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Posted Sunday, July 13, 2014
Pittsboro, NC - Central Carolina Community College in Chatham County has changed a lot since Dr. Karen Allen was hired in 1988 — and she was instrumental in bringing about those changes. Twenty-six years later, she has bid farewell to the college, retiring as of June 30.
“Karen was Central Carolina’s leader in Chatham County … and successfully directed extensive college facility expansion and development across the county, innovative sustainable program development in both continuing education and curriculum, and college engagement in a number of Chatham County programs and projects,” said Dr. Lisa Chapman, formerly CCCC’s executive vice president for Instruction/chief academic officer and now senior vice president for Programs and Student Services/CAO of the N.C. Community College System. “Her numerous contributions to the System and specifically to Central Carolina and the community it serves have had, and will continue to have, a lasting impact.”
The college hired Allen in 1988 as its continuing education coordinator in Chatham County. In 1996, the Chatham resident became the college’s provost for the county with the responsibility to lead and grow the college as it served Chatham’s growing population and need for vocational, continuing, and university transfer education.
“I loved working at the college for so long, but I feel it is time for new leadership to take over,” Allen said. “I will miss it, but I know people will build on the things we’ve done and the college will continue to grow and improve.”
Allen started her career in education in the early 1980s as an Asheboro kindergarten teacher. She moved to Randolph County Community College in 1984 as a basic skills instructor, coordinator and recruiter. It was at Randolph that she discovered her passion for adult education.
“I was teaching basic skills and loved it,” she said. “I loved the feeling of getting them actively engaged in learning. Sometimes, you find your passion accidentally, then you start to see the way open to a career path that is meaningful for you.”
That career path brought her to CCCC, where she first coordinated continuing education and literacy in Siler City.
“I was stationed at the old Henry Siler School before any upgrades,” Allen said. “We needed office space, so Charles White, who was associate dean, and I and others built the office. We saw incredible growth and opportunities. It was a time full of possibilities. CCCC President Marvin Joyner and the administration gave us the support to go out and do what needed to be done. I remember those times very fondly.”
The college in Chatham County grew, adding a campus in Pittsboro in 1992 while continuing to offer classes at the Henry Siler School and other locations. Today, the college has four buildings on the Pittsboro campus as well as a Siler City Center. The Sustainable Technologies Center and Chatham Community Library on the Pittsboro campus and the Siler City Center all opened in 2010.
In addition, the college in Chatham continued to add programs in response to community needs. Allen and then-Provost White instituted them and Allen continued and expanded that work when she became provost.
"I hope to be remembered as someone who helped position the college to be a catalyst for economic and community development in Chatham County,” Allen said. “I’ve tried to focus our programming on the unique needs of the community. I am pleased and proud of what we have done by forging significant community partnerships and programs which meet community needs.”
Those partnerships included projects such as the Chatham Community Library, Career Center, and community walking trail, which have benefited the community at large in significant ways. The Sustainable Agriculture program, the first associate degree program of its type in the nation, was entirely a response to community needs, interest, and support.
“We built on the success of that programming by adding Sustainable Technologies, Renewable Energy, Green Building, and most recently, our Farm to Fork-focused culinary program. It has been exciting to see the results of community-based programming in action,” Allen said.
Dianne Reid, president of the Chatham Economic Development Corporation since 2007, has partnered with Allen and the college in much of the college’s progress in Chatham. Reid said that, among her many achievements, Allen was a leader in sustainable education.
“As provost, Karen helped pioneer the college’s focus on sustainability, from sustainable agriculture to green buildings to biofuels production to culinary arts,” Reid said. “Her legacy will live on as CCCC graduates pursue business practices that protect and preserve the environment.”
Allen said she has no specific plans for her retirement, but that she will continue to be actively involved in leadership endeavors with Chatham County. She has already been appointed by the Chatham County Board of Commissioners to serve on the Health Board and is looking forward to that.