Marion- To those who know her well, it came as no surprise when Susan Long was recently named the 2022 Staff
Member of the Year at McDowell Technical Community College. Susan has superior customer service skills and a long
track record of providing excellent guidance and support to McDowell Tech students, particularly adult learners. As a
former adult learner herself, her commitment to helping students achieve their academic and career goals is
“As the college’s Director of Student Enrichment and Adult Engagement, Susan is a critical partner in helping the college
achieve one of its key priorities, helping more McDowell County citizens and more North Carolinians achieve a high
quality credential or post-secondary degree,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “Every day she comes to work,
Susan helps us identify barriers that might prevent students from achieving their goals, and provides results-oriented
solutions to remove those barriers. She is helping us reimagine the way we serve our adult students, and she does it
with immense grace and poise.”
Susan is much more modest about her role in student success. “I treat people the way I want to be treated,” she said.
“I invite them to come by my office or contact me when issues arise, whether it’s personal or academic. Sick children,
lack of transportation, struggling with a particular academic subject, communication issues with an instructor, domestic
issues with a spouse, or family health concerns are just some of the issues I try to help them with. Most of all, I want
them to know that I care.”
“I like to talk to students and find out who they are and what their strengths are,” she continued. “Maximizing those
strengths can put them on the path to success. What do they enjoy? What do they excel at and what energizes them?
These are some of the things that can help them make solid career decisions. Some people come in knowing what they
want to do from the get-go, while it took the rest of us a long time to decide what to do,” she said, referring to her own
career and academic journey. “For those students who need it, we provide extra guidance through career assessments
and career counseling, and that generally results in a degree of focus for them. After we talk through some of those
things, we begin to focus on an academic plan, and as students begin to take classes, we provide an individualized array
of academic supports, such as tutoring, disability services and so forth.”
Long knows the path of an adult student very well. Right out of high school, she worked at Baxter, followed by an
extended stint working as an aerobics and exercise instructor at Pinebridge Fitness in Spruce Pine. There she also
worked and interacted with athletes on the long-since defunct professional hockey team. It was a good gig while it
lasted. From there she worked at Coats North America from 1985 to 1997, until word got around that the company was
going through a merger, which concerned her and other employees about the long-term security
She decided it might be time to begin thinking about a new job or career. “I knew that I needed to do something,” she
said. “So I started taking some computer classes at McDowell Tech. She learned a lot and took more and more classes.
One day it occurred to her that she had already earned so many credits that she might just as well finish a full degree
program. “I didn’t really start out thinking about a degree, but over time, I thought that I needed to get one.”
As she was making that decision to move forward with a college degree, she found a mentor and champion in Dr. Robert
Boggs, who served as President of McDowell Tech from 1984 until his retirement in 1999. Boggs frequently saw her in
class or studying in the student commons and over time, he struck up a conversation with her, which eventually led to
more conversations over coffee in the commons. He first encouraged her to complete a degree program and then to
apply for a position in Student Services at the college.
“One week before Dr. Boggs retired, in May, 1999, I became a full-time Assistant to Student Records at McDowell Tech,
and it was his advice and support that made it happen for me. I strive to be that kind of mentor to students I am working
with today. I want them feel the sense of accomplishment that I felt my first day on the job at McDowell Tech,” she said.
After completing her first associate’s degree in Office Systems Technology, she went on to complete a second degree, an
Associate in Arts, in 2011, and then finished a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Appalachian State University in
Since she started working at McDowell Tech, Susan’s entire career has been about supporting students, directly or
indirectly. “I’ve worked in admissions, coordinated the nursing application process, entered grades for our registrar,
provided transcripts, read exams to blind and disabled students, overseen the peer-tutoring process, administered the
TEAS exams to nursing students, ETS proficiency exams to graduating students, and Compass, Accuplacer and RISE
entrance exams to high school students and others. Recently, I was an onboarding advisor for new students, and
officially and unofficially, I was Director of the Student Enrichment Center during and following the long-term illness and
death of our former director, Wingate Cain. Suffice it to say, ‘I’ve been there and done that’ and I know how to help
students navigate the landmines and find the touchstones on their path to success,” she said.
“Knowing that I can help others be successful in college and achieve their vocational goals and dreams is what keeps me
motivated. It gives me a sense of purpose knowing that I play a part in helping them find their path in life, finding a
better job, and bettering themselves and their families socioeconomically,” she concluded.
“Susan is a selfless leader with strong initiative and commitment to students,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President.
“Her nomination and award as Staff Member of the Year is well-deserved. In an ever-changing economy, staff members
like Susan help us reach underserved, unemployed and underemployed populations every day, giving those students a
hand-up out of poverty, in many cases, and helping them achieve career success and a family-sustaining wage. We are
glad to have Susan on our team!”