Watch scenes from the 2023 GOAL reception at Ogeechee Technical CollegeOTC, the OTC Foundation and the OTC Student Leadership Council recognized local GOAL finalists and their nominating instructors Thursday evening, Jan. 26, during a reception in the Oak Room of the Jack Hill Building
Justin Clenny, who attained his degree in information technology at Ogeechee Technical College last spring and is now completing a second associate degree – this time in cybersecurity, while working full-time in that field – is the college’s 2023 GOAL winner.
The college, the OTC Foundation and the OTC Student Leadership Council also recognized runner-up Kristin Goddard and two other local GOAL finalists and their nominating instructors Thursday evening, Jan. 26, during a reception in the Oak Room of the Jack Hill Building. Now in its 51st year, the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership program, or GOAL, has students compete through speeches and interviews to represent their colleges and then, through regional and state-level rounds, selects a statewide GOAL winner who receives a new automobile and serves as a spokesperson for technical college education in Georgia for the year.
Clenny, a 2020 Claxton High School honor graduate, had first attended Ogeechee Tech as a dual-enrolled 10th-grader beginning in 2017 at age 15. After receiving a Nurse Aide Fundamentals certificate, he had planned to return to Ogeechee Tech for its Licensed Practical Nurse program when he turned 18.
“But COVID starting after I finished my senior year in high school really changed everything,” Clenny said. “So I decided that I enjoyed computers and I wanted to go and get an I.T. degree, and the new cybersecurity program offered here at OTC really piqued my interest.”
He added that the first day he sat in instructor Terry Hand’s class “it was amazing,” and he “was hooked” on the subject.
“His love for teaching, his passion for cybersecurity, it was infectious,” Clenny said, with emotion. “I looked forward to class every day, often showing up at least an hour early. He made learning fun and challenging.”
In fact, Clenny was one of two of 2023 Ogeechee Tech GOAL finalists nominated by Hand, who has been an information technology teacher at the college for 20 years and instructor of the growing Cybersecurity program since it was launched three years ago.
Hand’s other nominee, Dalton Flanders, also a cybersecurity student, received one of the finalist awards. All four finalists spoke before the runner-up and winner were announced by OTC President Lori Durden.
“I’m very proud of them, cybersecurity being a new, popular, exciting program,” Hand said after the awards were announced. “But it’s not me. Look at them. They are excited and energetic and they come through and they study hard and they’re prepared.
“It’s a true honor to be a part of this and see these kids find their dreams. …,” he said. “They find that passion and they grow, and I watch them find jobs and move on with their lives.”
In three years, the cybersecurity program has grown from four students enrolled to about 55.
The Sack Company, a Statesboro-based construction services contractor, hired Clenny, now 21, to do cybersecurity work about six months ago. He works full-time, attending classes in the evening, and praised the company for supporting him in continuing his education toward the associate degree in cybersecurity he is on track to complete later this year.
The GOAL winner’s parents, David and Andrea Clenny of Claxton, attended the awards event with him. So did his supervisor and a co-worker from The Sack Company.
In cash awards sponsored by the OTC Foundation, Clenny received $250, while Kristin Goddard received $100 as the runner-up, and the two other finalists received $50 each.
Goddard, a Dental Assisting program student who commutes all the way from Hazlehurst to attend Ogeechee Tech, was nominated by instructor Yvonne Jenkins.
Finalist Annabelle Sydnor, a Fish and Wildlife Management program student, was nominated by instructor Casey Corbett.
A fifth 2023 GOAL participant, Business Management student Gil Sheppard, was nominated by instructor Alex Harris.
Hand also received the nominating instructor’s award, including a monetary prize.
2022 Ogeechee Tech GOAL winner Ann Hester returned with words of encouragement for the 2023 participants, and the college’s GOAL coordinator, Cindy Phillips, explained the process.
Clenny is expected to represent OTC in the regional competition, Feb. 21 in Tifton. A total of nine semifinalists, three each from three regions of the state, will then compete for the statewide GOAL title, to be awarded during an April 24-26 event.