CH@T: At CCCC, students eager to improve long-term learning options

Hall, the college’s Chatham provost, says school prepares community for opportunities to come

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As Chatham County provost, Mark Hall serves as Central Carolina Community College’s executive administrator in Chatham.

A North Carolina native, Hall’s life and career path have taken him all over the state: he’s lived in Charlotte, Wilmington, Cary, Boone, Raleigh, Sanford, and now Pittsboro. He has a degree in psychology from Appalachian State University and graduate degrees from N.C. State (Master of Arts in English and American Literature; Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Research and Policy Analysis).

His career at CCCC began as a part-time adjunct instructor, and his work as a full-time instructor led to a promotion as lead humanities instructor and then to Chatham County Provost — where, among many other duties, he supervises faculty and staff and helps foster partnerships with community organizations, secondary education schools, and county and municipal officials. Hall serves in various positions with a number of civic organizations, including Chatham Hospital, the Chatham Chamber of Commerce, the Siler City Rotary Club and the Chatham Soccer League; he also represents CCCC as part of the Chatham Health Alliance. Hall and his wife have three children, all of whom attend Chatham County schools.

It’s a new semester at CCCC. How are things going at the Chatham Campus, particularly as the Omicron variant of COVID makes it mark on all of us?

While the college continues to practice recommended precautions regarding COVID and its variants, students started the semester on time and many started in person. The semester began well, and the students, instructors, and support staff are working together to ensure a successful spring.

Enrollment is down at universities nationally. What’s the enrollment picture for CCCC right now?

The college’s enrollment across its service area of Chatham, Lee, and Harnett counties is down about 1% from spring 2021. In Chatham, that decrease means about 20 students aren’t in classes this spring. Considering the low unemployment in Chatham, the college is doing well serving the students who want to develop new skills and to improve their long-term options. In particular, we think those community members who are taking classes now will be prepared for opportunities coming to our area.

Looking back to this time last year, as we approached the one-year mark with COVID, what’s changed for you and for your teammates at CCCC in the past year that you may not have expected or anticipated a year ago?

We are two years into this pandemic, and many changes have occurred at the college and in our communities. Like many organizations, our teams meet much more online than ever and some employees now have partial remote-work schedules.

While pre-pandemic I would not have expected some of these changes, I am not surprised by how the college’s teams of staff and instructors have continued working together to serve the students, each other, and the communities. One observation that does surprise me, though, is how many students want to learn in person despite national discussions that say students like learning in virtual environments. Most of our in-person classes fill early, and we have had to open additional sections to accommodate this demand.

Everywhere you go in Chatham County, businesses have “HELP WANTED” and “HIRING” signs out. And we’ve reported a lot about activity and inquiries in Chatham’s two megasites; there’s a lot of anticipation about new companies and job announcements, which means the employment picture in Chatham is about to get even more interesting. Where does CCCC fit into providing a link between the many people out there wanting higher, better-paying jobs and employers who are demanding a skilled workforce?

As community colleges have always done, CCCC continues to provide learning opportunities to its community members that will prepare them for current and coming jobs and careers.

Our president (Dr. Lisa Chapman), vice president of workforce development (Margaret Roberton), and our teams have great partnerships with local and regional Economic Development teams as well as relationships with employers in the region.

These relationships allow us to development community members for family-sustaining careers with local employers. When additional employers come to this county and to the region, our college is prepared, and is always preparing, to be the institution that develops people and connects them to employers. This role in our communities is what has impacted workforce and community development across N.C. since community colleges were first established many decades ago.

Anything on the horizon in terms of new facilities in Chatham for CCCC?

The college is currently in discussion about a possible technical education building on the campus in Pittsboro that would serve as a regional skill-trades development center for CCCC and for its partners. In particular, CCCC is investing in the development of builders, electricians, plumbers, truck drivers, and advance manufacturing. While the real estate market might fluctuate, the need for these services will not for several decades to come, especially in our region. People with abilities in these areas will be prepared to have life-long employment in this area.

You were recognized with the Board Leadership Award by the Chatham Chamber of Commerce at its annual meeting not long ago. What did that award mean to you, and why is it important to you to support the Chamber and its work in Chatham County?

I appreciate the trust that the outgoing Chamber board chair, Indira Everett, placed in me over her two years in that position as we worked together to serve the Chamber and its members. She led the Chamber team well, and the board of directors really developed as a focus team committed to serving the small and large businesses in Chatham. The team has its first strategic plan and is set to accomplish much in the coming years.

Representing the College in the Chamber gives me the opportunity to learn from other community leaders and from local employers what the community needs are and what they will be, so that the College can continue doing what it does best: fostering individual, community, and economic development through transformative lifelong learning.

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