One of the founding members of the Wilkes Community College Board of Trustees, Robert L. Strickland and his wife, Elizabeth M. Strickland, have given $1.1 million to Wilkes Community College to support the launch of the “Robert L. Strickland Career Coach Program” in area high schools.

The career coach program is an initiative of Wilkes Community College (WCC) focused on providing accurate and relevant information to assist high school students in developing career and college plans aligned with students’ skills and interests. Career coaches, who are employees of WCC, have been placed in each of the six traditional high schools in Wilkes, Ashe, and Alleghany Counties. Students benefit by being guided toward career exploration activities such as classroom presentations and guest speakers, job shadowing, internships, work-based learning, and volunteer opportunities. Through the assistance of a career coach, these activities, along with assessments and research, help students select educational pathways leading to viable jobs that pay living wages.

“This program honors one of the great leaders of our local and national business community, Bob Strickland,” explained Dr. Jeff Cox, President of WCC. “Mr. Strickland believed in the potential of every person and the intentional pursuit of success. The Robert L. Strickland Career Coach Program empowers our area high schoolers to better pursue their potential and success.”

The Strickland donation was critical to launching the career coaching initiative in area schools. WCC received partial funding specifically for a N.C. Works Career Coach Program through the N.C. State Board of Community Colleges that provided 50% of the salaries for four career coaches and required a 50% match from the college. The donation from the Stricklands not only provided those needed matching funds, but also the funding necessary to hire two additional career coaches, creating a one-to-one ratio of career coaches to high schools.

“When we began to have conversations with the Strickland family about launching the WCC career coach program in our area high schools,” explained Dr. Cox, “the only concern they expressed was that every high school would not have its own career coach. We told them we would love to have six instead of four career coaches, but we simply didn’t have the budget to do so. The Stricklands responded by not only generously providing the matching funds for two years for the four positions but went above and beyond and provided the funding we would need to hire all six positions! I was blown away by the Stricklands’ generosity and concern for our students.”

The Stricklands began funding their commitment privately in July 2018 to allow the program to launch during the 2018-2019 academic year. The Strickland family and WCC have agreed to publicize this donation now in the true spirit of Thanksgiving to raise awareness for the Career Coach Program, the strategic planning efforts of WCC, and to honor Bob Strickland, who passed away on September 21.

In recognition of the Stricklands’ substantial donation and in honor of Bob, the program will be named “The Robert L. Strickland Career Coach Program.”

“We are so grateful to have an opportunity to give back to a community we love,” commented Betty Strickland.  “Bob began and built his career here, our children were born and attended school here, and we spent many happy, happy years on the beautiful Brushy Mountains.  So it’s a deep personal joy for us to be able to help this special community’s next generation. We know that with the hands-on guidance of these motivated Career Coaches, the potential for Wilkes’ students to achieve meaningful and successful careers for themselves and their families is unlimited.”

The need for career coaching in high schools had been identified in WCC’s five-year strategic plan. However, without the Stricklands, the program may not have been fully implemented in year one of the strategic plan.

In funding the program, the Stricklands hope to provide students with more robust resources to help them make informed decisions about future life, career, and educational plans. In WCC’s 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 1 counselor for every 354 students in Wilkes, Ashe, and Alleghany Counties. The addition of career coaches, who are college employees, in each high school provides collaborative support to existing counselors, career and technical educators, and administrators to offer more personalized coaching to students.

“Now that school is in session, the coaches have teamed up with school counselors to meet with over 150 students individually to assist with high school and post-secondary plans,” stated Rebekah Gardner, lead Career Coach. “One of the goals for the first year of the career coach program implementation is to ensure all students that are dually enrolled in college and high school have an academic and career plan.  In addition to connecting high school students to appropriate college courses based on their career plans, the coaches will assist in the connection to local employers and career opportunities. To date, the career coaches have conducted over 16 work site visits to learn more about local opportunities available today.”

Mr. Strickland 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 NC House of Representatives from 1962-1964.  He was passionately interested in expanding accessibility to higher education and was proud to support the 1962 session’s founding of NC’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. He served proudly in that role from 1964-1973.

Dr. Cox added, “How fitting that one of the men who played a significant role in starting community colleges in North Carolina and in opening Wilkes Community College has now played a pivotal role in helping us take things to the next level in terms of how we serve our students and help them find careers that pay a living wage! Bob Strickland’s legacy will continue to shape the lives of young people at Wilkes Community College for years to come.”