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Why I Give: ‘I Give to Support the Caring Group of Administrators, Faculty and Staff Who Once Made Me Feel Loved,’ Says Doctoral Student Gene Deese ‘21EDD

Gene Deese

Editor’s Note: This is part of a monthly “Why I Give” series in which NC State College of Education alumni, students, faculty and staff share why they support the college.

There is a significant shortage of Native American males with doctoral degrees in his community, says Gene Deese ’21EDD, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina who lives in Pembroke, in Robeson County, where the majority of Lumbee Indians live. That’s what inspired and motivated him to pursue his doctorate in community college leadership at the NC State College of Education.

His educational journey to NC State began in August 1993 as an undergraduate student. But due to personal reasons, he had to leave and return home in June 1995, though that did not deter him from his goal to earn a college degree. He became the first in his family to graduate with bachelor’s and graduate degrees — earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, a master’s degree in construction management from East Carolina University and an educational specialist degree in higher education from Appalachian State University. 

During his career, he has served as a construction manager for his father’s construction company, where he began working when he was 15 as a construction laborer. He later served as a seventh grade mathematics curriculum teacher before teaching computer engineering at the local county career high school. Deese also served as an adjunct instructor at a local community college. 

Today, he works as a technology support analyst in the Office of Online Learning at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP).

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Deese started working on a project management certificate through the Office of Professional Development at NC State, having completed four of the five required courses. Now, he is pursuing his doctoral degree.

Deese considers himself a leader among his co-workers, community and church. But says his most prominent accomplishment is being the leader of his family. When not working or studying for his doctorate, he enjoys listening to audiobooks, binge-watching shows on Netflix or spending time with his family and friends. He can be found cooking for his family, traveling to the beach with his wife or following his three children around on their many adventures. Deese also enjoys attending and serving in his church and ordering takeout from his favorite Asian or Mexican restaurant. 

In the Q&A below, he talks about why he chose the NC State College of Education to pursue his doctorate, why he supports the college and why he feels it’s important to give back to the university. The following is edited for length and clarity.

Why did you choose to attend the NC State College of Education for your doctorate?

I began my educational journey as a college student at NC State in August 1993, and I had to leave in June 1995 and return home for personal reasons. As a full-circle effect, it just seemed fitting that my collegiate trip end with a doctorate from NC State.

While researching doctorate programs, I attended an informational session given by the Director of the Adult and Community College Leadership Doctoral Program, Dr. Carrol Warren. In the session, Dr. Warren answered all the questions that I had about the program, and she unknowingly sold me on the benefits of completing a doctorate at NC State.

What are your research interests and what inspired those interests?

I have an interest in completion and transfer as a thematic research area. In my current job, I analyze the completion rates and transfer numbers of select community colleges. From these analyses, my department believes that community college transfers who have completed their associate degrees perform better at a four-year institution than those who enter the institutions as true freshmen. So, exploring the factors that improve the success of students who seek to complete a bachelor’s degree seems fitting.

These interests were inspired by my struggle to complete a bachelor’s degree and by the desire to help students avoid the same pitfalls. If the variables that determine a student’s successful completion of a degree can be predicted, then the information should be shared with the masses.

Why do you give to the NC State College of Education?

Four months after starting my doctorate program, Hurricane Florence impacted the area where I lived. Thankfully, my residence did not experience any damage. Surprisingly, within days, I received an email from the dean of the College of Education informing me that NC State had resources to help me. I was humbled by the consideration shown to students’ needs by the College of Education administration. This act of kindness reassured me that I had made the right choice in a doctorate program and made me very proud to be part of the Wolfpack family.

So, I give to support the caring group of administrators, faculty and staff who once made me feel loved.

What do you hope to see happen as a result of your gift?

I hope to see a never-ending cycle of students and alumni giving back due to something they might have received when they were in need.

Why do you feel it’s important to give back to the university?

It is essential to give back to the university because it affords other students the same opportunities once offered to me. A person should always strive to leave a place better than when they found it. Not to be cliche, but to “pay it forward.”

How has private financial support or scholarships impacted your experience?

I have seen students and classmates who ordinarily could not afford a higher education experience be given a chance to make a difference in their lives. Some of the classmates that I have known over the years have drastically changed their trajectories in life for generations to come because of the private financial support and scholarships they received.