Documentary Screening, Panel Discussion Help Associate Professor James Bartlett Show ‘Community Colleges are a Viable Pathway to Success’

A panel discussion followed a screening of One Step Closer at the NC State College of Education

NC State College of Education Associate Professor James Bartlett, Ph.D., wants North Carolina students to know that community colleges can provide a pathway to career success.

Bartlett, along with Teaching Assistant Professor Michelle Bartlett, Ph.D., helped spread this message through an ECMC Foundation-sponsored panel discussion and screening of the Roadtrip Nation documentary One Step Closer on Nov. 21 at the Talley Student Union on NC State’s campus.

“The purpose was to provide people with information about community colleges as a first choice for educational opportunities,” said James Bartlett, director of the Charlotte adult and community college doctoral cohort. “We sometimes see that community colleges are not necessarily viewed as a first choice, but the documentary showed successes for people who went through that pathway.”

More about One Step Closer

One Step Closer follows three students as they travel the nation exploring the success stories of people whose higher education journeys started at a community college. The documentary is available to watch in-full online with an accompanying viewing guide to host a discussion with students.

Following a 30-minute viewing of curated clips from the documentary — which featured interviews with notable community college graduates around the country — students, faculty, community college leaders, educators and school board members attending the event engaged in a panel discussion that explored ways community colleges can change perceptions and become more effective for students.

Among the panelists was Paul Gessner, a retired North Carolina Superior Court judge who shared his story of starting his career at Wake Technical Community College, with the goal of becoming a police officer, before eventually earning a bachelor’s degree and enrolling in law school.

The discussion highlighted the fact that a traditional four-year degree program might not be right for everybody, and even those who hope to earn a four-year degree might not achieve their goal at the same pace as others.

Panelist Deesha Dyer shared her story of simultaneously interning at the White House while she earned her community college degree after returning to school as an adult. Before even graduating, she went on to become a special assistant to President Barack Obama and White House social secretary.

“Deesha’s story shows that you can go from a community college to working for the president of the United States, which shows that you can be proud to be a community college student and graduate,” James Bartlett said.

James Bartlett noted that it is crucial that people see North Carolina’s community colleges as a vital option as the state works to meet the goal set by myFutureNC — an organization focused on educational attainment — of having 2 million adults in North Carolina holding postsecondary degrees or credentials by 2030.

“Community colleges must continue to play a significant role in helping people get degrees, credentials and diplomas. If the community colleges aren’t committed to this challenge, North Carolina won’t meet the attainment goal,” he said. “It’s critical for us to get the word out that the community colleges are a viable pathway to success.”