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Apr 8, 2021

James Sutton of SkyWave Wireless Internet presents a check to Southwestern Community College President Don Tomas, establishing an annual scholarship through the SCC Foundation. Also pictured is Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation.James Sutton had a great role model growing up.

His mother, Theresa Seals, always displayed a generous heart and a passion for education. That rubbed off on Sutton – owner of SkyWave Wireless Internet – and it’s the primary reason he recently worked with the Southwestern Community College Foundation to set up an annual scholarship.

“My mother grew up poor and went to a college where you had to work, so she always gave back to me and my friends for education,” Sutton said. “So I’m paying it forward. She had help to get through college, so she always helped anyone she could.”

The new scholarship will go to an SCC student interested in pursuing a degree in the Information Technologies program.

It will be awarded later this year.

“This new scholarship will be a tremendous blessing for one of our students this fall,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “On behalf of our students, I am grateful to James, SkyWave and everyone who supports scholarships through the SCC Foundation.”

For more information or to learn about giving opportunities at SCC, contact Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation, at 828.339.4241 or b_woods[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu.

Mar 30, 2021

Representatives of the 2021 SCC Nursing cohort who recently established an annual scholarship are Lyndsey Starnes (left) of Granite Falls and class president Heather Wilkes of Sylva. They are pictured with, from left: Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation, Michelle Evans, SCC Nursing Instructor, and Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President.Last year, Nursing graduates at Southwestern Community College had already started raising money for their pinning ceremony before the pandemic canceled their celebratory event.

That money was passed on to this year’s graduating nurses, but they didn’t feel right about using it to benefit themselves.

Instead, they decided to pay it forward by creating a $500 annual scholarship that will support an incoming Nursing student this fall.

“We know the class before us put in so much work, they were ready to graduate, they were ready to celebrate being done – and COVID happened,” said Heather Wilkes, a member of the 2021 SCC Nursing cohort and president of the SCC Nursing Club. “Using this money to help someone else become a nurse and enter this profession seemed to be a fitting way to honor the class of 2020. Even though COVID happened, good things can come from it.”

Michelle Evans, a Nursing Instructor at SCC, said the new scholarship was entirely student-driven.

“This students have taken care of all this,” Evans said. “I am their faculty advisor, but they are the ones who actually got all this done. The decisions were theirs, the actions were theirs and the results were theirs.”

The Class of 2020 Nursing Scholarship is one of 11 new scholarships to be set up this academic year through the SCC Foundation.

It is the first scholarship to be created entirely by SCC students to benefit a future student.

“You can’t help but be impressed by these students and their passion for taking care of others,” said Dr. Don Tomas, President of SCC. “By establishing this scholarship, they have demonstrated with their actions – and not just their words – that they believe in and care deeply about the future of their profession.”

For more information about giving opportunities at Southwestern, contact Brett Woods at 828.339.4241 or b_woods[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu.


Mar 18, 2021

Family of Duane Young stands beside two representatives of SCC inside a building on SCC's campus.Over the past 14 years, Duane Earle Young regularly mentored and guided aspiring Physical Therapist Assistants through his role as clinical manager for Pardee Memorial Hospital’s Rehab and Wellness Center.

After he passed away in September of last year, his wife Sherri and daughters Cassie and Courtney wanted to find some way for Duane’s legacy to continue touching lives of those entering the profession.

That’s why they decided to create the Duane Young, MSPT, Endowed Memorial Academic Excellence Scholarship Fund at Southwestern Community College. It will be awarded each year to the Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) student with the highest GPA entering the program’s second year.

The first scholarship will be awarded this fall.

“Because he was a very fiscally responsible man, Duane really believed in the value of community colleges,” said Sherri Young, who lives in Flat Rock and visited SCC’s Jackson Campus last month and toured the college’s PTA lab and classroom. “We felt that supporting students in their education would be a way for them to learn about the qualities Duane Young had as far as being a physical therapist and providing the most optimal care possible, and that they could strive to be like him in their own careers.”

Susan Kimel, the Clinical Coordinator and Instructor for SCC’s Physical Therapist Assistant program, worked closely with Duane Young to arrange placements for Southwestern’s second-year students.

“Every student who was placed with him came back and talked about him and the positive impact he had on them,” Kimel said. “We are extremely thankful for his support of our program over the years, and I can think of no better way to honor his memory than by creating this scholarship to help future Physical Therapist Assistants to become as dedicated to our profession as he was in his career.”

The new endowment is among more than a half-dozen to be created this academic year through the SCC Foundation, which last year awarded a record number of scholarships to students who might otherwise not have been able to attend college.

“On behalf of our current and future PTA students, I am extremely grateful to Sherri, Cassie and Courtney for choosing to honor Duane in this way,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “A high percentage of our students rely on financial assistance to complete their college degrees, so I have no doubt this endowment will have a profound impact on many lives in the years ahead.”

For more information about the Duane Young, MSPT, Endowed Memorial Academic Excellence Scholarship Fund or to learn about other giving opportunities at Southwestern, contact Brett Woods at 828.339.4241 or b_woods[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu.

Duane Young

Mar 5, 2021

Hart and Sara GoodsonFor nearly five decades, Hart and Sara Goodson have lived next door to Southwestern Community College.

Their children grew up exploring and playing on SCC’s campus. The Goodson’s have seen Southwestern grow from two buildings to nine (with a 10th set to open this summer), and they’ve personally known all but one of the college’s presidents.

Before moving to the central part of the state in February, the Goodsons created an endowed fund through the SCC Foundation as a legacy that will support generations of students at the college that’s become a big part of their lives. The Hart and Sara Goodson Endowed Scholarship will be awarded annually to Jackson County residents who maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher.

“We’ve lived by SCC for 46 years, and we’ve had a good relationship the whole time,” Sara Goodson said. “We’d just like to show that appreciation.”

The Goodsons, who owned Country Classic Real Estate before retiring, have actively engaged with Southwestern over the years.

Hart Goodson took all his real estate classes at SCC, and Sara frequently took advantage of the manicures offered by the college’s Cosmetology program. When their children were young, Sara would bring them to the Cosmetology program as well.

By endowing the scholarship, the Goodson’s aim to pay it forward for the next generation.

“I’m hoping that somebody will get a better education,” Hart Goodson said. “Our main impetus was that we want to make it possible for some people who couldn’t otherwise go to college.”

Dr. Don Tomas, Southwestern’s President, said new endowments like the Hart and Sara Goodson Endowed Scholarship Fund are a huge reason the SCC Foundation set all-time records by awarding support of more than $200,000 to 142 students in the current academic year.

“We’re extremely fortunate to have such great neighbors and friends like the Goodsons,” Dr. Tomas said. “We’re happy for them as they start the next chapter of their lives, though we are sorry to see them move away. This gift they are providing to our students says so much about Hart and Sara Goodson. They’ve seen how SCC can change lives, and they want to make sure even more students have that opportunity in the future.”

To support students or learn more about the SCC Foundation, please visit

Feb 22, 2021

Joyce Lantz is pictured with SCC's President, Dr. Don Tomas, and Foundation Director, Brett Woods.For more than a quarter of a century, Dogwood Crafters has been supporting Southwestern Community College students through annual contributions to scholarship funds – typically to students interested in studying the arts.

This fall, the Dillsboro-based artists’ co-op extended its longstanding support by giving its largest gift yet and designating it to support the next wave of frontline healthcare workers.

Dogwood Crafters’ $1,500 contribution will allow the SCC Foundation to present $750 scholarships to two Nursing students.

“This year in particular, it was natural to think outside the box and to do something that was more significant and more meaningful,” said Joyce Lantz, who presented the check to SCC officials last month.

The co-op made its first donation to the SCC Foundation in 1995.

“Consistent gifts from generous, community-minded organizations such as Dogwood Crafters are vital to helping our students succeed,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “Without scholarships, many of our students wouldn’t be able to complete their degrees at Southwestern. On behalf of our students, I’m extremely grateful to Joyce and all our friends at Dogwood Crafters.”

Established in 1973, the SCC Foundation exists solely to support the mission of SCC through its annual fund, endowed scholarships, estate planning and more.

In the current academic year, the SCC Foundation set all-time records by awarding support of more than $200,000 to 142 students.

“Even during some challenging economic times, our communities are rallying together to support our students,” said Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation. “Dogwood Crafters Co-op is a great example of how generous individuals and organizations can make a tremendous difference in the lives of our students."

To support students or learn more about the SCC Foundation, please visit

Feb 11, 2021

Jeff MarleyOver the past decade at Southwestern Community College, serving as Heritage Arts Department Chair has become much more than a fun job for Jeff Marley.

It’s a passion.

Marley’s desire to see the program continue to flourish is the main reason he recently took steps to create the Heritage Arts Endowed Fund through the SCC Foundation. The scholarship will be used to financially support visiting artists, equipment, travel and salaries associated with the Heritage Arts program, which is housed at the SCC Swain Center.

“Unlike a scholarship for an individual student, this fund will benefit all students and the community through events and classes we offer,” Marley said. “I wanted to begin developing this fund to ensure the Heritage Arts program would have the fiscal means to be able to provide a wide variety of events well into the future. I want to sustain our program and provide many more opportunities to our students.”

The new fund will be sustained by a series of ongoing fundraising events Marley conducts each year at the SCC Swain Center. These events include special courses and the sales of handmade items created by students and artists enrolled at SCC.

Brett Woods, who oversees the SCC Foundation, helped Marley set up the new scholarship.

“Southwestern is fortunate to have dedicated, visionary, philanthropic employees like Jeff Marley,” Woods said. “He’s obviously talented as an artist and as an instructor, and he passes along to his students a tremendous understanding of – and passion for – Cherokee culture.”

For more information about the Heritage Arts Endowed Fund at SCC, or to make a donation, contact Woods at 828.339.4241 or b_woods[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu.

To learn more about Heritage Arts classes at Southwestern, contact Marley at 828.366.2005 or j_marley[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu.


Dec 16, 2020

Two men hold a check while a third stands behind them. They are social distancing and wearing masksTravis Ashe (left), Area Manager for Pepsi-Cola of Whittier, presents a donation to Dr. Don Tomas, Southwestern Community College President, on Monday, Dec. 14, in Sylva. Behind them is Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation.

Every year, Pepsi employees forego their annual holiday party and instead give $1,000 to the SCC Foundation.

The money goes into SCC’s Student Emergency Fund, which helps deserving students who encounter unexpected financial emergencies so that they can remain at SCC and continue working toward their degrees, diplomas and/or certificates.

For more info about the Student Emergency Fund and the SCC Foundation, contact Woods at 828.339.4241 or b_woods[at]SouthwesternCC[dot]edu – or visit

Oct 20, 2020

A young woman with black hair smiles under a tree on a foggy morning
Jasmine Cline of Robbinsville is one of the SCC Foundation’s Student Success Scholarship recipients this year and a student in SCC’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program.
The difference between a college graduate and a college dropout could be something as simple as a broken laptop, a failed well pump or need for childcare.
It could also be a scholarship that provides the extra tuition a student might not otherwise be able to afford for a particular semester at Southwestern Community College.
Through a wide variety of student scholarships and funding initiatives, this year the SCC Foundation has been able to award a record-breaking $200,000 in financial support during a time of uncertainty and hardship when students need it more than ever.
For 2020-21, the SCC Foundation awarded 142 individual scholarships totaling $172,000; supported 33 students through their Student Emergency Fund totaling $7,000; and provided $21,000 toward the New Century Scholars program at SCC.
While the SCC Foundation relies heavily on private donors to support students, more than $16,000 came directly from the donations of SCC faculty and staff.
“We are thrilled to have reached yet another milestone within the SCC Foundation by changing a record number of student lives through scholarship support this year. We've seen significant philanthropic momentum externally and also internally, with 62 of our own employees making gifts to support our students,” said Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation. “We are crafting a new culture of philanthropy. We are grateful, we are appreciative and on behalf of our students, we thank our donors for making this record-breaking year possible.”
Seven years ago, the SCC Foundation was only able to help one out of every five students who applied for financial assistance. For the current academic year, SCC was able to assist almost half (128 out of 270).
But that means 50 percent of qualified applicants still aren’t receiving assistance.
“One of my top priorities when I arrived here in 2011 was to find a way to fund and award more student scholarships, and the SCC Foundation has done a wonderful job of doing exactly that,” said SCC President Dr. Don Tomas. “It's gratifying to see so many more students getting the financial help they need, and we are so thankful to all of our donors for making this happen. Our work continues to provide scholarships for each student who applies for financial assistance.”
Lisa Leatherman, who currently serves as chair of the SCC Foundation, is optimistic about SCC’s ability to bridge that gap and continue serving more students than ever.
SCC and our Foundation are only as strong as the communities we serve,” said Leatherman. “Financial support provided by donors in Jackson, Macon, Swain and surrounding counties support and sustain a vibrant and growing workforce for our state and the Western North Carolina region.”
Jasmine Cline, a student in the Occupational Therapy Assistant program and one of this year’s Student Success Scholarship recipients, credits the Foundation’s support as a key part of her success.
“The scholarship I’ve received has freed and enabled me to pour all of my attention into my studies and becoming great at my passion, which is caring for others,” said Cline. “I truly can’t thank the donors and everyone at SCC enough for this opportunity. It’s such a weight off my shoulders.”
To support students or learn more about the SCC Foundation, please visit

Sep 28, 2020

Two gentleman shake hands while wearing masks and standing apart
Travis Ashe (left) of Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company in Whittier presents a donation of $6,000 for the SCC Foundation to Dr. Don Tomas, SCC president.
Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company in Whittier recently presented a check for $6,000 to the Southwestern Community College Foundation in support of student scholarships.
Long-time supporters of the college, Pepsi-Cola has given more than $76,000 in financial support to the SCC Foundation over the past 21 years.
“One reason we support the SCC Foundation is because it’s local, and we know Southwestern helps the economy here in Western North Carolina,” said Ronnie Bowers, location sales manager for Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company in Whittier. “We want to be a part of that.”
This year, the SCC Foundation has been able to award a record-breaking $200,000 in student scholarships, largely because of private donations such as this one.
“Pepsi has been one of our most-loyal and generous donors over the years,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC’s president. “We are extremely grateful for their consistent support. So many of our students have been able to achieve success thanks to Pepsi’s generosity.”
Before 2001, Pepsi-Cola of Whittier used to throw an annual holiday party for all its employees in December. However, for the past 19 years, the employees have decided they would rather donate the funding set aside for the party to a local charity. In recent years, they have been donating that money to the Southwestern Community College Foundation’s Student Emergency Fund.
Established in 2014, the Student Emergency Fund helps deserving students who encounter unexpected financial emergencies so that they can remain at SCC and continue working toward their degrees, diplomas and/or certificates.
Despite being able to award a record number of scholarships, approximately half of the students (142 of 270) who applied for financial assistance and met eligibility requirements were unable to receive assistance due to limited resources.
According to Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation, that need has never been greater, especially because of COVID-related hardships currently facing students.
“We are always extremely grateful to receive a financial gift from Pepsi, but especially now during a time of such great need for our students,” said Woods. “These are such difficult times, not just for students but also for our communities and businesses, and for Pepsi of Whittier to still provide such generous support means a lot to us.”
To support students or learn more about the SCC Foundation, click HERE.

Aug 24, 2020

A woman smiles while shaking hands with two men and presenting a check
In this file photo from 2015, Lisa Leatherman (Center) of Duke Energy shakes hands with and presents a check to SCC Foundation Director Brett Woods (Left) and SCC President Dr. Don Tomas (Right) on behalf of Duke Energy.
Lisa Leatherman, Nantahala District Manager for Duke Energy Carolinas, has begun serving as Chair of the SCC Foundation Board as of August 4.
Leatherman, who has helped the SCC Foundation raise more than $22,000 since 2015, recently secured an additional $5,000 from the Duke Energy Foundation toward the New Century Scholars (NCS) program. A collaborative effort between Southwestern Community College and public schools in Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties, NCS provides support, encouragement and financial assistance to high-achieving high-school students.
“The NCS program provides key support and assistance to talented students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to advance their education,” Leatherman said. “It’s so important for our local students to have this chance.”
Each year, seventh graders from throughout SCC’s service area (Jackson, Swain, and Macon Counties) are selected as New Century Scholars. These students receive last-dollar tuition assistance to attend SCC upon graduating high-school as long as they fulfill the program obligations, which include maintaining their grades, engaging in community service projects and participating in professional development and networking opportunities.
The program is funded entirely by annual donations from outside sources and private donors, including corporate contributors like Duke Energy.
“Duke Energy is proud to contribute to such a valuable and beneficial program in our communities, and it’s been an honor to work with SCC over the last five years and see first-hand how many lives we’ve helped change,” said Leatherman. “I’m honored to become Chair this year, and I can’t wait to see these students accomplish great things even in such unprecedented times.”
According to Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation, NCS is celebrating its 25th anniversary and is continuing to thrive thanks in large part to the longstanding support of both Duke Energy and Leatherman. Since 1992, Duke Energy has donated more than $53,000 to the SCC Foundation to support student scholarships.
“We are truly grateful for Duke Energy’s continued support, for seeing the potential in this program and for helping our students accomplish their dreams,” Woods said. “Lisa is a true supporter of SCC and we’re excited for her to take on this role.”
For more information on New Century Scholars, contact Freya Kinner, SCC’s NCS Coordinator, at f_kinner[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu or 828.339.4477.
To support New Century Scholars, visit “Give Now” at, or contact Woods at b_woods[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu or 828.339.4241

Jul 29, 2020

By Cameron Wood, SCC Public Relations Intern
Therapeutic Massage continuing education courses are available for fall 2020 
Southwestern Community College’s Therapeutic Massage program is offering an opportunity this fall for professionals in the field to continue their education throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Registration for the Advanced Skills of Massage (MTH 210) course is open, and classes will start on Aug. 17.

“During these unsettling times, it is important to be educated on critical thinking in regard to the virus and other pathologies. We will spend time expanding our critical thinking skills and understanding how we can help and ways we can avoid hurting our clients. This course is designed to increase your skills in outcome-based massage so that you can learn how to design a plan for every client,” said Therapeutic Massage instructor Casey Dupree.

This course will cover 12 modalities including shiatsu, neuromuscular therapy, myofascial release, spa techniques, medical massage and much more.

Appropriate protection and social distancing measures are in place for a safe and effective learning environment while receiving hands-on instruction.

Hours from this course will apply toward requirements for continuing education licensing in 2021 and toward receiving an associate degree.

For more information, contact Casey Dupree at c_dupree[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu.

Jul 7, 2020

Group of students hikes outdoors
ABOVE: Dustin Wilson, shown here at right in 2003 on an SCC Outdoor Leadership class hike, was recently named the recipient of Southwestern’s Distinguished Alumni Award. BELOW: Dustin Wilson is shown here holding a book he was given by Outdoor Leadership Program Coordinator Paul Wolf at the college’s 2003 graduation ceremony in Sylva.

Just over seventeen years ago, Dustin Wilson found himself backpacking through the Western North Carolina wilderness with a group of Southwestern Community College classmates.

The hike on a portion of the Bartram Trail was designed to bring together all lessons from a land-based class. For Wilson, the experience instilled all the confidence he’d need to chart his own career in the world of Outdoor Leadership.

“Just being able to see the skills I had learned in a classroom and directly translating them into a positive experience of being able to overcome obstacles, have fun and earn a living from this – it proved to me that I could do this,” Wilson recalled recently. “I saw that other people were believing in me and trusting in me because of the skills I’d developed.”

Wilson earned his associate degree from SCC shortly after that 2003 hike, and his educational journey eventually led him to earn a Ph.D. in Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management from Clemson University. He how holds the title of Outdoor Recreation Planner for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C.

He also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Parks and Recreation Management and Public Management, respectively, from Western Carolina University.

Based on all that he’s accomplished and his continued engagement with Southwestern, Wilson has been named the recipient of the college’s second annual Distinguished Alumni Award.

“My experience at SCC was the catalyst for my future,” Wilson said. “It feels really great to know that an institution I really enjoyed attending, learned a ton from and where I had such great experiences has come back and expressed pride in where I am today and some of my accomplishments along the way.”

Established in 2019, the award is given annually to an alumnus/alumna who has attained extraordinary distinction and outstanding performance in his or her career field while demonstrating exceptional community leadership.

Last year’s recipient was Kyle Dowling, a 2013 graduate and the supervisor and training officer for Harris Regional Hospital’s EMS Department. The selection is annually made by a committee organized by the SCC Foundation and chaired by Dr. Mark Ellison, who also serves as SCC’s Director of Enrollment Management.

“Since our college’s founding in 1964, thousands of graduates have gone on to make a significant and positive impact on our service area, state and beyond,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “It is no small task for our selection committee to comb through nominations each year and select just one graduate for this honor, but I am confident they once again got this choice right. Dustin makes us all proud with what he’s accomplished and with what he does every day for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

In his current role, Wilson writes environmental assessments and impact statements for non-federal hydro-power licenses. For example, if an organization wants to build a dam, many steps must be taken to safeguard the environment. Wilson works with engineers and other professionals to ensure recreational and cultural resources such as historic properties and gravesites are protected.

“Dustin credits Southwestern Community College's key role in his outstanding academic and career achievements,” Dr. Ellison said. “We are proud to recognize such an accomplished SCC alumnus.”

Added Paul Wolf, SCC’s founding and current Outdoor Leadership Program Coordinator: “Dustin was very goal-driven as a student. He possessed a natural curiosity and was very quick to understand and apply the hard and soft skills needed of an outdoor leader.

“I am extremely proud of the trajectory of Dustin’s career path,” Wolf added. “Seeing the impact he is making on the recreational use and protection of our country’s natural resources and being able to mentor him on his journey makes me grateful to have been part of his formative years here at SCC.”

A native of Madison, Ala., Wilson regularly took vacation trips with his family to the North Carolina mountains. He fell in love with the area and moved here at the age of 21 after learning of SCC’s Outdoor Leadership program through Internet research.

Wilson credits Wolf, his primary instructor, with providing the example and direction he needed at that point in his life.

“Paul was extremely energetic; you could tell he had a huge passion for what he did,” Wilson said. “He helped plant a seed for me to not just participate and pass but to do as well as I could. That was extraordinary. I had been to a community college and university in Alabama, but I never came across anyone like him. Even to this day, I think of the ways he helped to guide me, and I am so appreciative.”

Nominations are accepted annually for SCC’s Distinguished Alumni Award. For more info, visit

For more information about Southwestern and the programs it offers, call 828.339.4000, visit or drop by your nearest SCC location.

A young man smiles underneath a tree outside
Brennan Waitt, a 2019 Student Success Scholarship recipient majoring in Information Technology and Web Development
This past year, the SCC Foundation was thankful to award more than $160,000 in student scholarships to help change the lives of our hard-working, determined students. 

During the unprecedented times we are facing right now, the need for student financial support is greater than ever, and there are many ways you can give -- one of which won’t require you to give a single penny beyond your normal spending.

With AmazonSmile, 0.5% of every purchase you make on Amazon is donated directly to the SCC Foundation to be used for student scholarships with absolutely no additional cost to you.

Start by visiting If you are an existing Amazon customer, use your usual log-in information. Once you are logged in, AmazonSmile will ask you to "Select a Charitable Organization to Start Shopping.” Scroll to the field that allows you to pick your own charitable organization, and type in “Southwestern Community College Foundation”. Be sure to choose the one in Sylva, and then you can start shopping.

While it may not seem like much individually, these donated percentages truly add up. With hundreds of employees potentially shopping on Amazon, along with thousands of students and members of our communities, we have the possibility to raise a significant amount of money toward student scholarships.

Thank you for your support of the SCC Foundation.

"AmazonSmile. You shop, Amazon gives."

Jul 1, 2020

A group of young students smile while sitting on a large inflatable chair

2019 New Century Scholars inductees from Jackson County were, bottom row, from left: Gentry Bumgarner, Jordan Bryson, William Weatherford, Jason Moody and Morgana McCollough. Seated atop the chair, from left: Bailey Bumgarner, Autumn Coggins, Chiara Salgado Rivera, Ava Krauss and Ethan Gilder. Standing at left is Tatum Griffin, and Elias Cruz-Ramirez is at right. Not pictured are Christian Alcantar, Melia Cherry and Madison Franks.

Twenty-five years ago, a college education really wasn’t within reach for hundreds of families in Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties.

In 1995, Dr. Barry Russell, then-President of Southwestern Community College, and former Jackson County Superintendent, Dr. Charles McConnell, decided to find a way for deserving, high-potential students to achieve a college education.

They approached community leaders to sponsor the program by donating $500 each (the cost of SCC tuition at the time), ensuring a two-year education at SCC for the first group of students. Through these donations, the program known as New Century Scholars (NCS) was formed.

Shortly after the program was launched, then-N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt met with two of the first NCS, Krystal Hoyle and Ivan Knight, as well Dr. McConnell and Dr. Russell.

Hoyle, who is now a paramedic and an N.C. paramedic instructor, remains thankful after 25 years for the financial assistance and professional development opportunities of the program.

“The program took away so much of the financial burden from our parents, families and even us as students. I’m obviously really grateful for that,” said Hoyle. “But the mentorship you received from the leaders who were working with you was more of a help to me, personally, than any other part of the program. You learned how to work with other people, interview and get involved in your local community.”

As of 2020, more than 2,400 students have been able to change their lives through the program.

Another one of those students is Zackary Pazar, an upcoming sophomore at Macon Early College. His mother, Nikki, has noticed many positive changes in her son.

“This program has changed Zack. It’s really given him something to work for. If we didn’t have this program, I don’t know what the chances would be for him to go to college,” said Nikki Pazar. “He’s a good student, and scholarships are out there, but they aren’t guaranteed. With NCS, we don’t have to worry anymore.”

Zackary has also noticed the changes in himself as a student since becoming a New Century Scholar.

“I wasn’t always motivated in school, but when I was selected for NCS, it made me want to study more. Being in the NCS program makes me want to focus more and work harder at school,” he said. “My education is more important to me now.”

In addition to last-dollar tuition support, NCS also provides resources and mentorship to students as they navigate middle and high school, engaging them in community service projects, professional development and networking opportunities to provide them with excellent educational and career experiences.

All funding for the program since its inception has come from the private donations of local donors within Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties.

“At Southwestern, we are extremely proud to be a part of this wonderful program that has provided a brighter future to so many young people in our service area,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “We are blessed to live in a region with so many generous individuals who make New Century Scholars possible year after year.”

For more information on New Century Scholars, contact Freya Kinner, SCC’s NCS Coordinator, at f_kinner[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu or 828.339.4477.

To support New Century Scholars, visit “Give Now” at, or contact Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation, at b_woods[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu or 828.339.4241

Jan 8, 2020

Four men and a woman pose for a photo indoors at Harrah's.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort officials recently announced plans to endow a scholarship through the SCC Foundation. Pictured are, from left: Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation; Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President; Brooks Robinson, Regional Senior Vice President and General Manager of Harrah’s Cherokee Properties; Dr. Jo Ray, Harrah’s Regional Vice President for Community Relations & Employee Wellness; and Dr. Thom Brooks, Executive Vice President for Instruction and Student Services at SCC.

Through support of Southwestern Community College’s annual fundraising gala and the state’s first table-gaming school, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and General Manager Brooks Robinson have become more than just partners with SCC.

“They are friends,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “They are friends to our college, to our foundation and – most importantly – to our students.”

In December, the region’s largest employer made a commitment to take its support of SCC and its students to an entirely new level. Robinson and Dr. Jo Ray, Harrah’s Regional Vice President for Community Relations & Employee Wellness, signed an agreement on Dec. 16 to endow a scholarship through the SCC Foundation over the next three years.

The scholarship will be awarded for the first time in the fall of 2020.

“The impact of Harrah’s generosity and support through the gala as well as this new scholarship will be felt by our students for decades to come,” Dr. Tomas said. “It’s been an honor to work so closely with Mr. Robinson, Dr. Ray and their team these past few years. I personally could not be more grateful for their friendship.”

Robinson’s official title is Regional Senior Vice President and General Manager of Harrah’s Cherokee Properties. Since 2012, he has served on the Board of Directors for the SCC Foundation.

“Our partnership with SCC is mutually beneficial,” Robinson said. “We provide support to grow students educationally and professionally, and in return SCC provides us quality employees. In the process, we form and grow relationships and friendships, and in the end, everyone wins. It is these types of partnerships that Harrah’s Cherokee values. Our Code of Commitment promises that we will work in our communities to make them better places to live and work.”

Since Harrah’s began hosting the SCC Foundation’s gala and providing a leadership level of support in 2015, the event has raised more than $350,000.

Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 area residents have graduated from Southwestern’s table-gaming school with the opportunity to fill some of the top-paying jobs in the area.

“Throughout my time at Southwestern, our friends at Harrah’s have offered their unwavering support,” said Brett Woods, Director of the SCC Foundation. “This new scholarship just goes to show how serious they are about helping our students succeed. We greatly value their friendship, and we look forward to working with them for years to come.”

To be considered for the scholarship, students must be enrolled full-time and be pursuing an associate degree. Candidates must have and maintain a Grade Point Average of 3.0 or better. Preference will be given to children of Harrah’s employees. However, if a child of a Harrah’s employee does not apply in a given year, preference will be given to residents of Harrah’s service region – the seven North Carolina counties west of Buncombe.

For more information about the SCC Foundation, click here or contact Woods directly (828.339.4241 or b_woods[at]southwesterncc[dot]edu).