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Belk Center Fellows to Attend Annual Innovations Conference

Next week, 11 Belk Center Fellows will attend The League for Innovation in the Community College’s 27th annual Innovations Conference in Anaheim, Calif. 

As the foremost convening for professionals dedicated to improving and enhancing teaching and learning, leadership and management, and the community college experience, the Innovations Conference provides academic experts and thought leaders with opportunities to collaborate and learn more about the most inspirational community college programs around the world.  

Over the course of three days, the Fellows will attend innovative panels and keynote addresses, be a part of thought-provoking breakout sessions, and have countless opportunities to exchange ideas with colleagues. For many of these doctoral students – who are part of the 2024 Belk Center Fellows cohort – attending national conferences are excellent opportunities 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 2024 Innovations Conference Attendees

S. Aaron Mabe is the program coordinator for career and college promise at the North Carolina Community College System, where he oversees the state’s dual enrollment programs. Mabe has had a career in higher education for more than a decade, including roles as director of student success and academic advisor at various institutions within the state’s community colleges. His unwavering commitment to education lies in fostering equitable and affordable opportunities for all students. Mabe holds a master’s degree in clinical social work from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, complemented by a master’s degree in higher education administration from Northeastern University in Boston. He currently resides in Fayetteville, N.C. with his wife and two children. Together, they enjoy traveling, good food and attending Red Sox games at the iconic Fenway Park.

Adam Wade is dean of student onboarding and success at Central Carolina Community College. In this role, he is responsible for onboarding, advising for new students, and orientation and first-year programming. He also spearheads key student support initiatives like the Student Intake Survey, Safe Zone Program (LGBTQ+ Support), and CC Cares, highlighting his commitment to creating a supportive academic experience for students. With extensive knowledge in higher education, he has gained valuable experiences in a number of program areas, including orientation, first-year programming, housing and residence life, student conduct, behavioral assessment, LGBTQ+ programming, success coaching and academic advising. Wade earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, a master’s degree in college student development from Appalachian State University, and he’s currently pursuing his doctorate in Community College Leadership at NC State. In his spare time, Wade enjoys long-distance running, gardening, cooking, traveling and spending quality time with friends and family.

Janice Stowell is an educational leader in Raleigh, N.C., promoting holistic achievement for all students, especially those with disabilities. Most recently, she taught at magnet schools in Wake County. 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 the Community College Leadership program at NC State’s College of Education.

Amanda Melniczek is an associate professor of communication at Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC). She has worked in higher education for more than a decade as a part-time and full-time communication instructor, teaching students in traditional, hybrid and online learning platforms. As the Center for Teaching and Learning Committee chair at GTCC, she has successfully created themed professional development programming for curriculum career and technical faculty. 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 a second-year doctoral student in the Community College Leadership program at NC State. Her research interests include full-time and part-time faculty professional development.

Melisa J. Bryant, is a professor and department chair at Forsyth Technical Community College (FTCC). With more than 35 years of experience in Information Technology (IT), including 15 years in higher education, she has had the privilege of contributing to IT in various capacities. After a successful stint in consulting and running her own company, she transitioned to higher education to teach and mentor the next generation of IT leaders. Bryant is currently pursuing a doctorate at NC State in the Community College Leadership program, focusing on researching technology access for students. As a first-generation college student, she is deeply passionate about education, and her motto is “never stop learning.” Bryant is proud to lead FTCC’s first Artificial Intelligence program – a significant milestone in the institution’s history. Under her leadership, FTCC achieved the esteemed status of being a SAS Tier 1 Academy, making it one of the first community colleges in the nation to earn this designation. In addition to her academic pursuits and program leadership, Bryant is actively involved in managing programs related to data analytics, web development, project management and computer application development and design. 

Mary Elizabeth McIntosh has dedicated more than 15 years to higher education at both community colleges and universities. In her current role at Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) in Wilmington, N.C., she serves as director of the new Upward Bound program – the college’s first TRIO grant. McIntosh leads the grant in its mission to inspire, prepare and support future first-generation students from under-resourced communities. Prior to this role, she served as the project director for Title III at CFCC, counselor and Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) co-chair at James Sprunt Community College, senior program manager at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and director of first-year programs and student activities at St. Andrews University. McIntosh holds a master’s degree in higher education administration from NC State and a bachelor’s degree from Salem College. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Community College Leadership at NC State where her passion project is strengthening colleges’ connections to the communities in which they serve.

Erica Harper is the director of medical assisting and human services at Wilkes Community College bringing two decades of dedicated service to the North Carolina Community College System. With a robust educational background, including a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and an education specialist degree in higher education leadership, Harper seamlessly integrates clinical expertise with academic leadership. Her visionary approach has remarkably enhanced enrollment, retention and student success in both the medical assisting and human services programs. Harper excels in designing education pathways with flexible course offerings, catering to the unique needs of adult learners and fostering an inclusive and adaptive learning environment. As a first-generation, minority, rural community college graduate, she is deeply passionate about transforming lives in Wilkes County through the power of education. Her research focuses on improving transfer opportunities for place-bound rural adult learners, reflecting a commitment to breaking barriers and expanding educational access. Beyond academia, Harper serves on the executive boards of local non-profits, including the United Way of Wilkes County and Wilkes Recovery Revolution. Currently pursuing a doctorate in Community College Leadership at NC State, Harper solidifies her dedication to advancing educational leadership and innovation as an adult learner.

Laura Ashley Lamm serves as a consultant for communications, higher education and workforce development. Skilled in communications and strategic initiatives, her work includes collaborating with the Carolinas Gateway Partnership to strengthen the college-to-career pipeline between community colleges and industries, most notably the Regional Advanced Manufacturing Pipeline of Eastern North Carolina. Prior to her current role, Lamm served as the special assistant to the president for strategic initiatives and communications at Barton College, and the eastern North Carolina editor of the North State Journal – North Carolina’s first and only statewide newspaper. An award-winning journalist, Lamm holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Meredith College and a master’s degree in communications from East Carolina University. While at NC State completing her doctorate in Community College Leadership, she earned the Developing Cultural Competence Certificate. In addition, she is completing the Leadership Learning Institute as a member of the program’s inaugural cohort and the Professional Teaching Certificate. Lamm resides in Kinston, N.C. and is proud to be a fifth-generation educator in her family.

Beth Brehler is the associate vice president of student success at Alamance Community College, where she brings a wealth of experience and a deep commitment to student success. In this role, she leads the recruitment, admissions, records, veteran services and financial aid departments, and plays a key role in planning, assessing and improving services to foster student success. Brehler has 20 years of experience in higher education and works closely with college and community stakeholders to make higher education more accessible to prospective students. She is a doctoral student in the Community College Leadership program at NC State and has been selected as a 2024 Belk Center Fellow. Her research interests include academic self-efficacy and persistence in underrepresented populations.

Ashley Mackey-Whitworth is a career and College Promise student success coach at Guilford Technical Community College, where she serves as a liaison between high school administrators and community leaders, facilitating collaboration and advocating for the diverse array of college programs. Raised in Greensboro, N.C., Mackey-Whitworth earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and a Master of Education with a concentration in adult and community college education at NC State. Having dedicated 17 years to the student service division, she believes that the ongoing professional development she’s gaining in the Community College Leadership program will bolster her leadership skills, ultimately contributing to the enhancement of student services within the community college sector. Her dissertation interests revolve around advising and coaching community college students, aligning with her long-term commitment to fostering academic success in this realm. 

Jody R. Call is a student in NC State’s Community College Ed.D. Leadership program, and the executive director of institutional research and planning at Wilkes Community College (WCC). In this role, Call oversees WCC’s process of accreditation, strategic planning, and adult learner engagement programs. Since 2021, he has also served as the WCC team lead and project manager for NC Reconnect, the adult re-engagement and re-enrollment initiative funded by the John M. Belk Endowment. Previously, Call also taught as an adjunct faculty for WCC in the N.C. Department of Public Safety as well as in information technology in the college’s business and public service technologies division. Prior to his career at WCC, he worked for 10 years in instructional technology in K-12 education, and he most recently served as chief technology officer during a 16-year career for a rural telecommunications cooperative and broadband service provider. Call received his master’s degree in instructional technology from Appalachian State University, his bachelor’s degree in human services from Gardner-Webb University, and his associate’s degree in electronics engineering technology from WCC. His career and research interests include adult learner engagement, workforce development, community outreach and engagement and institutional research.