Photo courtesy of Nash Community College. Used with permission.
Wanda Tyson uses SkillsUSA in the classroom to make connections to the real world, so her students are always job-ready before their first day of employment. But before Tyson could become the teacher, she had to be the student.
After staying home with children for over 20 years, Tyson enrolled as a student at Nash Community College (NCC) in North Carolina. “I was terrified after being out of school for so long,” she says. “My instructors knew I was scared, but they also knew what I needed and helped me succeed.” After two years, she graduated with a computer engineering technology degree. “I walked across that stage, and I was ready for the world.”
“I wasn’t sure what my path would be, but I knew that I loved Nash Community College,” Tyson explains. Soon after she graduated in 2009, she had the opportunity to begin teaching at NCC as an adjunct instructor. “At that time, I had no idea teaching would become my passion,” she says. “I was extremely nervous for all the unknowns. I loved what I had been asked to teach, so I was excited to say ‘yes’ and grateful for the opportunity.”
In 2014, Tyson was hired as a full-time instructor in the industrial and manufacturing technologies department. “The college provides an awesome array of professional development, and I attended as many sessions as I could,” she says. “I was given the opportunity to attend a 2015 summer institute where I loaded my instructional tool belt with time-proven strategies.” Tyson has used the teaching strategies in her classes ever since, adding, “I have seen improvements in student engagement, scores and retention.” Now she shares her experiences with other instructors, facilitating training sessions and serving on the community college’s professional development committee.
Her dedication to teaching and SkillsUSA led Tyson to be selected by her peers for a Nash Community College teaching award in the spring of 2020. The J. Edgar and Peggie T. Moore Excellence in Teaching Award nominees — chosen by secret ballot — are full-time faculty members who represent the best in community college instruction. In addition to the recognition, there was a cash award.
Tyson coordinates with William van der Meulen and Sonya Small on most SkillsUSA activities and training on their college campus. Tyson says SkillsUSA’s many educational materials have helped focus the team’s work. “Wil and Sonya provide our advisors with materials for the classrooms. For example, ‘Ignite’ is packed with activities that promote teamwork, responsibility, ethics, motivation, collaboration and professional development — all the things we want our students to experience and learn. Our students learn from these activities and gain real-life experiences they can take to the workplace.”
The Value of Career Skills
Tyson says that many of her students are adult learners who appreciate the fact that the college encourages career-readiness skills along with technical skills. “Most adult learners know the value of employability skills in the workplace, and they do anything they can to master what those are and what they look like,” she explains. She also says local employers now understand what SkillsUSA provides to the curriculum. “It has been my experience that all of the local industries that are familiar with the SkillsUSA Framework recognize the benefits SkillsUSA provides to students, so they are happy to support our program.”
There are challenges, too, of course, often related to adult learners’ busy schedules and the other commitments. “We follow the SkillsUSA Program of Work as much as possible,” says Sonya Small, who is the director of counseling, the career and job placement coordinator and the SkillsUSA chapter’s student advisor. “We have monthly meetings, sometimes in conjunction with another program on campus. Honestly, it is hard to get students to attend meetings. We focus most on seven curriculum areas, but we embed SkillsUSA into every CTE program on campus.” NCC students who document Framework competencies and have a 3.0 GPA receive a SkillsUSA honor card for graduation.
Career pathways and transition coordinator Wiliam Van Der Meulen emphasizes that CTE programs at Nash Community College all have a Framework crosswalk. “Wanda was instrumental in our implementation of the Framework in the classroom,” he says. “We always felt we covered many of the essential elements, but Wanda was the first to help me quantify that. Many industries know about the Framework and now donate to support our chapter. One company, Nomaco, saw the Framework in action and adopted these concepts for their own company positions. They also donated $500 to the chapter after their president and CEO toured our campus.”
Better-prepared students, more industry support and passionate instructors are just a few benefits of this college’s SkillsUSA program. Tyson, Small and Van Der Meulen agree that embedding SkillsUSA into the curriculum makes their jobs a little easier and more rewarding.
“Applying the Framework in my curriculum has helped my students,” Tyson affirms. “SkillsUSA has a wide variety of tools that instructors can use in the classroom that promote engagement, motivation and retention. But most importantly, SkillsUSA presents life-changing opportunities for students. Through healthy competition, students can showcase their skills, allowing them to demonstrate to employers that they are career ready.”
Tyson goes on to say, “I am my students’ biggest fan. In the past two years, they have competed and won gold medals at the state competition and gold and silver at nationals. The self-confidence they gain from these experiences can’t be taught in the classroom. Every day, I am grateful that NCC and our local industry continue to support our participation and recognize the benefits SkillsUSA provides our students.”
Continuing her own education, Wanda Tyson holds two associate’s degrees from Nash Community College in electronic engineering technology and computer engineering technology. She then went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in Computer Information Systems from North Carolina Wesleyan College and a master of science degree in Cyber Security from Liberty University. She also holds several certificates and is a master instructor for higher education. “I am proud to be a Nash Community College instructor,” she says. “I realize that I have been given an incredible opportunity to help people. I can make a difference for the better, one student at a time.”