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Trailblazer Profiles from Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research Share Stories of North Carolina Community College Leaders of Color

W. Dallas Herring Professor Audrey J. Jaeger with Pitt Community College President Lawrence Rouse

Twelve Black, Latin*, Asian and Indigenous leaders in the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) have had the opportunity to share their personal and career stories over the past several months as part of the Trailblazer Profiles project. 

The profiles, which are part of the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research’s North Carolina Community College System History Project, aim to elevate and center the work of community college leaders of color in North Carolina and inspire support for diversifying the presidential leadership pipeline. 

“We are proud that the Trailblazers project is reaching deep into so many communities,” said Belk Center deputy director Monica Clark. “In addition to highlighting the stories of presidents in the system, it is inspiring leaders across the state to seek out and share the stories of their committed faculty and staff on campus.”

Since the fall of 2021, the Trailblazer Profiles project has shared the stories of current and former community college presidents and leaders from across the state. Profiles include:

The need to highlight the stories of leaders of color, and to diversify the leadership pipeline into North Carolina’s community colleges is crucial, said Belk Center Executive Director and W. Dallas Herring Professor Audrey Jaeger, as data from a survey conducted by the Belk Center shows that nearly 75% of community college leaders in the state identify as men and 88% identify as white. In contrast, only 56% of the more than 525,000 students enrolled in the North Carolina Community College System identify as white, while nearly 40% identify as a person of color. 

“The Trailblazer experience has been inspiring,” Singler said. “Seeing my story and my colleagues’ stories shared across the state is proof that our voices matter and can lead to powerful change.”

The idea behind the Trailblazer Profiles project began in 2020 when Jaeger was awarded the W. Dallas Herring Professorship and, in collaboration with graduate students, began learning about Herring’s life through hundreds of boxes of information in the NC State archives. 

This experience underscored the need to highlight the stories of other community college leaders, particularly those of historically underrepresented backgrounds, because they were currently missing from formal channels. This, Jaeger said, meant that the archives were missing important perspectives from leaders of color. 

By partnering with the UNC Southern Oral History Project, the Belk Center ensured that the leadership stories shared through the Trailblazer Profiles will remain a permanent part of their collection, the history of the South and the history of post-secondary education in the region. 

“As the Belk Center set out to do this work, we wanted to make sure that the stories and histories were more complete and that they would continue on forever,” Jaeger said.