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Belk Center Fellows Convene at Annual Innovations Conference

This week, 10 fellows from the The Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research are in attendance at the The League for Innovation in the Community College’s annual Innovations Conference in Tempe, Ariz. 

Belk Center Fellows together with Dr. Rufus Glasper of The League for Innovation in the Community College

Now in its 26th year, the Innovations Conference is the foremost convening for professionals dedicated to improving and enhancing teaching and learning, leadership and management, and the community college experience. Each year, the event provides academic experts and thought leaders with opportunities to collaborate and learn more about the most inventive and inspirational community college programs from around the world. 

For many of these doctoral students – who are part of the 2023 Belk Center Fellows cohort – the opportunity to attend national conferences is a great opportunity to learn more about their specific research interests. 

The Belk Center’s Fellows Program began in 2017 through a partnership with Achieving the Dream (ATD) and the creation of a cohort of DREAM fellows. The program later expanded to include a partnership with the League for Innovation in the Community College. The goal of the program is to bring together groups of doctoral students to listen and engage in national conversations surrounding community colleges and student success.

Meet the 2023 Innovations Conference Attendees

Christina Bunch headshot

Christina Bunch is an experienced educator with a passion for teaching and a dedication to helping students achieve their academic goals. Her career started in general education and then quickly transitioned to special education where she honed her skills in adapting instruction to meet the diverse needs of students. After several years in the classroom, Bunch was presented with the opportunity to transition to higher education as an instructor at Central Michigan University and the University of North Carolina Greensboro. In these roles, she was responsible for teaching courses in education and working closely with future teachers to help them develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in their careers. Throughout her career journey, Bunch developed a passion for working with international people and an expertise in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). She has worked with students from a wide range of backgrounds and language levels, helping them to improve their English skills and achieve their academic and personal goals. Today, Bunch works as an independent ESL instructor, providing personalized instruction and support to students of all ages and backgrounds. She is passionate about helping non-English speaking students develop the language skills they need to achieve success. She is also a doctoral student at NC State, where her immediate goal in continuing her education is to expand her knowledge so that she can make an impact on students from diverse populations. The League of Innovations Conference offers an opportunity to enhance her education by connecting with other leaders in the field.  

Mark Gray headshot

Mark Gray grew up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in a small fishing village called Kinakeet, now known as Avon, N.C. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science, and master’s degrees in both business administration and occupational health and safety. He is married to his wife, Paula, and has two grown sons, Andy and Zach. One of his sons recently completed his associate’s degree at a local community college. With more than 25 years of industry experience, Gray works for the state of North Carolina as the safety and security director for the N.C. Department of Commerce. He is also an adjunct instructor for a two-plus-two college, Dunwoody College of Technology, where he teaches construction management and leadership.  

Johnnie Michel headshot

Johnnie Mickel has worked in higher education for more than 20 years. He started in residence life, but has spent the vast majority of his career at Davidson-Davie Community College in Lexington, N.C., where he’s worked in career development, admissions, financial aid, orientation, accreditation and seemingly everything in between. Most recently, Mickel was named director for the career development center. He is a first-generation college student and earned his bachelor’s degree at Western Carolina University in professional writing and media communications. Mickel also earned his master’s degree from Appalachian State University in higher education administration and is currently nearing the end of the coursework phase of his doctorate in community college leadership at NC State. His dissertation will focus on the first-year planning process for incoming community college presidents.

Sandra Chandler headshot

Sandra Chandler currently serves as the senior associate director of employer engagement & recruiting at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, where she has also been a member of the career & leadership team since 2018. Chandler has more than 20 years of experience in education and strategic partner engagement, and industry expertise in technology, financial services, healthcare and education. She is a certified veteran career strategist, currently serves on the board of advisors for the North Carolina Technology Association (NC Tech) and is a doctoral student in the Community College Leadership program at NC State’s College of Education. She was also selected as a Belk Fellow for 2022-2023. Her research interests focus on supporting adult learners achieve career success, with a specific focus on veterans and military affiliated students. Prior to the transition to UNC Chapel Hill, Chandler spent eight years with the national education non-profit organization, New Teacher Center, focused on ending the predictability of educational inequity in public education for systemically under-served students by focusing on accelerating educator effectiveness and remains an advocate for education as an important part of enhancing economic mobility for students and families. 

Amy Mahle headshot

Amy Mahle is the founding program chair of the occupational therapy assistant program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. Prior to this role, she was an assistant professor at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences, did clinical work as an occupational therapy assistant at Carolinas Rehabilitation, and owned a small business. Mahle currently serves as a board director of the American Occupational Therapy Association. She will graduate in May 2023 with her doctorate in community college leadership from NC State, and recently defended her dissertation titled, “Making the Case for Building Trust through Strengthening Communication Efforts by Community College Leaders During a Landscape Crisis.” 

Brandon Hensley headshot

G. Brandon Hensley is the associate dean of career and technical Education at McDowell Technical Community College (MTCC). He is currently pursuing a doctorate of education in community college leadership from NC State, where he has been selected as a 2022-2023 Belk Center Fellow. Hensley received his master’s degree in technology systems with a manufacturing concentration from East Carolina University, and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and technology education from NC State. Prior to his career at MTCC, Hensley worked as associate dean and senior project manager at Catawba Valley Community College and as department head of engineering and computer-integrated machining technology instructor at Western Piedmont Community College, following years in the private sector as a design engineer. His research interests include recruitment and retention of CTE faculty and student success in the skilled trades.

Chris Harrison headshot

Christopher R. Harrison is a doctoral student in the Community College Leadership program at NC State. He is currently employed at Pitt Community College as a criminal justice and law enforcement instructor. Harrison is heavily involved on campus and serves as the president of the Faculty Senate and works with various committees on campus and in the community. Prior to his career as an instructor at Pitt, Harrison served as a law enforcement officer in various capacities from SWAT to police chief, earning his advanced certificate from the state of North Carolina. During his career in law enforcement, Harrison developed his love and passion for teaching as a training officer and N.C. law enforcement instructor. His interests include student success, advising and workforce development.

Amanda Melniczek headshot

Amanda Melniczek has worked in higher education for more than ten years as a part-time and full-time communication instructor, teaching students in traditional, hybrid and online learning platforms. As the co-chair of the CTL Committee at Guilford Technical Community College, she has successfully created themed professional development programming focused on faculty mental health and wellness for this academic year. A first-generation college student from the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, Melniczek worked in the nonprofit sector focused on event management, board development and fundraising prior to work at the community college level. She earned a  bachelor’s degree in mass communication and public policy & community service from Emory & Henry College, a master’s degree in corporate communication from Radford University and a master of education degree in training and development from NC State. Melniczek is currently a first-year doctoral student in the Community College Leadership program at NC State. 

Janice Stowell headshot

Janice Stowell is an educational leader in Raleigh, N.C., promoting holistic achievement for all students, especially those with disabilities. In addition, she is a mentor and tutor for student-athletes at NC State’s Case Academic Center. Stowell began her higher education journey at Sage Junior College in Troy, N.Y., then Cape Cod Community College in Hyannis, Mass., eventually earning a sixth-year degree in school administration from the University of Connecticut in 2012. With more than 20 years of K-12 experience, she is an advocate for effective teaching and culturally responsive practices, as well as prioritizing collaboration and data-driven decisions at every level. Stowell is currently enrolled in a doctoral program at NC State’s College of Education and the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research.

Kristen Johnson headshot

Kristen Johnson is an associate professor of biology at Guilford Technical Community College, where she teaches both microbiology and human anatomy & physiology courses for students in health science careers. She has also had the honor of serving as the Faculty Association president. Outside of work, Johnson is pursuing a doctoral degree in community college leadership at NC State, and enjoys spending time with her husband and almost three-year-old son.

About the Belk Center

Creating tools, convening leaders, and catalyzing change: the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research works with educators, researchers, and policymakers to further more equitable community college outcomes in North Carolina and across the nation. We equip community college leaders with actionable insights and create opportunities for collaboration as we tackle the most pressing issues facing students and campuses to build stronger, more resilient communities. The Belk Center is housed in the College of Education at North Carolina State University, a land-grant university that shares our commitment to community colleges and the critical role these institutions play in creating and expanding opportunities for all North Carolinians.