NCI honors 27 graduating students

May 8, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer 

Think earning a college degree won’t be demanding? Think again. 

“No part of getting an education was easy,” said Jennifer Hairston. For her, it has meant balancing studying and going to classes with raising a child and spending time with her husband and family.

Lisa Blackwell said she was “so busy sometimes that I forgot to do things like eat.” 

The women are among 27 New College Institute (NCI) students honored Wednesday night during a graduate recognition ceremony at the historic former Henry County courthouse uptown.

NCI students officially graduate from the universities giving their degrees, but NCI recognizes them with its own informal ceremony. 

This spring, Hairston is receiving a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with an endorsement in elementary education from Longwood University.

Blackwell is receiving a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). 

They said they could not have earned their degrees without support from many people, including NCI instructors and staff members, family members, friends and other students.

“Your presence is a reminder” of that support, Hairston told the crowd at the ceremony. 

Blackwell said NCI instructors are “caring, dedicated and love what they do.”

And, from among other students and educators, “I’ve made friends I will never forget” and hope to remain close with throughout life, she said. 

“We’re so proud of you and all you’ve done” to earn degrees, NCI Associate Director/Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins told the graduating students.

Executive Director William Wampler said he hopes Hairston’s and Blackwell’s comments re-energize NCI’s faculty and staff. 

“You are our advocates, our recruiters,” Wampler told all of the students. He told them to encourage others to go to college to improve their lives.

Among the 27 students are: 

• Six receiving bachelor’s degrees in liberal studies (elementary education) from Longwood.

• Four receiving bachelor’s of business administration degrees from Averett University. 

• Four receiving bachelor’s degrees, and six receiving master’s degrees, in social work from Norfolk State University.

• Five receiving master’s degrees in counseling from Old Dominion University, and 

• Two receiving bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice from VCU.

Those students bring the total number of people who have earned degrees through NCI to 341, Blevins said. That number does not include people who earned other academic credentials, such as certificates, she said. 

NCI, which opened in 2006, offers local access to certain bachelor’s and master’s degree programs offered by universities statewide.

Graduating students stood and were applauded. Family members and others who supported them also were recognized and applauded. 

Not all of the students were at the ceremony. Some live elsewhere in the state, and one lives in Portland, Ore., according to Blevins. Those students have participated in NCI classes through audiovisual technology, she said.

Dewitt House, the Henry County Public Schools’ assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, was the guest speaker. House urged the students to strive to make a difference in someone’s life. 

In doing so, he suggested, be observant, build relationships with people, understand that one person can make a difference and in making that difference, be courageous, compassionate and humble.

During the ceremony, New College Foundation Chairman Kimble Reynolds Jr. presented the Lula White Johnson Distinguished Teaching Award to Coray Davis of Virginia State University, faculty member in residence at NCI’s Academy for Engineering & Technology. 

The foundation is the institute’s private fundraising arm.

Johnson was a former English department chairman at Martinsville High School who also taught at Albert Harris School. 

Reynolds remembered her as a popular teacher who inspired many of her students.

The award named after Johnson is presented each year to an NCI faculty member in recognition of his or her outstanding teaching. 

Davis received $1,000 along with his award. 


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