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17 Doctoral Students Chosen to Represent Belk Center at National Conferences as Belk Center Fellows

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Since joining the NC State College of Education’s Community College Leadership doctoral program in 2020, Kristen Johnson has had the opportunity to serve as a Belk Center Fellow twice, attending Achieving the Dream’s DREAM 2021 conference as well as the League for Innovation in the Community College conference in 2022. However, those national conferences were all held virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When she was selected once again as a fellow this year, she was excited for the opportunity to not only take on the role of lead fellow, but to finally attend a conference in person. 

“To say I learned a lot from participating in both previous conferences is an understatement, but I missed connecting with colleagues and having opportunities for deeper conversation outside of scheduled activities,” Johnson said. “I was elated to find out that not only was I selected [again], but I will also serve as lead fellow. The opportunity to represent both NC State and the Belk Center at Innovations 2023 is truly an honor and a privilege.” 

Johnson is one of 17 doctoral students chosen to participate in the 2023 Belk Center Fellows program through the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research. Seven students will attend Achieving the Dream’s DREAM 2023 conference in Chicago from Feb. 14-17 while the other 10 fellows will attend the League for Innovation in the Community College Innovations Conference in Tempe, Arizona, from March 11-14. 

“As a first-generation college student and long-time community college practitioner, I am so grateful to be a part of this community of practice around equity and sustainable practices that can lead to the best chances for dynamic social and economic mobility for learners in our communities,” said Belk Center Fellow Tiffani Polk, who will attend the DREAM 2023 conference. “It means so much to me that the Belk Center and NC State would allow me to represent them in this important work.” 

The Belk Center’s Fellows Program began in the 2017-18 academic year through a partnership with Achieving the Dream — a non-government reform movement focused on helping community college students have better economic opportunities — and the creation of a cohort of DREAM Fellows. It has since expanded to include a partnership with the League for Innovation in the Community College.

The goal of the fellows program is to bring together a select group of doctoral students to listen and engage in national conversations surrounding community college and student success.

“This is an opportunity for fellows to tie research to practice and to stimulate new ideas based on evidenced-based presentations from leading practitioners taking on key challenges in the field,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream and chair of the Belk Center’s advisory board. “Our partnership with North Carolina State University through the Belk Center is an important part of ATD’s commitment to support the development of the next generation of researchers and leaders as we work to transform community colleges to advance equitable mobility for students in North Carolina and around the nation.

“We’re excited to host the Belk Center Fellows at the League’s Innovations Conference again this year and to support their exploration of innovation as a key characteristic of community college leadership, practice, and culture,” said Rufus Glasper, president and CEO of the League for Innovation in the Community College. “While innovation has long been a feature of community colleges, the past three years have demonstrated the central role it can have in the face of unprecedented challenges. Community colleges are continuing to innovate as they adjust to a new, still unclear normal and its new challenges. At this year’s conference, the Belk Center Fellows will hear about ongoing innovative efforts to fulfill the basic mission of community colleges, ensure successful outcomes for students, and contribute to the social and economic growth of the communities they serve. The Innovations Conference is a premier showcase of these efforts.”

For many of the 2023 Belk Center Fellows, the ability to attend these national conferences is an opportunity for them to learn more about their specific research interests. 

Cherelle Lawrence, who will serve as the lead fellow at the DREAM 2023 conference, said she is excited to learn more about evidence-based strategies related to diversity, equity and inclusion and develop new skills she can apply to her current and future career. 

“I am most interested in learning about the work of access and collective impact. These are two areas that closely relate to the work I want to pursue in my dissertation, but also areas that I can learn and bring back best practices to the work I am doing professionally to develop a stronger culture of learning and inclusiveness,” she said. 

For Johnnie Mickel, who will attend the League conference, the fellowship is not only a chance to represent the Belk Center but an opportunity to be part of a conversation to develop the future of higher education and ultimately have an impact for community college students at the local, state and national levels. 

“My ultimate career goal is to make an impact. What form that takes over the next few years is still up for debate, but I know that I want to help as many students as possible and that requires influencing policy and practice,” he said. “Having the opportunity to hear from and interact with some of the major players in the community college landscape will help me form a stronger vision of what a student’s community college experience will be like in 2030 and beyond.” 

Below is a full list of 2023 Belk Center Fellows: 

DREAM 2023 Conference Fellows

  • Jody Call; Executive Director of Strategic Planning at Wilkes Community College
  • Germaine Elkins; Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Sandhills Community College
  • Robyn Fusaro; Instructional Designer at North Carolina State University
  • Brian Jones; Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Services at Pitt Community College
  • Kobie Joyner; Department Head of Network and Computer Technologies at Wake Technical Community College
  • Cherrelle Lawrence; Professional Development and Knowledge Management Lead at Clarkston Consulting
  • Tiffani Polk; Career and Technical Education Manager at Dallas College

Innovations Conference Fellows

  • Christina Bunch; English as a Second Language Instructor at multiple institutions
  • Sandra Chandler; Associate Director, Employer Engagement and Recruiting at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School
  • Mark Gray; Safety and Security Director at the North Carolina Department of Commerce
  • Chris Harrison; Criminal Justice Instructor at Pitt Community College
  • Brandon Hensley, Associate Dean of Career and Technical Education at McDowell Technical Community College
  • Kristen Johnson; Associate Professor of Biology at Guilford Technical Community College
  • Amy Mahle; Program Chair of the Occupational Therapy Assistant Program
  • Amanda Melniczek, Associate Professor of the Department of Communication and Foreign Language at Guilford Technical Community College
  • Johnnie Mickel; Director of Career Development at Davidson-Davie Community College
  • Janice Stowell; Teacher/Mentor, Special Education/Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) with the Wake County Public School System and North Carolina State University