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Alumni couple work to ensure the success of their community college students

He’s known fondly on campus as “Dr. Don.” She lights up a room with seemingly boundless energy. Together, they’re two of the top administrators at Coastal Carolina Community College (CCCC). Each is a force of nature driven by a single goal: student success.

Don and Marianne Herring, who both earned degrees from N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, met as graduate students and married a few years later. Both native to Onslow County, they grew up just eight miles apart but never crossed paths until they came to N.C. State.

Don, who currently serves as division chair for student services at CCCC, earned CALS master’s and doctoral degrees in agricultural education, in 1980 and 1989, respectively. Marianne, division chair for industrial and applied technology programs at CCCC, earned her 1985 bachelor’s and 1989 master’s degrees in agricultural economics.

“I had been involved with 4-H and originally thought I was going to State for horticulture,” Marianne said. “But then I started taking business classes and really enjoyed it. And once I met [Agricultural and Resource Economics faculty member] Bob Usry, that just sealed the deal. He was a wonderful adviser.”

Marianne grew up in a military family in a rural community and spent her summers working on tobacco farms. Her family raised chickens, and her father built her a little greenhouse in their backyard when she was a child. She credits her family and her experience in 4-H with giving her a foundation for lifelong learning.

“I don’t think the Cooperative Extension professionals realize how much influence they have on those young 4-H’ers,” she said. “They take such great interest in you, help you study and get ready for college.”

Don’s parents were educators who instilled in him the value of learning – and teaching.

“Going into ag education was a natural fit for me,” Don said. “I’ve always had a great passion for agriculture, having grown up on a family farm. I knew that N.C. State was just where I wanted to be.”

Don also was active in Onslow County 4-H, as well as North Carolina FFA. He won awards as a junior beekeeper, and Marianne was a national 4-H champion in horticulture.

After living in Montgomery County for a few years as newlyweds, the couple returned home when Don accepted a vocational director position with the Onslow County School System.

“As luck would have it, I finished my thesis at the same time that Don completed his dissertation, so we were able to graduate together in 1989,” Marianne said. “I was unemployed when we moved back to Onslow County, so I took a part-time teaching position at the community college in developmental math and business law.”

That led to a full-time position as coordinator for continuing education, and eventually her current job as division chair. Managing programs that range from cosmetology to welding, as well as teaching applied mathematics, Marianne has held the position since 1996. Don joined CCCC in 2000 as division chair for student services and handles everything from admissions to counseling.

A dynamic pair widely respected on campus, the Herrings describe their work as a “natural partnership” enhanced by the fact that they also happen to be married.

Don has implemented a number of successful programs at CCCC, which won the community college system’s “Staff of the Year Award” in 2011. These programs include a career expo for high school students, the Minority Male Mentoring Program and a Wounded Warrior Support Program for military veterans. He also led efforts to transform a local abandoned wastewater treatment plant site into an environmental learning center called “Sturgeon City.”

Marianne has been recognized with a number of honors for her leadership in the community college system and for excellence in Extension.

Asked what they love most about their jobs, Don and Marianne said the same thing: the people.

“I love working with faculty and students,” Marianne said. She runs an instructors academy for her faculty members, helps them manage their budgets and does “whatever it takes for them to be successful.”

The CCCC student population ranges in age from 16 to 76, and about 5,000 students come through campus every day, Don said.

The annual May commencement ceremony is a particularly moving experience for both Don and Marianne.

“It’s life-changing for our students,” Don said. “There’s a story of success and/or challenge in every student who walks across that stage. They’re single parents, they have deployed husbands or sick children or they’re working two jobs. Not a single one just breezed through.”

Marianne said, “We’ve cheered them on, nurtured them and directed them. It’s at graduation that you fully realize they’ve stayed the course. They’re just amazing.”

— Suzanne Stanard

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