneously be enrolled in college and career readiness classes and regular college credit classes.”

Williams has also strengthened the college by hiring what she referenced as a “dynamic leadership team.” They are Vice President of Instruction and Student Services, Dr. Jamie Woods; Associate Vice President of Student Services, Dr. Tanya Oliver; Vice President for Administrative & Fiscal Services, Dr. LaToya Wiley; and Executive Vice President for Workforce Development & Institutional Effectiveness/Executive Director of the Foundation, Stephanie Benson.

“I didn’t set out to purposely hire only women,” Williams noted. “I was looking for the best candidate in each position and these four respectively rose to the top. I thoroughly believe we have the senior leadership team in place to move this college forward.”

Dr. Williams also praised the R-CCC Board of Trustees.

“This board has been very supportive of me since day one. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with them,” she said.

Earlier this year, an economic study showed that R-CCC has a $33 million impact on the community.

“That shows the importance of this college to the communities we serve. The community needs this institution,” Williams stressed.

She has also led the efforts to prepare for SACSCOC Re-Accreditation for the college. In October, the onsite team will be on campus.

“In advance of that onsite visit, we will turn in our focus report at the end of this month. We’re confident that we will be reaffirmed next June for 10 more years,” Williams maintained.

Williams also stressed the importance of revitalizing the RCCC Foundation.

“We’ve filled all 21 seats on the Foundation’s Board of Directors. We’re very excited about that,” she said.

Personally, the Mississippi native said she feels right at home in the Roanoke-Chowan area.

“When I moved here I had no transition issues….no culture shock,” Williams stated. “When I drove here last April I felt like I was driving home. I grew up in a small town, much smaller than Ahoskie. I grew up in Pace, Mississippi, a town of about 300 people. I grew up on a farm, so that prepared me for living here. I love small communities. I’m at a season of my life that this is the type of community I can settle down in. I love living here.

“I’m not here to use R-CCC as a stepping stone to my next job. There is no next job for me. I want people in the community to know that I’m here to help build this institution because this institution will help build this community,” Dr. Williams concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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