Tomorrow is a very special day for our students at Guilford Technical Community College – Commencement Day! Students who have worked hard to overcome the challenges of the last year are going to see their hard work pay off as they receive their degree or diploma. We couldn’t be prouder of our High Point GTCC students as they cross the stage and turn their tassels tomorrow.
While GTCC has six campuses now, GTCC got its start in High Point at the old Adams Millis Hosiery Mill. (Sound familiar? That building is now better known as Congdon Yards!) The City of High Point partnered with local high schools to train men to make the toes of socks at the hosiery mill. The “toe boys” were the first class of tradesman in a program that would later go on to become part of Guilford Technical Community College. Now, GTCC’s High Point campus sits on South Main Street just a few blocks from Congdon Yards.
Obviously since then, GTCC now offers much more than just classes on how to make socks! Today, they serve around 6,000 students – from high schoolers taking college courses to workforce development, to associate degree seekers, to adult education students. And the course catalog comprises everything from major academic fields to health and human services, to medical transcription, to pharmacy technology, to entertainment technology, to a wide range of additional and specialty courses. In fact, High Point’s campus of GTCC is unique in that it continues to offer courses specific to our rich textile and furniture industry legacy – like upholstery, sewing, and more.
And at the helm of all this work in High Point is Dr. Mark Harris, Dean of GTCC’s High Point Campus. A former Marine in the United States Military, who has taught in almost every educational sector, Dr. Harris brings a unique, intentional, and student-focused perspective to the High Point Campus’ operations.
“I’ve had elementary students all the way through doctoral students,” Dr. Harris laughs, as he recounts his career before coming to GTCC. For 24 years, Dr. Harris was in the Marine Corps, working in special operations and teaching. In 1994, he was stationed in High Point, before eventually being selected for a promotion to sergeant major.
“But I woke up one day, and decided I wanted to stay in High Point,” Dr. Harris recalls. When he first told his wife, she burst into tears, much to his surprise. Thinking his wife wanted him to continue in the pursuit of his military career, Dr. Harris offered to reconsider.
“No, I’ve been praying to stay in High Point!” his wife exclaimed through tears. The Harrises – who have raised their children in the city – now cannot imagine living anywhere else.
“I’ve loved it here,” Dr. Harris says. Having taught at local schools throughout Guilford County – including Murphy Elementary in Greensboro, Ferndale Elementary, and teaching ROTC at High Point Central – Dr. Harris came to GTCC with a wealth of educational knowledge. And his number one priority has always been connecting students with what they need to begin a successful career.
“My job is to take care of people, and I see that as job number one,” Dr. Harris says, his military background infusing the way he views himself as a protector, guide, and educator to his students, even at the dean level. “I need to make sure they get jobs and that they can take care of their families. I put that above everything else.”
One way that Dr. Harris makes sure that happens is by being heavily involved in the High Point community. Serving on several community boards, Dr. Harris keeps an ear to the ground for ways the city and GTCC can partner together to co-develop students into becoming contributing members of the High Point workforce and community.
“A quarter of my job is done away from campus promoting programs for GTCC,” Dr. Harris explains. From Guilford County Schools, to workforce development, to working with the City of High Point and Business High Point, Dr. Harris ensures that when students complete their degree or program at GTCC, they are well-supplied with options to begin their careers.
Located in the heart of downtown High Point on Main Street, GTCC’s High Point Campus attracts a unique demographic of students.
“This is really the only campus of GTCC that is on the main street of the city that it operates in,” Dr. Harris says. “We get walk-in traffic, and we meet our neighbors.”
The neighbors that come to GTCC could be coming for any variety of educational reasons, so the school has a wide array of educational paths to accommodate student needs.
The Early/Middle Colleges offers the opportunity for eligible students to receive dual credit that will be applied toward a high school diploma and a college degree and was one of the first programs in the state to do so. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, GTCC has seen a tremendous growth in their student body – a 44% growth rate of high school students in GTCC’s programs in fact.
There is also the Career & College Promise Program, which allows high school students to take college courses at GTCC for free, and the Guilford Apprentice Partners (GAP) Program which allows High Point high schools students to apprentice at local companies, be paid for their work, and take college classes at no cost to them.
“Students in high school are recruited in their junior year, and then come to GTCC to get skills training,” Dr. Harris explains. “Then they are hired directly into a company.”
Designed not only to meet the needs of the students, but also the needs of local High Point employers, the multi-faceted program pathways at GTCC are part of a larger community effort to serve both High Point students and businesses.
“Right now, there is a shortage of workers in this country and a shortage of youth competing for college acceptance and employment,” Dr. Harris says. “The employers across North Carolina and our country are trying to shorten the pipeline for students to become employees.”
Just seven years ago, Baby Boomers made up 70% of the workforce, now that number is only 40%, meaning there is a gap to fill by getting young people in the workforce faster.
While Dr. Harris always puts his students’ needs first, as a proud High Pointer and community activist, he sees clearly how student and city businesses are often partners in creating sustainable solutions.
He notes the example of local McDonald’s restaurants in High Point needing entry-level employees. Through a partnership forged with GTCC, those McDonald’s restaurants pay for GTCC courses for their employees, if the employee is willing to work for at least three months.
Moreover, the staff and faculty at GTCC are committed to making sure that no obstacle stands in the way of a student’s success in their education. Titan Link, a program that offers student support services, was started on the High Point campus. The founders, Sybil Newman and the former dean before Dr. Harris, began a food pantry for adult education students in conjunction with Leadership High Point. And as it usually goes in our generous city, other parties began to join in. The United Way of Greater High Point eventually got involved to provide bus passes, textbooks, nursing and CNA uniforms, scholarships for GED students, and more. Now, Titan Link has spread to support students across all six of GTCC’s campuses.
Best of all, Dr. Harris and the faculty and staff at GTCC have seen firsthand how these programs and support systems bring success to bear in High Point students.
“Having been a marine, I especially love to help our veteran students here,” Dr. Harris says. “We had four former veterans who ran out of benefits, needed a place to stay, and needed food. GTCC helped them get connected, get housing, and to be successful.” He notes with pride that every one of those students graduated from GTCC.
“We really do want to help students by removing every barrier so they can persevere and graduate,” Dr. Harris concludes. “From certifications to diplomas, to jobs – we’ll do whatever we can so they can accomplish their goals.”
And it’s clear that only with the full participation of so many in High Point – from the City, to the school system, to local businesses, to philanthropies – could we create a system that values education for all. With that in mind, we say to tomorrow’s graduates and our future GTCC students – Go Titans!
Discover our High Points,
The HPD Team
Photography by Maria West Photography