Cross Coordinates Speakers for Alternative Education Center


Melanie Rose, McDowell AEC Counselor, and Chip Cross, McDowell Tech Business Instructor, coordinated an effort to bring 8 guest speakers, who are business and community leaders, to share their experiences with students at the McDowell AEC School.  Tracey Widmann, McDowell AEC Principal, welcomed everyone; gave an overview of The McDowell AEC including faculty, staff, and students; and conducted a de-briefing afterwards so that everyone could share “best practices.” The speakers spoke for about 20 minutes in each classroom as they rotated through 4 classes each during the 80-minute first period time slot.  Everyone enjoyed their interactions with the students and everyone was very impressed with the staff, faculty, administration, and students at The McDowell AEC.  Keep up the great work!

Below is some information about each speaker:

Bob Ayers: Graduate of Furman University: B.A. Business Administration and Economics; Served in U.S. Army 27 months and U.S. Army Reserves 27 months; 40-year career in Textile Industry with job assignments including Department Manager, Plant Manager, and Director of Quality Assurance for a major upholstery fabric converter; Wife: Deborah; Son: Jim: graduate of UNC, retired Air Force Colonel, former squadron commander of Air Force II which transported the U.S. Vice President;  Son: Jon, Graduate of N.C. State, Computer Software Engineer in Cary; Daughter: Amy, Graduate of UNC, Media Specialist at McDowell High School; Daughter: Misty: Manager Marion SECU; Advice to Students: “Set your goals and build a plan to achieve these.  Follow your plan.” 

Rachel Withrow: Graduate of McDowell Tech with a degree in College Transfer; Owner: The Crooked Door Coffee House; Active in The McDowell Chamber of Commerce and Marion Business Association; represented our community at The Rural Economic Development Institute; Parents: Paul & Dana Withrow are business owners; Sister: Rebecca is a teaching facilitator for Elementary Schools in Charlotte; Advice to Students: “Start saving now.  Always represent yourself well to make a good impression.”

Scott Cook: Graduate of East Burke High School and UNC-A with a degree in Business Management; Attended an Alternative Education Center; Experience in lending, insurance, and trusts; Currently Senior Loan Officer at SECU in Old Fort; Serving on the Board of Directors of the Swannanoa Valley Medical Center; Advice to Students: “Believe in yourself no matter what; keep on fighting to achieve your goals.”

Bill Warren: Served in U.S. Army; Nurse; Pastor in South Dakota, Missouri, N.C.; Graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic majoring in Religion and Business; Graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Contract Nurse for Sheriff’s Department; Former Executive Director of McDowell Mission; Married to Sharon 46 years; Children: Joline, Josh, Adam; Advice to Students: “Business principles will help you in all areas of life.”

Judy Melton:  Graduate of East Carolina University with a Master's in Nursing Education in 2013.  Also, a graduate of UNC-Charlotte with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1983.  Thirty-five years of nursing experience includes medical surgical nursing, obstetrical nursing, office nursing and nurse educator. Nursing education experience includes Foothills Nursing Consortium adjunct faculty (Associate Degree Program) and McDowell Technical Community College as nursing faculty for sixteen years as lead instructor and then Assistant Director of the Practical Nurse Education Program. Currently Dean of Health Science at McDowell Technical Community College.  Loves basketball and softball. She and her husband have 2 sons, one daughter-in-law and one granddaughter. Advice to students "Never give up. If you can dream it you can do it."

Dr. Jim Benton:  Graduate of East Tennessee State University with a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.  Also degrees from Western Piedmont Community College, Western Carolina University, and Appalachian State University.  Professional experience includes Director of Focused Industrial Training, Director of Industrial Services, Auditor, and Faculty.  Currently Dean of Curriculum, McDowell Technical Community College.  Professional memberships and appointments include numerous assignments on state task forces, seminar leader for Phi Theta Kappa Honors Institute, and Chairman of Planning Committee for NC Community College Adult Educators Association.  Community service includes numerous volunteer initiatives with local youth and high schools, Hospice, Kiwanis, United Way, and Relay for Life.  Has engaged in ongoing continuing education and professional development.  Enjoys spending time with family, running, fishing, golfing, and reading. Advice to students "Never give up on your goals and stay focused, positive and determined."

Walt Bagwell: Graduate of McDowell High School and Clemson University with a degree in Industrial Management. Has owned and operated a Nationwide Insurance agency in Marion for 27 years.  Past president and Treasurer of the Marion Civitan Club.  Current Board Member and past president of the Marion Rotary Club.  Past president of the Marion Elementary PTO.  Current Board member and Vice Chairman of the McDowell Chamber of Commerce.  Member of the Marion Business Association and McDowell Trails Association.  Married to wife Tabitha, (American Red Cross Blood donor recruiter) for 29 years.  2 children, Brooklyn 28(casting director, Sharp Entertainment, New York City) and Josh 22(Branch Manager Trainee, Enterprise Rental, Greenville SC). Advice to students: “You learn more with your ears than your mouth.  Inquire and learn from the people you come in contact with.”

Lora Bartlett:  Certified Nurse Educator; currently attending Liberty University in pursuit of a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.  Graduate of Western Carolina University with a Masters in Education 2008; Gardner Webb with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing 1998; Catawba Valley Community College with an Associate Degree Nursing 1984; McDowell Technical Community College for Practical Nursing in 1982, GED recipient.  Nursing background includes 36 years in nursing with a concentration in long-term care,
critical care, home health, and education.  Employed with McDowell Technical Community College for the last 13 years as faculty and currently Assistant Director in the Practical Nursing Program.  Loves reading and gardening as hobbies. She and her husband have two daughters and four grandchildren with a fifth on the way. Advice to students, "To be successful reading is fundamental."

In May, 2017, Cross and McDowell AEC Counselor, Tim Partlow, coordinated a similar program to bring 8 speakers to share their experiences with AEC students.  In 2017, the speakers included Bob Ayers, Rachel Withrow, Scott Cook, and Bill Warren; (all of whom participated again in 2018); along with the following additional business and community leaders:

Norman Guthrie: Graduate of Clemson University; B.S. Textile Science and Institute of Textile Technology: M.S. Textile Technology; 40 year career in the textile industry; responsibilities included Plant Manager and V.P. of Manufacturing with a focus on production management and product development; Avid golfer; Community leader serving on many Boards of Directors; Wife: Nancy (deceased) Former Principal at East McDowell Middle School; Children: Callie, Scott, Neil; Advice to students: “Do your best work now to keep all your options open.”

Donna Allison: Husband, Dennis is a business owner; Son, Justin, is an officer in the Navy; Daughter, Taylor, is a Deputy in Madison County; Donna is employed by N.C. Outward Bound as a Medical Screener and Database Manager; She is an avid reader reading/listening to 100+ books/year; Attending classes at McDowell Tech pursuing a double major in IT and Business Administration; Advice to Students: “Spend as much time as you can learning; Gain experience through hands-on application; Be open to positive changes.”

Bill Wiseman: Graduate of Blanton’s Business College; Served in U.S. Army; Began working at an early age: various jobs included selling ice in a mobile home park, selling blackberries, digging septic tanks by hand, working at The Pleasant Gardens Drive-In Theatre, working in Michigan, working as a fixer at American Thread Company (now Coats), selling insurance, selling cars, and now selling antique cars and owning rental property.  Wife: Vera; Community Involvement: Pleasant Gardens Fire Department; McDowell County Commissioner; Pleasant Gardens Baptist Church; The Gideons International; Ralph Sexton Ministries.  Advice to Students: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Dr. Michele Burleson: PhD in Accounting;  Accounting Instructor at McDowell Tech for 25 years; Also attended McDowell Tech; She and her husband Dirk have 3 children; Community Involvement: Girl Scout Leader; Church Youth Group Leader; Advice to Students: “Be determined.  Continue your journey.”