Dr. Steve Thornburg
President of Cleveland Community College
Distinguished 1988 NC State College of Education Alumnus
My community college career began in the summer of 1979 when Gaston College hired me as the first director of its Lincoln County Campus. Prior to Gaston, I worked as a district executive for the Piedmont Council, Boy Scouts of America, and completed my Masters of Public Administration at UNC Chapel Hill.
I started taking NCSU courses part-time in 1983 when NC State’s Adult and Community College Education Program (ACCE) began offering courses at Western Piedmont Community College. In fall 1984, my wife and I moved to Cary and I became a full-time student in the ACCE program. The program provided several assistantships and employment opportunities. My committee chair, Dr. Terry Tollefson, shook my hand as ‘Dr. Thornburg’ after the defense of my dissertation in summer 1988.
My wife and I moved to Bangor, Maine, in August 1988, where a young 34-year-old became president of Eastern Maine Technical College. Two years later we moved back to North Carolina when I started as president of Cleveland Community College. Since August 1, 1990, I have served as Cleveland’s second president.
The State Board of Community Colleges named me the Wells Fargo President of the Year in 2014. At its annual meeting in December 2013, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges presented me with the 2013 Meritorious Service Award.
The Department of Adult and Community College Education provided a strong foundation of theory, research, and coursework to allow a student to construct a conceptual framework to support an educational philosophy on which to build a career.
Faculty members like Ed Boone, Ron Shearon, Terry Tollefson, Dale Campbell, Conrad Glass, and Ben Fountain provided strong connections between the academic concepts of the adult learner and the real world activities of community college professionals. The ACCE program was able to weave a mosaic of conceptual and applicable learning opportunities preparing both future university researchers and future community college professionals.
My most enjoyable experiences were the small group discussions with fellow students and with professors. I was always impressed with the openness and willingness of professors to help individual students move forward toward completion of their degrees.
The ACCE program’s faculty members were open to exploring all ideas and directions. Each faculty member seemed to take a personal interest in you and your future goals. I will always hold my professors in high esteem and sincerely appreciate each of their suggestions and guidance that set me on a wonderful career path of education and service.
I would advise students to seek out the knowledge and wisdom of your professors and engage them in conversation about your strengths and weaknesses and how you should move forward. Take advantage of every opportunity available as you move through your program. Be prepared to take risks and be flexible. For me, moving to Maine was a wonderful opportunity that opened the door for quicker advancement returning to North Carolina.
Cleveland Community College has growth and prospered during my tenure as President, not because of me, but because of a wonderful team of community college professionals working together to reach new heights.