Southport Center tour

Brunswick County Commissioner Mike Forte talks with Jill Williams about her latest project at the Southport Center. 

 

Brunswick Community College (BCC) President Dr. Gene Smith was standing in front of a sawdust pile with pride. 

Smith is usually a stickler for cleanliness, but he made an exception at Thursday night’s annual joint meeting between the BCC Board of Trustees and county commissioners. 

Sawdust on the floor in the new woodworking room at the BCC Southport Center symbolized progress: students had made the mess, and that meant BCC was doing its job. 

“We have dreams,” Smith said of the Southport Center. “You always have to have dreams of ways to make the facility better.” 

This year’s annual meeting provided another opportunity for BCC to show county commissioners what’s been done at the center, what is currently taking place and what may happen in the future. Smith guided the board through a series of showcases where students and community members shared their stories about life-changing scholarship opportunities and expanding their horizons.  

“Community is the middle name in our name,” said Smith. “All five commissioners are here tonight and that shows the level of support we have with them.

“They are able to provide us with the support that helps us grow, and have a vision of how we can move the college forward.”

Years ago, the center’s goal was to be a facility that fit in to its surrounding community. Commissioners saw proof that it does as they walked through the halls decorated with paintings and the hand-crafted art that filled display cases.  

“Southport is a community that is artistic in nature and there is a lot of money behind those that have that ability: shops, sales, weekend events,” said Greg Bland, BCC Vice President of Economic Workforce Development & Continuing Education. “That initial training occurs here. It provides stable income for the residents that are here. We’ve embedded an entrepreneurial style certification that is here as well. Not only are we teaching folks these technical skills, whether it be wood carving, painting stain glass, pottery, but also how to sustain your business.”

BCC has made great strides over the past six years, but more work remains, particularly the 9,000-square-foot project commissioners passed through on their way to the wood shop. Initial plans are to use the space for an array of new programs including artistic welding, painting, music instruction, recording and production, textiles and quilting. 

“We’re just trying to raise awareness about the progress that is being made,” said Bland. “If you look at (county commissioner’) support of BCC and you compare it to other colleges in other counties with other county commissioners they hold their own. They’re good people.”

Commissioner Pat Sykes expressed pride in the school’s Brunswick Guarantee Tuition Scholarship Program, where qualified students can receive their first two years of college free. This investment made by the county, Sykes said, was an investment in the county.  

“Everything is paid for by the taxpayer,” Sykes said. “This building, the maintenance, the upkeep, everything. Basically the classes that you take, you’re basically paying for the instructor. Your tax dollars are paying for this.”

Sykes continued. “We put a lot of money back into the college to benefit the citizens here and for the students who want to come here free for two years. Some of them never would have the opportunity to go to school. If we’re going to put money into the college we may as well have the students.”

Erika Cribb, a 2020 South Brunswick High School graduate, benefited from the program and thanked the BCCC staff who helped her through a difficult time. 

Cribb said when she got out of high school she didn’t really know where she wanted to go, and that it was scary to her, but that BCC reached out to her and were super welcoming when she told them she was considering attending.

“They made it feel like a strong, promising choice and I would go here any time,” said Cribb. “I love the Brunswick County college system. I love the facilities and it’s so amazing how much outreach they have in this community.”