Wilkes Community College (WCC) is pleased to announce a $250,000 donation from Mrs. Elizabeth M. “Betty” Strickland for the continued support of the Robert L. Strickland Career Coach Program through the 2022-2023 academic year.

The program is named in honor of Robert L. “Bob” Strickland, who served as the Chairman of Lowes Companies, Inc. for 41 years. In addition to his distinguished business service, he was an advocate for public service that included his term in the N.C. House of Representatives from 1962-1964.  Bob was passionately interested in expanding accessibility to higher education and was proud to support the 1962 session’s founding of North Carolina’s Community College System.  Strickland was appointed by the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners to serve as a founding member of the Wilkes Community College Board of Trustees and served proudly in that role from 1964-1973.

The Robert L. Strickland Career Coach Program was launched in 2018 through a $1.1 million donation from Robert and Betty Strickland and supporting grant funds from the North Carolina Community College System. In the WCC service area, prior to the implementation of the Robert L. Strickland Career Coach Program, 13 school counselors served approximately 4,600 high school students — a ratio of one counselor for every 354 students in Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany Counties. This Career Coach program initiative of WCC focuses on providing accurate and relevant information to area high school students for their development of career and college plans aligned with individual skills and interests. Career coaches, who are employees of WCC, have been placed in all six traditional high schools in the WCC service area.

In its second year, the program served 1,427 area high school students. Over one thousand students developed a personalized career and academic plan to guide high school and college dual enrollment course choices and ensure their courses align with their career plans. To this end, 100% of the 475 students enrolled in Career and College Promise (dual enrollment) courses through WCC completed an individualized career and academic plan. During more than 3,000 one-on-one meetings with students this past year, career coaches conducted career assessments, discussed careers of interest, helped students research college options, and supported students as they applied for colleges.

Additionally, career coaches have conducted 44 site visits to local businesses since the program’s inception, which fosters greater alignment with local employer needs and workforce opportunities.

“We are thrilled with the early results of this program,” stated WCC President, Dr. Jeff Cox. “Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, our career coaches served and stayed in touch with students as they navigated their online dual enrollment courses and college application processes. Thanks to the generosity of the Strickland family, the hard work of our career coaches, and the strong high school partners we have in our service areas, we are beginning to see the fruits of the Robert L. Strickland Career Coach Program. It is already transforming lives and we are just getting started!”

“We have a plaque in our kitchen with a William Jennings Bryan quotation that (my husband) Bob always loved,” says Betty Strickland. “It reads ‘Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a choice. It is not a thing to be hoped for, but a thing to be achieved.’ The WCC Career Coaches are living, breathing examples of that belief! Their extraordinary commitment and enthusiasm have already empowered over a thousand students with concrete plans — blueprints, really — for achieving their dreams and realizing successful futures for themselves and their families. We’re so grateful for these dedicated Coaches; and sincerely thankful for the vision, leadership, and professional guidance of Wilkes Community College.”