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English teacher Jill Biden talks high-tech in Shelby

SHELBY English teacher Jill Biden came to Cleveland County on Monday to talk about computers, networking and all things high-tech.

Accompanied by Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden visited Cleveland Community College to celebrate the school’s role as leader in a project to train workers to keep the country’s infrastructure going 24/7.

“I have seen what community colleges can do in people’s lives,” said Biden, who teaches three classes at North Virginia Community College and is thought to be the first wife of an active vice president to work full time. “What’s happening here at Cleveland Community College is exciting.”

In September, the Obama administration awarded a $23 million grant to five schools, with Cleveland Community as the leader, to train students for jobs in “Mission Critical” programs. Those are the people assigned the task of keeping banks, hospitals, utilities and major corporations running, even during times of crisis.

Other schools in the grant program are UNC Charlotte, Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, and Moultrie (Ga.) Technical College. Each of the schools specializes in a different aspect of the Mission Critical program. UNCC, for example, was cited by Biden for its expertise in cybersecurity and its ability to provide the program’s students with four-year degrees.

Biden said the program, which stresses the importance of colleges working closely with businesses to develop a curriculum, “is close to my heart.”

Speaking to a group of about 250 students, faculty and business leaders, Biden and Perez said the grant – part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program – is the wave of the future.

“The Obama-Biden administration is trying to build not from the top down, but from the middle out,” Perez said. “Mission Critical is an important part of today’s business world.”

“You,” Perez said to students and staff, “are in a great place. You were accepted (for the grant) because you’re really on to something here.”

The grant lasts for four years, said Shannon Kennedy, the college’s executive vice president for instruction and student development. But she said the school’s success in attracting attention from Washington could help in landing additional grant money.

“We’re getting worldwide credit for what we’re doing in rural Cleveland County,” she said. “We’ve had several data centers locate here. The location is good.”

Kennedy said about 150 of the school’s 3,400 students are enrolled in some aspect of the program. Two faculty members, Mitchell Sepaugh and Jonathan Davis, are serving as directors.

Biden pointed to Cleveland Community student Kenneth Dover as an example of how the program can help people find their way into the workplace. Dover enrolled at the school after leaving the U.S. Marines four years ago.

“This program is teaching me how to keep computers running,” said Dover, 26, who is specializing in Mission Critical computer technology after handling networking in the Marines. “What I’m doing now is more complex than what I saw in the Marine Corps.”

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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