Feature: Impacting The Now

A person helping at a food bank

If you were to create an illustration showing Forsyth Tech’s links with the community, you’d probably end up with something like an airline map, with lines going every which way. But even if you managed to create that diagram, it still wouldn’t tell you the impact of those many connections. Forsyth Tech students, teachers, staff and donors are the people who forge those connections. They keep information, communication and collaboration flowing from campus to community and back. The following stories highlight a few examples of the ways the college influences the community.

Extending a Helping Hand

As part of the training for her nursing degree, Faith Medrano was asked to spend 24 hours volunteering in the community. The first volunteer opportunity that came to her mind was the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission. “They’re well established and have so many programs, I thought they might need volunteers,” she recalls. She was right. Ms. Billie Holley, volunteer coordinator at the organization, welcomed her with open arms. And when Faith announced in class that the agency could use more volunteers, 10 fellow students also stepped up.

Located on Trade Street, the Rescue Mission offers a residential program for homeless men, a variety of community programs, and partners with Forsyth Tech to offer classes to residents who want to earn their GED and pursue vocational training.

Faith threw herself into her volunteer shifts. “I worked in the thrift store, sorting and hanging up clothes, and in the food pantry, handing out groceries such as pasta, canned vegetables and soups, cereal, and milk that doesn’t need refrigeration. I also gift-wrapped donated items that the mission distributes as gifts,” explains Faith.

Ms. Holley was so impressed with Faith and the other nursing students, she wrote to Linda Latham, director of Nursing at Forsyth Tech, to express her thanks. “Not only is Faith one of the best volunteers we have had, she is willing to do whatever project is most urgent,” Ms. Holley says. She says volunteers usually want to serve in one area, doing one job. “But all the students in Faith’s class have been willing to serve in whatever capacity they were needed in on any given day,” she observes.

For Faith, the experience has been enlightening. “Meeting people at the mission has given me a new perspective on how individuals become homeless or incarcerated, often as a result of substance abuse,” she says. “I’ve volunteered at other organizations, but this has been the most rewarding. I feel that we were really able to accomplish something, that we made a contribution.”

The Business of Starting a Small Business

In 2014, when Carrie and Emeka Anazia started their business, Acing the Undergrad, they began small. business peopleAuthors of the book Acing the Undergrad: Your Personal Mentor, they promoted it at a series of speaking events.

Since then, the entrepreneurs have expanded their services to include workshops, teaching students their method to develop the tools needed for college success. They’ve also added a mentorship program and created a 10-episode online video series called Acing the Undergrad: The Show that’s available on YouTube.

“In our first year, our book was used by one college for freshman orientation class,” says Emeka. “Our college success book is now being used by multiple high schools and college prep organizations, such as Upward Bound and Crosby Scholars, as well as by two colleges.” Although they launched the business on their own, the Anazias have since sought help from Forsyth Tech’s Small Business Center (SBC).

The SBC, located in Innovation Quarter, offers free, confidential, one-on-one business counseling to small business owners and those considering entrepreneurship. SBC counselors advise business owners on strategic planning to help them grow and weather whatever economic storm comes their way. They also counsel entrepreneurs on marketing and offer a number of workshops that provide information and guidance to sharpen entrepreneurs’ business skills.

“We asked for feedback on our logo, our website and our LinkedIn profile, and we’ve attended SBC workshops,” Emeka notes. Additionally, the business owners consulted the SBC about ways to gain exposure through networking. “They connected us to networking opportunities, including the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, which we are now members of.”

On September 17, Forsyth Tech and Wells Fargo co-hosted Venture Innovation Café™, an all-day event that brought together prospective entrepreneurs and representatives from community, state and federal agencies, institutions and businesses.

“This spring, a group of 20 organizations formed the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of Forsyth County,” explains Allan Younger, director of the SBC. “Members all offer resources for small businesses. We thought it would be wise to launch the organization with an event that would make everyone aware of the services all of us provide,” he adds. The group’s members share information and serve as catalysts for the expansion of small business in the Triad.

Allan gives an example of how the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem members collaborate. “At the Small Business Center, we interact with people every day. And when we identify that they need a particular skill, we suggest different ways and where they can go to acquire that skill,” he explains.

Allan, winner of the 2015 Small Business Advocate Award from Kernersville’s Chamber of Commerce, planned the event, along with his team. Wells Fargo’s participation stems from the company’s growing interest in providing services to small business owners. “Venture Innovation Café™ gave key stakeholders and entrepreneurs an opportunity to network, attend classes, and learn about the many resources our community offers,” emphasizes Alan Proctor, Winston-Salem market president for Wells Fargo.

Instruments of Change

It was an email Michael Ayers just had to share with his staff. Instruments-of-ChangeMichael, Dean of Math, Science & Technologies, received the email from Tara Stanley, who had recently earned a degree from Forsyth Tech after overcoming many hurdles.

In the course of raising her autistic son, now a teenager, Tara became fascinated with understanding the biochemistry of the brain. Although she already holds two degrees – a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in creative writing – Tara decided to go back to school after 20 years and enroll in math and science classes at Forsyth Tech. Her goal was to earn a second undergraduate degree, this time in science. Little did she know that she was embarking upon a much different – and difficult – academic journey than she had originally planned.

In her letter to Dean Ayers, Tara expressed her admiration and gratitude for her instructors, detailing the impact they had on her life during her tenure at Forsyth Tech. She singled out Dr. Cheryl Burrell and Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove, in particular. “Not only are they stellar teachers, but they became mentors and pillars of support. They open the world to students through science and became two of my biggest role models,” she wrote.

Tara also went on to praise staff member Tami Sappenfield, manager of Retention and Workforce, who supported her throughout her time at Forsyth Tech. “Tami is a true friend to adult students,” she says. “I had just enrolled in my first class in 20 years and was feeling a bit of angst. While discussing the Science Skills Lab over the phone, Tami told me that adult students held a special place in her heart. I found out later these were not just simply words, when she invited me to take part in special events. Tami made me feel like a true part of this school,” emphasizes Tara.

During her time at Forsyth Tech, Tara experienced several personal crises: She lost four close family members, including her stepmother and her grandmother. In addition, Tara’s father nearly died in a fall and is now disabled. Tara manages his care. Added to that was her autistic son’s transition to middle school.

“Those semesters, I was taking biology, chemistry and math classes from Dr. Tamara Starobina, Dr. Chris Dometrius, Tatjana Jovanovic-Grove and Dr. Cheryl Burrell,” she remembers. “They showed they understand the crushing load that adult students sometimes bear, and they worked with me through some very tough times. I cannot thank them enough for helping me succeed in their classes despite the circumstances,” Tara says.

Tara also praises her “first cheerleader” at the college, Dr. Shelton Charles, who encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree rather than a second undergraduate degree. “I told him I could never do it, especially since I had a disabled child. Nobody would want me. I thought he was crazy! But he said an emphatic, ‘Yes you can do it.’ He believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. He built my confidence and that was the starting point,” she recalls.

“Tara is truly an inspiration,” says Dean Ayers. “Her instructors and I have admired her spirit, tenacity, dedication and intelligence. As dean, I appreciate her recognition of our hardworking and caring faculty,” he adds.

“The faculty invests much intellectual and emotional energy in our students,” he continues. “I know they make a difference in people’s lives and, ultimately, in our community. However, it is always rewarding to learn about specific instances such as Tara’s. She is one example of the impact Forsyth Tech has here.”

When Tara requested letters of recommendation for graduate school programs she was applying to, Dean Ayers and department faculty members were happy to oblige. “Tara has what it takes to make a difference in autism science. I am glad Forsyth Tech was able to help move her closer to her goal.”

Putting Faculty First

A lifelong educator, Andrea Kepple spent her 30-year career teaching grade school, middle school, high school and college students. “I’ve always thought of teaching as a higher calling,” she says.

Her husband, stockbroker David Kepple, had a special attachment to Forsyth Tech. He was appointed to the college’s Board of Trustees, and became a regular visitor on campus. “He would even go to eat lunch there, to meet students and talk to faculty,” Mrs. Kepple reminisces. Her husband was especially sensitive to issues affecting teachers, having witnessed his wife’s challenges, such as a lack of classroom resources, over the years.

After Mr. Kepple died suddenly in 1998, his wife created the C. David Kepple Memorial Faculty Award. “I thought it was only natural to establish an award in his memory that would help instructors,” Mrs. Kepple recalls.

The award isn’t designed to pay for the completion of a degree. It’s meant to give faculty the opportunity to expand their horizons. “This award is open to faculty members who wish to enhance their time in the classroom.”

She offers some examples. “We’ve covered fees and travel costs for instructors to attend workshops. The award has paid for trips to Russia, Spain and Mexico and bought a piece of equipment that helped an instructor in the classroom,” she recalls. “The more imaginative the idea, the better,” says Mrs. Kepple.

Once Mrs. Kepple retired from teaching in 1999, she had time for involvement in community organizations. She accepted an invitation to serve on Forsyth Tech’s Board, since she is deeply invested in education. She now serves on the Foundation’s Board of Directors and the college’s Board of Trustees.

“We do so many good things at Forsyth Tech,” she observes. “We offer hope, pride, self-respect, the ability to get a better job, affordability, and diplomas and degrees for students who are sometimes the first in their family to attend college. I’m so enthusiastic about the college.”