Our Q&A with the President of Durham Technical Community College

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Photo by Briana Brough

Dr. Bill Ingram has worked in a variety of roles at Durham Tech for more than 30 years, serving as its president for the last 10. He’s called Durham home since 1987 – he and wife, Ann, live in Hunters Wood in south Durham. They have two grown children: Christine Elizabeth lives in Wilmington while pursuing a degree in library science from UNC-Greensboro, and David is the assistant manager at Bocci in Sutton Station.

DM You’ve served in other roles in the college before becoming president; how did time in those roles help inform some of the decisions that you’ve made as president?

BI I think that my entire working life has informed the way I’ve approached the presidency, [and] actually my academic career as a student. I flunked out of college twice. It took me nine years to get my undergraduate degree. Through a pretty circuitous route, I got that degree. From that, I’ve learned how vitally important education is as a second chance for those for whom a first chance does not work out. Life is not linear. Life takes you places where you don’t expect to go, and it’s education that allows you to overcome any mistakes you make and learn from those mistakes to move forward. I came here as a program coordinator for Continuing Education. In that role, I was responsible for setting up classes in a variety of settings. From that I learned the tremendous opportunities that community colleges provide, not just to prepare people for transfer to four-year institutions, but also for career development, personal interest, general education, adult literacy programs, just the full range of opportunities that a community college provides.

DM You mentioned Durham Tech as a way for some students to transfer into four-year universities. Is it true that Durham Tech is the largest feeder school in the area into UNC?

BI We were for a long time. Wake Tech, about four times our size, now sends a few more students to UNC-Chapel Hill than we do. I think, pound for pound, student for student, we’re the second-largest feeder to UNC-Chapel Hill. We’re the largest feeder to N.C. Central. We’re probably the second-largest feeder to N.C. State, behind Wake Tech. Second or third probably to UNC-Greensboro, behind Guilford Tech.

DM About how many students do you serve?

BI In the course of the year, we will serve between 17,000 and 19,000 people who will take at least one class, and it could be a class in how to become a notary public, or how to hone your photography skills, or a full load of courses that lead toward a degree or diploma. In a typical semester, in terms of the credit programs, between 5,000 and 6,000 students will enroll. If you measure our students by full-time equivalent students, which is how we’re funded, we’re around 4,500 to 5,000.

DM How many are Durham or Triangle residents?

BI Most reside in the Triangle, but about 65% or so are Durham County residents. Fifteen to 20% are Orange County residents. Probably eight or nine, maybe 10% are Wake County residents. However, from a different context, we have students who are natives of over 65 different countries on campus. Over 10% of our student population comes from countries other than the United States. So although we’re a local college, we also have a pretty global reach.

DM How many students come from Durham high schools?

BI When I first began working here over 30 years ago, the average age for a student was 35. A quarter of our credit students had bachelor degrees. We were very much an adult education institution focused on retraining folks in the community who may have gotten an undergrad degree in English, or humanities, or social sciences, and realized they needed technical skills to be successful in the economy. Today, the average age of our student is about 24, and we see far more recent high school graduates coming to us right away. This past year, I think we had about 400 or more recent high school graduates who chose Durham Tech as their first or secondary institution, and we have another 400 or so high school students who are enrolled while still in high school – the Middle College High School at Durham Tech is one of the top high schools in the region. We also enroll an increasing number of students through a program called Career and College Promise. [It] allows high school juniors and seniors to enroll on a dual-credit basis and get a real leg up on post-secondary education while they’re still in high school.

DM About how many alumni do you see staying in the area, and what industries do they tend to gravitate towards?

BI I think most of our alumni stay in the area – not all, but most do. Many of them go to work at institutions like Duke Health. We found out earlier last fall that over 2,000 Duke Health employees, since 2005, have indicated that they graduated from or at least took classes from Durham Tech. So, if you think about the impact we’ve had on the local employers, Duke University and its health system is the largest employer in Durham; I think we probably have a similar number at UNC-Chapel Hill. Certainly several hundred of our graduates work at UNC Health now as nurses, as surgeon techs, as respiratory therapists. I think that most people turn to their community college for education that they can then turn back into their community.

DM What are some exciting projects at Durham Tech?

BI [A little more than] a year ago, Durham voters passed a $20 million bond issue for Durham Tech. We’re now in the planning stages for [what] we’ll be building with those funds: a 40,000-square-foot industrial systems building, to support advanced manufacturing but also to support a range of technical, vocational areas that can be linked together, like machining and welding, and jobs in industrial maintenance and construction trades. You see extraordinary opportunities in the construction trades. We’re focusing on that again – technical education is what Durham Tech has always been known for. We started off as the Industrial Education Center 56 years ago, and that notion of being a technical community college is still very much a part of what we do. We’ll be doing more of those kinds of things in the coming years as well.

DM Has there been a student whose story stuck with you over the years?

BI There are a couple. There’s Auntis, a young man who was a high school dropout and really had no plans for the future, didn’t really know what he was going to be doing, but enrolled in our Gateway to College Program, got his high school diploma,
and really had an interest in the theater. He graduated from our Associate in Arts Program and transferred to UNC School of the Arts. We’re really proud of Auntis because he was able to turn his life around and do that in an incredible way: finding his passion. The other story that really sticks with me is Sarah. Sarah graduated from UNC with a degree in communications, and was a single mother. After she graduated, she couldn’t find meaningful work. At one point, she was technically homeless, taking minimum-wage jobs; she was just sort of making ends meet. One day she decided, “I can’t do this anymore. I need a better future for myself and for [my] daughter.” So she thumbed through great-paying careers and saw computer programming, and said “Durham Tech teaches computer programming, I’ll come to Durham Tech. ”Sarah completed her associate degree in computer programming and got a job as a programmer at a startup in Chapel Hill. I got an email from Sarah last summer: She’d just bought her first house. She talked about, while she was here, the different ways in which Durham Tech helped her. She got a scholarship; she used our food pantry – we have a pantry on campus for students who are food insecure; she was able to connect with people in her field through a work-study job that she got at the college. When she was finishing her time here, she had an extra hour or two, so she took an automotive class. Because of that, she was able to fix her car. Every time she turned around, there was another hand here to help her get through. When things are a little bleak, I think of Auntis and Sarah as two reasons why I come to work every morning.

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Amanda MacLaren

Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Arizona, she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for eight years. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Guasaca.

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