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Martin Community College shows its giddy-up is back

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North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges members, including Lyn Austin, center, Scott Shook, right, and others, observe the new barn and facilities of the MCC Equine Program, which students will use when they return this upcoming fall semester.


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Friday, July 20, 2018

WILLIAMSTON — Officials with Martin Community College said their school is ready for growth and development and thankful for the state community college system’s guidance in reaching this new phase.

Members of the North Carolina Board of Community Colleges and the system office staff held their July committee meetings at the college on Thursday after touring the school’s equine facility.

The state board will hold its full meeting beginning at 9 a.m. today at Pitt Community College in Winterville.

The college’s leadership wanted to show the state board that they are taking its guidance, and also show how the school is using money from the Connect NC bond that North Carolina voters approved in 2016.

“I told the (state) board at that time MCC was on a dirt path with a lot of potholes and a long ways back from state roads. I didn’t realize how that would play out,” said Rick Cowan, newly appointed MCC Board of Trustees’ vice chairman.

Cowan said that with the state board’s assistance, the college got off the dirt path. The work of interim president Ken Boham and past board chairman Helen Davis moved the school from the dirt road to paved highway. New President Paul Hutchins, who joined the college in March, has the school traveling down that highway.

“I’m telling you, we are getting real real close to a four-lane highway,” Cowan said.

Cowan was referencing the struggle between the college’s trustees and the state board over whether then-president Ann Britt should continue at the school. The trustees eventually reached a settlement with Britt after the state board suspended her salary.

“As you walk around the building and grounds today you are going to see some real changes, but you’re going to see some things that haven’t changed yet,” Cowan said. “But we are going to get to it. A lot of stuff is happening here.”

“Martin Community College is about two things, adding value to the lives of our students and enriching this community,” said Hutchins, who came to Martin Community College from Sampson Community College.

“Prior to coming, I didn’t know if the folks here would be beaten, unmotivated, not ready to work to move the college forward,” Hutchins said in a later interview. “Sometimes when you go through stressful situations people can get beaten down but it’s been the exact opposite.”

The school’s faculty, staff and trustees are focused on helping students achieve success, he said.

“I could not ask for a better situation, to come to a college and know that everybody is going to be working shoulder to shoulder with me to do the best we can to ensure the students who come here will get a great education and have an opportunity to be successful in life,” Hutchins said. He credited Boham, who began the healing process and energized staff and the trustees.

The state board’s tour of the college began with Tammie Thurston, director of equine technology, explaining the program and leading a tour of its facilities.

“The thing about equine colleges or programs is they generally, as a rule, are so expensive,” Thurston said.

She attended the University of Findlay located in Findlay, Ohio. The program cost $20,000 at that time. Today it’s a $40,000 program. Another school’s program is $45,000 a year.

“We come in with this same level of education at such an amazing value,” she said. “I often say we’ve taken a four-year degree and we have combined it into a two-year program,” she said.

MCC recently partnered with Nash Community College to offer a veterinary technician degree. There is a growing demand for vet technicians in the large animal field, especially in the equine area, Thurston said.

Thurston was asked if the school had a farrier program. Farriers specialize in horse hoof care, including fitting horses with shoes.

“There is not any farrier school, much less a good one, on the East Coast so it is something we are looking at,” Thurston said.

The school committed $1.2 million of the $6.5 million it received from the statewide Connect NC bond to make improvements to the equine facility. The first work was renovations of the barn, a facility state board member Ann Whitford toured in early 2016 prior to the bond placement’s on the general election ballot. At that time, there were puddles of water along the dirt floors of the barn, stall walls were rotting and some stall doors didn’t latch properly.

“I don’t recognize it,” Whitfield said. The barn now has cement flooring, new stalls, giant ceiling fans and improved heating.

“Everything is clean and neat looking; it’s just amazing,” Whitfield said.

“This is a living testament to what that bond money means for a rural school,” Boham said.

Finding ways to aid rural community colleges is one part of tackling the growing rural-urban divide in North Carolina is one of the long-term challenges facing the state community college system, state board Chairman Scott Shook said in a Wednesday interview.

“We have 58 percent of (community) colleges in communities where the population of 18-24 year-olds is going to decrease. Our question is how we as a community college system going to thrive in that environment,” Shook said.

The pride of the North Carolina Community College system is that most North Carolinians are within 30 driving minutes of a college, Shook said. The challenge is maintaining access to affordable higher education along with maintaining the schools’ roles in community development, he said.

The next phases in the equine facility improvements include building a dedicated classroom space and making improvements to the arena building and outside arena, said Cowan, a Williamston native.

“The next time money becomes available from a bond fund is probably going to be in the next generation. We’re entrusted as trustees to figure out how best to spend that money to improve the college,” Cowan said

“We’re never going to get that money out of the county commissioners because there is no room for it in the tax base,” he said. “We’ve been given an opportunity to do something pretty special that will last a generation.”

The college also plans to build a fire training facility on campus and has allocated $850,000 of bond proceeds toward the project, he said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.