Amanda Merry, named Ogeechee Technical College's 2017 GOAL winner during the awards luncheon Tuesday, and Melissa Behling, who said her farewell as the 2016 GOAL winner, have some things in common.
Merry is, as Behling was, a radiologic technology student. Both were nominated by Jan Martin, Radiologic Technology Program director and instructor. The college's winner in the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership, or GOAL, competition goes on to regional and state competition. Ogeechee Tech has established quite a record, producing three state winners and two runners-up in the past nine years.
"I think that speaks well for the quality of the students we have on our campuses," said OTC President Lori Durden. "It certainly speaks volumes for the quality of our instructors, our faculty and our staff, and it certainly signifies the hard work and the great work that Ms. Kelli Waters does to coach and prepare our local winner for the regional and state competition."
Waters has served as Ogeechee Tech's GOAL coordinator for nine years and loves it, she said. This is the 46th year the state program has existed, so it is older than Ogeechee Tech. The statewide GOAL winner becomes an "ambassador," or example and spokesperson, for technical education as provided by the Technical College System of Georgia. OTC's Foundation and Student Leadership Council sponsor the program at the college level.
Rad tech tradition
Merry, 21, from Gwinnett County near Atlanta, is on track to graduate with an associate degree in radiologic technology in December. Behling, who went on to be first runner-up in the 2016 state GOAL competition, received her "rad tech" associate degree last month and is now working at Effingham Health's hospital near Springfield.
Ogeechee Tech's first statewide winner, 2008 GOAL student Laura "Molly" Bickerton, was also a radiologic technology student, also nominated by Martin. So the Radiologic Technology Program vies for the most GOAL honors with the Funeral Service Education Program, which graduated 2011 OTC and statewide winner Alvie Coes III and 2014 OTC and statewide winner Lucas "Luke" Teague.
"Because we're a competitive admission program, we get the cream of the crop," Martin said, explaining her three-time success nominating GOAL winners.
For each new cohort of students, the rad tech program takes the top 12 applicants based on grades and entrance exam scores. Personality isn't considered, and there is no interview process, but students must work hard to succeed, she said.
Jobs with starting salaries usually in the $30,000 to $40,000 range await graduates, and placement rates are high. Of the 11 students who graduated in December, all passed their national certification exams, and 10 already have jobs, Martin said.
"I'm very proud of her," she said of Merry.
Change of path
With becoming a nurse in mind at first, Merry came to Statesboro to attend Georgia Southern University. But the more she learned about Ogeechee Tech's Radiologic Technology Program, the more she knew that was where she needed to be, she said.
"We have to be very structured and we have to be very passionate, and I think that's what you need," Merry said, advancing her own theory about rad tech's GOAL success.
She has never been afraid to talk in front of people, but actually giving speeches is new to her, she said. The GOAL speech was her first. But asked if she sees advantages in technical college education, she already sounded like an ambassador for the state system.
"The cost, obviously, and then the success rate," Merry said. "I mean, 98 percent of TCSG's graduates go on to either pursue more education or they're employed in what they graduated in, so statistically it's like the smart choice, if you look at it that way."
Although their parents remain in Gwinnett, both her brother and her sister are students at Georgia Southern. Merry said she wants to remain in Statesboro for at least the first few years of her career as a registered radiographer.
Instructors in different fields nominate students for academic excellence and leadership, Waters said. But public speaking ability and willingness are needed to become a finalist, she noted. Nominated students give a speech and answer questions first for a screening committee made up of five OTC staff members. Then the finalists gave their speeches again and were interviewed by a selection committee for three people from outside the college.
"These are brave individuals," Waters said of the seven students identified Monday as having participated through the process.
Many more, sometimes nearly 50, are nominated, but after the process is explained in the GOAL orientation, the number drops by at least half, she said.
"These are our exceptional students here," Waters said. "Every single one of them could represent our college well."
Besides Merry, the finalists were Kartachia Charles-Wright from culinary arts, Tamika Sapp from business technology and Lindsey Turk from diagnostic medical sonography. The other competitors were opticianry student Rebecca Isenhour, surgical technology student Rhiannon Skelton and management student Davis Williford.
The foundation provided cash awards, including $250 to Merry as the winner, $50 to each of the other finalists, and $100 to Martin as nominating instructor.
Merry will compete with GOAL winners from seven other colleges to be among three finalists from the region named March 1 in Warner Robins. A total of nine finalists will compete for the statewide award April 10-13 in Atlanta.
The state GOAL winner receives a new car.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.