Ann Hester, a customer support specialist at Brodie International, is completing her second Ogeechee Technical College associate degree, having first graduated in 2005. Now an outspoken advocate for technical college education, she was named Ogeechee Tech's 2022 GOAL winner during a reception Thursday evening.
The college, the OTC Foundation and the college’s Student Leadership Council also recognized runner-up Mary Emma Gainous and three other participating Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership nominees. Business technology instructor Michael Twisdale received the Nominating Instructor's Award for having recommended Hester.
“I would like to share with you all tonight a short story of a young 33-year-old divorcee with three sons who is returning to Georgia from Missouri after being a soldier and a wife in the military,” Hester said, beginning her GOAL speech. “She was unemployed, no degree, and she didn’t know how she was going to take care of her family.”
Of course, that 33-year-old was Hester herself, when she began her first round of studies at Ogeechee Tech 18 years ago, having previously served seven years and eight months in the U.S. Army.
“However, she did know that she was well trained by the military, she was disciplined, and she was determined to raise her sons not to get lost in society,” Hester continued. “One day she met someone who got their degree from Ogeechee Technical College. They told her all about the benefits that they received, so she ventured out to see what does the technical college have to offer her.”
The college’s scheduling and guidance allowed her the flexibility to continue to volunteer in her children’s educational and extracurricular activities, she said.
Graduating in 2005 with her associate degree in accounting and a certificate in customer service, Hester went directly into the workforce. Now she is 51, and her sons are grown men with university degrees. Cory, 33, is a teacher in Sandersville, Brandon, 29, works for a tech company in Atlanta, and Caleb, 24, works for Amazon in Florida.
When Hester found herself needing to brush up on her office software skills for her work at Brodie – the Statesboro-based manufacturer of flow meters and valves used around the world in the petroleum industry – she returned to Ogeechee Tech, this time for an associate degree in business technology.
The school again offers her support and flexibility and affordability as a full-time worker and full-time student who is now also assisting aging parents, she said.
Some of that support comes from business technology instructor Michael Twisdale, whose most frequent words of encouragement when Hester is feeling overwhelmed are, “You’ve got this,” she said.
This is the first time Twisdale has nominated a winning GOAL student.
“I knew that she had some leadership qualities,” he said. “I’ve been teaching for seven years, and I’ve always been a mentor, and I just knew, I knew something about her was going to be a winner. … She’s just an amazing student.”
Hester is on track to graduate again this summer. Then she would like to continue for a third associate degree, this time in logistics. She plans to continue as a Brodie International employee, she said, but noted that knowledge of logistics is an in-demand qualification for other positions with the company and elsewhere.
GOAL runner-up Mary Emma Gainous, daughter of Matthew and Broni Gainous, is a traditional student in the sense of being 18 and having graduated from high school just last May. But the field she is pursuing at Ogeechee Tech is not one her Metter High School counselor envisioned for her, and Gainous originally expected to go “the traditional four-year route” of a university, since both her parents had done so, she said.
Then she took her first OTC fish and wildlife management course as a dual-enrollment student while in 12th grade, and was hooked.
“Technical education has just really shown me what college is supposed to be like,” Gainous said.
Fish and wildlife management instructor Casey Corbett nominated Gainous for the GOAL award. She wants to work for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources at a state park or for a Nature Conservancy after graduating.
The other finalists were Kelcie King, nominated from the radiologic technology program by clinical coordinator Matt Dunn, and Tiffany Underwood, nominated from the esthetician program – an esthetician being a skin care specialist – by instructor Elizabeth Goode.
With the OTC Foundation providing monetary awards, Hester received $250 as the college’s winner, Gainous $100 as the runner-up, and the other finalists $50 each.
Hannah Edwards, nominated by culinary arts instructor Chef Bryan Richard, was recognized as the fifth participating GOAL nominee. This year 12 students were nominated, but only these five participated, said OTC Career Placement and Student Support Services Director Cindy Phillips, the school’s GOAL coordinator.
Participants prepared speeches delivered first to a screening committee of non-instructor OTC staff members. That committee named the finalists, who were then interviewed by a selection committee of OTC board members and community partners.
Hester now advances to a regional GOAL event, March 2 in Tifton. A total of nine GOAL finalists from three regions will be revealed and interviewed at the state event in April before the state winner is announced. The state GOAL winner receives a new car to keep and serves as a spokesperson for technical college education in Georgia for the year.
Launched 50 years ago within what is now the Technical College System of Georgia, the GOAL program is actually older than Ogeechee Tech, which has been in operation about 35 years. But the college has established a stellar track record in GOAL over the past 14 years, producing six regional finalists, four state runners-up and three state GOAL winners, noted OTC Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Christy Rikard, who announced Thursday’s winners.
Two of those state-level achievers spoke Thursday. Molly Bickerton, who was a radiologic technology student when she became Ogeechee Tech’s first state GOAL winner in 2008, is now the college’s admissions director. Miranda DeLoach, Ogeechee Tech’s 2021 GOAL winner as a culinary arts student, was named statewide runner-up last May.
Hester said she will call on these previous winners and Phillips for advice to bring home another state win.
“We’re going to represent Ogeechee Technical College within the Technical College System so they’ll know that there’s something happening here in Statesboro, Georgia, and I’m going to pray and believe that God will bring it back here, not just for me but for all students,” she said.