Dr. Candace Holder – Surry Community College
Getting a college degree once required students to sit in a classroom, but the leadership of Surry Community College in Dobson, North Carolina, believes there’s a better, more modern approach.
“Enrollment has flipped, and today more students have full- or part-time jobs,” says Vice President of Technology Services and Director of Distance Education Dr. Candace Holder. “Many are struggling with finding a way to balance jobs and their aspiration to take classes—with an ultimate goal of obtaining their degree.”
Holder says distance learning is just the answer to these increasing scenarios, and for nearly 20 years, Surry Community College has invested in online education programs, and not just its own.
In 1998, the college collaborated with the other 57 North Carolina community colleges to develop the Virtual Learning Community (VLC), which provides faculty instructional tools, support and content for online courses. The VLC also provides faculty training in best practices, trends and technology.
Surry’s secret weapon
Holder says it was crucial to Surry Community College that the level of instruction not be compromised because the instructor was operating through a computer instead of a classroom. During the early years, she was responsible for building Surry’s online courses, which involved training faculty for the particulars of online teaching and using Blackboard and other online portals.
Today, Surry works with teachers across the state, in every discipline, to standardize courses through VLC.
This prevents there being 58 different English 111 courses at each of North Carolina’s community colleges, for instance, and frees up time for teachers to engage with students and focus on the quality of instruction rather than the material to be taught.
Since the beginning, Holder has been the driving advocate for online education, both at Surry and throughout the North Carolina Community College System.
The mother of three boys, she would volunteer as a substitute teacher in the computer labs and eventually worked as an instructional technology specialist for Surry County Schools, where she championed the technology initiatives for the county’s 16 public schools, adding computer objectives to the curriculum.
In 1995, Holder accepted a part-time position with Surry Community College as a computer science instructor. It quickly became her mission to increase resources for the North Carolina Community College System. In 2004, as the director of distance education, Holder wrote the state grant that led to Surry Community College becoming the VLC Quality and Assessment Center for the North Carolina Community College System.
Alerting all students
Since writing the VLC grant, Holder has successfully written numerous others—including ones for the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Education Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational & Technical Education Act, all of which concentrate on improving online education. All told, Holder has raised more than half a million dollars annually for Surry Community College.“My role has changed significantly over the years, but I’ve always liked to be involved at the system level to keep Surry at the leading edge of technology, sometimes even the ‘bleeding edge,’” says Holder.
She has also won awards and accolades for her expertise and dedication, including the Community Choice Award sponsored by MCNC, owner of the North Carolina Research and Education Network.
In 2012, Holder became Surry Community College’s first vice president of technology services. Holder implemented numerous improvements in college technology. For example, under her leadership, the technology services division transferred all college applications and portals onto a single sign-on system.
“Prior to that, every system had its own username and password. We had people with sticky notes all over their computer just to remember how to sign in,” Holder says. Today, faculty and students are given one login that works for email, academic portals and the Microsoft active directory. It saves people time, frustration, and best of all, when someone changes his or her password, it automatically changes for every application.
Likewise, Holder has employed the services of Focus EduVation for online, personalized learning solutions that include video animations, adaptive and individualized courseware, simulations, and games.
These tools complement Surry’s academic programs by allowing the college to give students the attention they deserve—“when they need it, where they can access it and in a way that best fulfils it,” the company says.
“I’ve always liked to be involved at the system level to keep Surry at the leading edge of technology, sometimes even the ‘bleeding edge,’” she says.
Because of this, Surry Community College, with 3,200 students, is often the first to implement new technology. Holder says this inevitably leads to a few growing pains, but the rewards are quickly revealed.
In the summer of 2017, Surry Community College launched state-of-the-art software called Self- Service and Advise. Developed by Ellucian, a Virginia-based technology solutions and services provider, the application allows the community college to monitor students’ risk levels and paths to graduation. It also presents intervention strategies and the capacity to alert students if their GPA drops below a certain level.
Surry Community College is the first college in North Carolina to implement the Advise early alert program. Holder believes it is an important tool for ensuring academic success, while many students are striving to find balance between education, work and family obligations.
“The introduction of the internet and technology has forever changed students’ opportunities to achieve their education,” she says. “It is never too late to begin your educational journey toward achieving your personal career aspirations and attain the ability to improve the quality of life for your family and others.”
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