SCC's Alumni Spotlight Series
From the front lines of the emergency room to commanding a boardroom you can find successful Spartanburg Community College alums all over the world. The Spartanburg Community College Foundation, who supports SCC students, faculty and staff through scholarships, grants, and more, catches up with former students in the Alumni Spotlight series.
Karen Willis | December 2019
Karen Willis’ great grandfather was the town physician in Landrum, SC and her grandmother was a nurse. But it wasn’t until she took a medical terminology class at Spartanburg Community College that Karen fell in love with the healthcare profession.
A member of the 2006 inaugural class of SCC’s Associate Degree in Nursing program, Karen went on to earn a Bachelor of Nursing degree from the University of Texas, Arlington in 2014 and became a certified Nurse Executive (NE-BC) in 2018. She now serves as Nurse Manager for the Rapid Treatment Unit at Spartanburg Medical Center where she hires and manages more than 60 RNs, cardiac care associates and unit ambassadors that are medically trained and prepared for all types of acutely ill patients.
“As a nurse manager, I have hired multiple nursing graduates from SCC, and they all are well prepared for the ever-changing world of healthcare,” Karen says. “SCC is one of the greatest treasures for undergraduate students in the entire state of South Carolina.”
Karen counts among her greatest achievements the accomplishments of those she has had the opportunity to lead. Her passion for helping others attain their goals and preparing them to lead with a servant’s heart was born from the strong bonds that developed between classmates and instructors during that inaugural ADN class at Spartanburg Community College.
“Several of my nursing instructors and classmates are now my colleagues and I am so grateful for the foundations that were laid when we met at SCC,” Karen said. “We struggled and survived the journey of designing and creating a new undergraduate program and that experience created strong bonds that still exist between many of us to this day.”
Karen’s own servant’s heart extends beyond her work life into the leisure activities she enjoys. She serves in the children’s ministry at her church, assists the Greater Spartanburg Ministries foodbank several times each year and works with the disaster relief team at Church at The Mill. Karen is a member of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and a past member of the Young Leaders division for the United Way of the Piedmont.
A resident of Roebuck, Karen is married to Barrett Willis. The couple have two children, Austin, 11, and Lauren, 9.
Clysta Clark | November 2019
As the owner of ANEW Massage, LLC, Clysta Clark, LMBT, class of 2011 does much more than therapeutic massage. And it was her time at Spartanburg Community College earning an Associate Degree in Applied Science Management with Marketing that gave her the skills to run her own business.
“My experience at SCC prepared me for my career in instrumental ways,” Clark said. “It gave me the skills that I utilize in my business today and prepared me for setting goals, planning, implementing and achieving success.”
Clark credits SCC and especially faculty member Peter Stone for the instruction, motivation and support that has helped her run a small business, handling everything from marketing and promotion to accounting and scheduling.
A native of Swanton, Vermont, Clark moved to the Upstate 28 years ago, settling in Inman, SC, a community similar in size and character to her hometown.
“My company is a local small business and I live in the community I serve, which is very important to me,” Clark said. “I have several clients that have referred every member of their family to me for treatment. It’s so very rewarding.”
Clark specializes in therapeutic massage services from goal-orientated sessions to relaxation therapy and Oncology massage. Sessions are customized, integrating various modalities designed to increase range of motion, remove trigger points, reduce stress or achieve other goals.
Clark not only serves her community professionally, but also as a volunteer with organizations such as the Greater Inman Area Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity and Spartanburg County Parks and Recreation. She is a member of the American Massage Therapy Association, Society of Oncology Massage and Oncology of the Carolinas.
When not working, Clark enjoys photography and being in nature. But her favorite job is being Mimi to grandchildren Gavin, Liam and Emma.
Ray Gilpin | October 2019
After a 28-year stint in the wastewater management industry, Ray Gilpin 09 was looking for a second career.
Gilpin barely survived a companywide layoff after 20 years on the job when his employer was acquired by another company. While relieved he was able to keep his job under the new management, the near miss made Gilpin think about finding a more secure future in another field.
I entered college at the age of 49 and graduated at 51 with honors, Gilpin said. I was given a full grant by my employer to obtain my Bachelor s in Respiratory Care Advanced Clinical Practice, and at the age of 56, I graduated Summa Cum Laude. During this journey, a business was created and is continuing to grow into its ninth year.
Recalling his time at Spartanburg Community College, Gilpin said that everything he learned was put to practical use when he entered the field.
Sometimes you think a program is too hard or strenuous, until it s your time in real life, Gilpin said. But the time you save someone s life, that s when it all becomes very real.
As a respiratory therapist, Gilpin knows about saving lives. He earned his Associates of Science in Respiratory Care at SCC, and before graduating was offered a job at one of the college s clinical rotation sites. Today, Gilpin is Chief Executive Officer of Specialized Respiratory Services, LLC in Wellford, SC handling everything from patient assessments and oxygenation setups to contractor recruitment and new business development
Established in 2011, Specialized Respiratory Services (SRS) began as a trach care and changing service at a single facility in Shelby, NC. Today, the company has 24 respiratory therapists serving more than 30 skilled nursing facilities in nine states, with four new facilities in four additional states soon to follow.
In 2013, SRS became the Respiratory Service provider for Mountain Medical Supply (MMS), a Durable Medical Equipment supplier based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Solely a government provider for the U.S. Departments of Labor and Energy, MMS primarily serves patients who are nuclear power plant employees.
The association with MMS allowed SRS to expand throughout SC and into Kentucky, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Idaho
A hands-on executive, Gilpin handles day-to-day respiratory services for the facilities in and around the Charlotte, NC area that are under contract with SRS. He also provides back-up for the three registered respiratory therapists that cover those areas.
When not working, Glipin enjoys kayak fishing and being outdoors. His two classic Porsches also get a good bit of pampering and time on the road. Ray Gilpin is class of 2009, BSRT, RRT, RCP
Gilpin is married to Geannie Gilpin, a 29-year employee of Spartanburg School District 5. Their daughter, Jessica Yath, is a graduate of SCC s nursing program.
James Fortner | September 2019
The real-world experience of his instructors prepared James Fortner 88 to immediately begin his career after earning an Associates in Industrial Electronics Technology at Spartanburg Community College.
The experienced instructors who had worked in the field prepared me to go straight to work, Fortner said. Ron Towery, who was an instructor at the time then became the head of the industrial department, really cared for his students and ended up getting me my first job.
That first job was a 16-year stint with McNaughton-McKay Electrical Company in Greenville, SC where Fortner began as a trainee then moved into account management. Since that time, he has served as business development manager for Tegron Southeast in Greenville and as vice president of sales and engineering for Cynergi Systems, a multi-million-dollar technology company based in Spartanburg.
Currently, Fortner is director of business development for Renfrow Industrial Inc. in Spartanburg where he works to bridge the gap between sales and operations, enhancing the customer experience to increase revenue.
When he s not working, Fortner enjoys spending time with family, running, mountain biking and being outside. He s also involved in the community, serving as a board member of Urban Hope, an advisory board member at Daniel Morgan Technology Center and a member of the SC Christian Chamber of Commerce.
Sam Arrowood | August 2019
We ve heard the saying, Do what you love, and you ll never work another day in your life. For Sam Arrowood 08, turning his passion into a profession is still hard work but also his greatest accomplishment.
After earning an associate degree in technology at Spartanburg Community College, the Rutherford County, NC native worked as a diesel technician with Ford, then opened his own business almost five years ago. Arrowood believes that the hands-on training he received at SCC gave him a leg up in his field of study coming out of college
There is no substitute for hands on experience through the automotive industry, Arrowood said. SCC allowed me to start the journey of my hobby leading to a job, which led to a career, which led to business ownership.
As owner of SMA Diesel Service, LLC, a Power Stroke specific diesel repair facility in Chesnee, SC, Arrowood has duties that range from technician and customer service to janitor and everything else involved in owning your own business. And while being a business owner doesn't allow a lot of down time, Arrowood still enjoy a few hobbies like spending time with wife, Paige, hiking and being outdoors. And, of course, drag racing.
Nicole T. Baker | July 2019
Opportunity comes to mind when Nicole T. Baker, CPA, recalls her time at Spartanburg Community College. Not only an opportunity to make up for a not-so-impressive start to her college career, but an opportunity to grow and to succeed
I was actually an excellent student (at SCC), Baker said. This was probably more due to the fact that I was paying for school because of a less-than-stellar freshman year.
At SCC, Baker s path became clear and she went on to earn Bachelor of Science and Master of Accountancy degrees. She joined Elliott & Painter LLP in 2003, and today is a Certified Public Accountant and a Partner at the Spartanburg, SC-based accounting firm.
Baker is a member of the South Carolina Association of CPAs, the American Institute of CPAs and serves on the board of First Citizens Bank. And this fall, she will have the chance to be on the giving end of opportunity by promoting the mission and vision of the Spartanburg Community College Foundation as a member of the board.
Kathryn Lawson | June 2019
From manufacturing and banking to corporations and nonprofits, Kathryn Lawson 84 has applied her Associate Degree in Accounting in a variety of industries. And it was her time at Spartanburg Community College that prepared her for the wide range of real-life situations she has encountered throughout her career.
As we grow and change jobs or careers, we are faced with different business needs and companies that are very different, Lawson explains. My SCC training was extremely valuable in my preparation for some of these situations. One thing that comes to my mind on a frequent basis is the different approaches we were taught on how to turn challenges into opportunities.
A self-described extrovert focused on grades and academic achievement, Lawson recalls her involvement in several clubs and organizations while at SCC. But it was the classroom of Professor Russell Hardin that made a lasting impression on her.
Mr. Hardin was great at motivating his students and had developed just the right methods for teaching, leading, coaching and making Accounting and Tax interesting, Lawson said. Not once was I ever bored in his classroom.
As staff accountant at The Spartanburg County Foundation, Lawson is again a student focused on achievement this time in the Grass Roots Leadership Development Institute. The seven-month program is designed to equip participants with the knowledge, skillset and resources to be effective in leading positive change throughout Spartanburg County.
Rhonda Anderson | May 2019
My fondest memory of Spartanburg Community College is going on an overnight field trip to Athens, Georgia and meeting Dr. Michael Dirr and playing checkers with him, Anderson said. Recognized as the number one academic contributor to the landscape industry by Landscape Management magazine, Dr. Dirr s lifelong passion for horticulture has influenced a generation of students, gardeners and professional horticulturists. But it was SCC s Doug McAbee that made a lasting impression on Anderson.
Doug was so passionate about all aspects of landscaping, Anderson explains. I took a homeowner interest course that was not a graded course with Doug, and that really sparked my interest in pursuing the landscape management certificate courses.
Anderson s Landscape Management Certificate from SCC took her from a management position at an area hospital to owner of Motlow Creek Gardens in Campobello, SC. A small retail business when Anderson and her mother purchased it 20 years ago, Motlow Creek Gardens today includes landscape maintenance, design and installation, multiple greenhouses and a gift shop.
The classes I took at SCC gave me confidence to talk with clients with ease, and the plant material courses definitely helped me make interesting plant choices for customers looking for something unique to set their landscape apart from their neighbors.
Trang Thu Pitts | April 2019
Lab days filled with cooking and creating were Trang Thu Pitts favorite while at Spartanburg Community College. Now every day is lab day for the Boston, MA native who serves as Executive Sous Chef at the Spartanburg Marriott and as owner/operator of BAK D, a baking company specializing in cakes, cookies and confectioners.
A 2015 SCC graduate with an Associate of Applied Science degree with a Culinary Certificate, Trang Thu found both the training and the support network she needed to be successful in the Upstate culinary scene.
I m so grateful to Chef Byers and the other chef instructors who were so patient and understanding, Trang Thu said. They truly supported me and my aspirations.
When not at work, Trang Thu spends time in her own kitchen teaching daughters Sokthea and Sokthi how to prepare some of the Vietnamese foods she grew up eating. She also spends time with future chefs judging culinary competitions at area high schools and at SCC s Restaurant Capstone.
Ryan Collins | March 2019
Ryan (SC native) graduated in July 2017 with honors, obtaining his Associates in Applied Science in Mechatronics. He was an SCC Technical Scholar at AWL Automation and is now employed there as a Documentation Engineer.
As a non-traditional student, finding a work/life/school balance was difficult at times. "My advisors and instructors offered, in addition to an excellent education, plenty of practical advice for how to adjust myself to the expectations of the industry into which I was attempting to enter. The courses that offered a good balance of classroom lectures and hands-on labs were particularly useful."
Jeannette Bull Robison | January 2019
Jeannette Bull Robison earned her Certificate in Landscape Management and AS in Horticulture Technology here at SCC. She now owns her own Landscaping consulting business, The Yardisan.