SUSCC: Investing in Valley’s future since 1922

Published 10:30 am Saturday, April 15, 2023

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VALLEY — Southern Union State Community College celebrated its centennial in 2022 and has some ambitious goals heading into its second century. Melanie Caldwell talked about this at Wednesday’s meeting of the Kiwanis Club at Valley. She has been with SUSCC’s Valley campus since 2017 and is currently director of the school’s Medical Assistant Technology program.

Caldwell graduated from Valley High in 2005.

“It was during the time when a lot of the local mills were shutting down and people were moving away,” she said. “Even though I would be the first generation of my family who did not work in the mills, I wanted to stay here.”

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When going on to college, Caldwell thought long and hard about a career she would enter.

“I knew I needed to do something that could not be replaced overseas,” she said. “I have an aunt who was an LPN, and she had no trouble in transitioning into a another job. From her experience, I knew that nursing would be a good option.”

She started taking night classes at the SUSCC Valley campus when she was still in high school.

“It gave me a head start into the nursing program,” she said.

She earned a degree from SUSCC in 2007 and started working in the emergency room at what’s now EAMC-Lanier Hospital. “I am very grateful for Southern Union,” she said.

“It has had a major impact and presence in my life.”

Caldwell said she wanted to highlight some programs now being offered at the Valley campus that can lead to well-paid careers. The program she directs, for example, offers an associate’s degree and multiple short-term certificate options.

“We offer nationally certified opportunities leading to being a phlebotomy tech, an EKG tech, a medical reimbursement specialist and a certified clinical medical assistant,” she said. “We have some local high school students in the medical assistant technology program. They have the opportunity to have hands-on experiences with equipment. It can lead to certification in this field. If it’s something that’s not for them, they will know early on.”

There’s also the physical therapist assistant’s program.This can be done in just three semesters. Students must complete their academic core prior to being accepted in the program.

“It prepares students to take the physical therapist assistant licensing exam,” Caldwell said.

Electrical technology is one of the premier programs offered on the Valley campus. Classes are taught in one of the most impressive buildings on campus. Some really good careers have started in SUSCC’s Electrical Technology Building. Students can earn an associate’s degree in the field along with five short-term certifications in fields recognized by the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) and the Occupational Health and Health Administration (OSHA).

“Students who complete their first semester have the opportunity to intern with companies in the industrial, commercial and residential electronics fields,” Caldwell said. “This is grant funded, dual enrollment opportunity for high school seniors.”

A program known as Saturday College is keeping the parking lot filled on Saturdays.

“I love being in my office on Saturdays and seeing all those cars out there,” Caldwell said.

Saturday College allows those who are busy with a job during the week to complete a degree. Associate’s in Science degrees are available in such programs as Business Communications, Early Childhood/Elementary Education, General Studies, Psychology and Social Work. Saturday College also offers a three-semester Health Sciences academic core option.

Caldwell is excited about a veterinary technician program that’s in the works.

“We will be doing this with the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine,” Caldwell said. “We have a program director, and the program is about to start. It can possibly lead to being admitted into Veterinary School.”

Caldwell is proud of the fact that SUSCC nursing graduates are are among the highest scoring students in the state.

“Southern Union’s nursing program is truly outstanding.” she said.

Some serious thought is being given to having an aviation tech program at SUSCC. This could possibly be taught at the nearby Lanett Regional Airport.

“We are planning an open house in June,” Caldwell said. “This will give local people an opportunity to come out and see for themselves all the educational opportunities we are offering at Southern Union. We believe we are providing a fast-track way to a rewarding career. We want a lot of people coming out to see what’s going on here. It might surprise you.”