If Luke Teague, Ogeechee Technical College’s 2014 GOAL winner, dresses like a funeral director, there is a reason. He works at a funeral home in Augusta and commutes to classes in the Funeral Service Education program at Ogeechee Tech.
Teague, wearing a dark suit and deep red tie, made a point of shaking hands with other finalists on his way to accepting the award at Wednesday’s luncheon. Now he will compete for the honor of serving as an ambassador for the Technical College System of Georgia. He already speaks out on behalf of Ogeechee Tech and its funeral service program.
“The good part about it is the curriculum is so workable for people that are already working, so we do a lot of these hybrid classes where we do some traditional, in-classroom lectures and some online classes, so I only have to come down from Augusta once a week,” Teague told reporters.
A funeral service apprentice with Thomas Poteet & Son Funeral Directors, he has been taking courses that way for about a year and a half and will graduate in May.
Teague, 27, can also speak from the perspective of a university graduate going to technical college for a career change. With a journalism degree from the University of Georgia, he worked at radio stations in the Atlanta and Athens markets for about four years. But he also started working part-time at a funeral home out of interest in the profession and for extra income. Then he went full-time. With his degree, he eventually wants to manage a funeral home or even own one.
“I’m excited to represent the college and, having already gotten a four-year degree and coming back to the technical college education realm, I really feel like it’s a good opportunity to kind of tell people about it and advocate support for the Technical College System,” Teague said.
The instructor who nominated him, OTC Funeral Service Program Director Michele Rupar, said Teague stands out for his speaking skills and grace in a profession – she calls it a ministry – that requires strong interpersonal skills.
“I just knew he had something special both in the funeral ministry and as a student,” Rupar said. “Everything you see is what he really is. He is a perfect candidate for this. … He’s great interactor. He’s a great motivator for the other students. He’s very poised.”
This year, OTC instructors nominated 48 students for the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership, and 18 chose to participate, said the college’s GOAL coordinator, Kelli Waters. Each participant prepared a three-minute speech about technical education and delivered it before a screening committee of five Ogeechee Tech faculty members. The four finalists then repeated their speeches for a three-member selection panel of community and business leaders. Each panel also asked nominees a round of questions.
The other three finalists hailed from programs markedly different from funeral service. Lauren Hendry, a diagnostic medical sonography student, was nominated by instructor Tina Welch. Sarah Mosley, a student in health information technology, was nominated by instructor Jan House. Tolethya “Kandi” Quillet, a geographic information systems student, was nominated by John Locke.
“Sometimes you have it weighted a lot in medical programs, but this year is very diverse,” Waters said. “All four programs are uniquely different.”
Teague will compete Feb. 18 at the regional GOAL meet in Macon. Each of the three regions in the Technical College System will select three GOAL nominees, and the nine regional nominees will compete for the statewide honor. The state winner receives a new car and speaks to the Georgia House of Representatives and at college system events.
The GOAL program was founded in 1971, about 18 years before Ogeechee Technical College opened. In recent years, Ogeechee Tech has produced two statewide winners, Molly Bickerton in 2008 and Alvie Coes III in 2011, plus several regional winners.
Both Coes and 2012 state semifinalist Michael Williams were Ogeechee Technical College funeral service students. Ogeechee Tech is the only school in the Technical College System of Georgia with a funeral service program.
Last year’s Ogeechee Technical College GOAL winner, computer information systems and networking specialist program student Stuart Gregory, was first runner-up for the statewide honor. Taking part in Wednesday’s ceremony, Gregory noted that 2013 was a big year for him, as he also got married and started a second business.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.