Monthly Archives: March 2018

Durham Tech alumna publishes book of poetry to empower women

Suhailah Waheed wrote her first poem at 8 years old.

“I’ve loved writing from a very young age,” said Waheed, 24. “When I was in high school at The Durham Performance Learning Center I took a course called Poetic Justice, which taught me about spoken word culture and how to create rhythm in our language. Everything bloomed from there.”

Waheed, a 2014 Durham Tech alumna, has since written 197 poems, which she compiled in her first book of poetry called Tales from the Clothesline.

Waheed visited campus last month on a publicity tour to debut her book.

“It felt really good to come back to Durham Tech and share my book because I feel like this is where it started,” Waheed said. “This is where I felt confident enough to go out on my own and explore different opportunities and not be afraid.”

The book chronicles pivotal experiences in the lives of many women including family dynamics, race, love, and self-worth, much of which she developed while at Durham Tech.

“My time at Durham Tech showed me it was okay to be exactly who I was,” Waheed said. “Durham Tech gave me the tools to be an individual and taught me to say what I wanted, when I wanted it and how I wanted it. A huge part of the book is about being able to speak open about your experiences, acknowledge them and move forward. I learned that at Durham Tech.”

The title of the book also has deep meaning for Waheed.

“It comes from a strong sense of nostalgia I had with my grandmother back in the day,” she said. “The clothesline comes from the experience of talking with her when I was younger and her telling me about her experiences as a woman. In order for me to explain some of the things I’ve gone through, I have to pay homage to her. Although I was young, her life lessons stuck with me.”

Waheed says she is passionate about empowering women and encourages conversation.

“I wanted the book to be about the most important experiences in a woman’s life,” she said. “These are conversations I continuously have with friends and family. We talk about the good, the ugly and the in-between. I wanted to put those conversations into literature. We can acknowledge everything we’ve been through and push through it. That allowed me to get to the end of the book, which is where I am today. To have hope, inspire others, and encourage others.”

Waheed continued her education at North Carolina Central University where she earned a Bachelors in Spanish and Latin American Studies. Today, she works in the non-profit sector in Austin, Texas.

“Never turn down an opportunity when it’s knocking,” Waheed said of her advice to future students. “Give it a chance and see where it leads you. When it comes to taking classes, invest in yourself and give yourself time to indulge in whatever it is that you’re learning.”

Tales from the Clothesline is available on Amazon and Waheed’s website.

“At Durham Tech, you have the opportunity to seize the day and create long lasting relationships,” Waheed said. “I think everyone here is truly invested in each other. If you have that, enjoy it and take care of it.”

Adult high school students turn their lives around in the halls of Durham Tech

Bobby Tate offered words of wisdom as he stared out over the students seated in Dr. Dorene MacKinnon’s Academic Study Skills class on Monday morning.

“Don’t do what I did,” Tate said. “Don’t waste your time. Surround yourself with good people. You can do this.”

Tate was 47 years old when he earned his high school diploma in May 2017 from Durham Tech and said he was determined to get his life back on track.

“I wasn’t coming to school to waste my time anymore,” Tate said.

An army of support stood behind him in the College and Career Readiness division at Durham Tech, which is home to the Adult High School program where 81 students, ages 25 and older, are enrolled.

“I’m so proud of Bobby and I’m so thankful for him,” said Dr. MacKinnon, Lead Resource Specialist at Durham Tech. “I always told Bobby that we’re here to walk with you on this journey. If you need me, know that I’m here.”

Whether it was helping Tate solve a math equation at 7 a.m. or proofreading an essay before he submitted, MacKinnon provided the extra support needed to help Tate succeed.

“It was surprising to go from people not caring what I do to someone saying, ‘I’ve got your back. If you need me, call me. Don’t quit,’ ” Tate said. “I’ve never had support like that before. I’ve seen it on TV, but I didn’t think it happened in real life.”

MacKinnon said some students have faced additional obstacles to success, but the College and Career Readiness team have a commitment to support.

“We’ve seen students with real life issues that we’ve had to help with,” MacKinnon said. “We love and value our students and we have a commitment to supporting them. That keeps us coming back with a renewed spirit each day.”

Resource specialists take a holistic approach, connecting students with the resources they need to be successful in all areas of their lives. In addition to help with their academics, students benefit from a GoPass for transportation, lunch passes to the cafeteria, assistance finding part-time jobs, and ultimately transitioning to college.

Different Levels of Success

Dr. Marguerita Best, Director of Adult High School at Durham Tech, is proud to report that 60 students graduated with their high school diploma last year, but insist the measure of success is not that cut and dry.

“We had students that previously attended public school and showed up to class 80 out of 180 days. If I can get them to come 90 days to this program – that’s success,” Best said. “There are different levels. Some students never showed up to public school, but have perfect attendance here. They might not earn the credits to go along with it, but half the battle is won because they’re showing up.”

Jermaine Lunsford, 29, was one of these students.

“In the typical person’s eye, Jermaine was probably not a success, but in our eyes he is a success,” MacKinnon said. “When he was enrolled in my class, he sat in the back of the classroom, did not turn in his work and received an F, but he came every single day. Why did he come every day? He came to hear me tell him, ‘Jermaine, you’re better than this. You know you can do better. You know your kids need you to be a good father. You need to step up.’ ”

At the end of the semester, Lunsford told MacKinnon he recognized he didn’t do well and that she would start to see an improvement.

Lunsford kept his word and his grades reflected the change.

“I knew I would see a different Jermaine that next semester,” MacKinnon said. “He just needed to sit in the back of the classroom and have everything marinate – success again. Sometimes success is just getting yourself together. We don’t know what’s going on at home for these students. Sometimes they just need to come here, feel welcomed, relax and hear us say, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ ”

Lunsford said he is forever grateful for the support he received.

“When I was in public school, I felt like it was me against them and when I initially started coming here, I felt the same way,” Lunsford said. “But once I finally realized that Dr. Mac, Dr. Best, Ms. (Stesha) Little and Mr. Phil (Gowins) were only trying to help me, my self-esteem went through the roof and there was no stopping me then. I will always appreciate them and consider them family for what they did for me.”

Transitioning to College

Approximately 25 percent of students who earn their high school diploma transition to college courses at Durham Tech.

“Everyone who teaches in this program, helps prepare you for college. It’s not just getting your high school diploma,” Lunsford said. “There was no greater achievement for me than to go back and graduate from high school, but it’s an even better achievement to know in a couple of months I’ll be graduating from college.”

Lunsford will graduate in May 2018 with an associate degree in Criminal Justice Technology before transferring to North Carolina Central University in the fall.

Bridgett Moran, 28, dropped out of high school in the 9th grade. After becoming a single mother at 23, she wanted to provide a better life for her daughter and knew education was the only way to get there. Moran enrolled in the Adult High School program at Durham Tech and earned her diploma in May 2017.

“The program completely changed me,” Moran said. “Now I want a career so my daughter looks up to me and knows that Mommy is doing well.”

Moran enrolled in the Esthetician Technology program at Durham Tech immediately after earning her diploma and anticipates graduating in May 2018.

“Before I started this program, I didn’t know how to set goals,” Moran said. “I was just going day by day. I want to give my daughter a good life. If I don’t start somewhere it won’t happen.”

Today, Tate is working towards earning an IT Foundations Certificate to begin a career in information technology and visits MacKinnon’s classes on a regular basis to encourage current students in the program.

“I’m finally at a place where I can tell someone that I did it,” Tate said. “They can do it too.”

Owner of Durham distillery gets small business start at Durham Tech

Rimas Vilgalys knew he was onto something.

“I wasn’t the kid with the lemonade stand, it really just hit me all at once,” he said. “The demand for the product was what we were always chasing down.”

Vilgalys, 33, grew up watching his father make Krupnikas, a traditional Lithuanian-style Spiced Honey Liqueur, and when he was old enough, his father taught him how. Vilgalys perfected the craft during his college years in California before moving back to Durham in 2008 to live with his brother, Gabriel.

“We were always making our own Krupnikas and sharing it with our friends and started getting more and more popular because of it,” Vilgalys said. “It became something we were known for.”

After countless late night talks, the brothers decided to take their idea more seriously and turn the homemade spirit into a small business.

Rimas Vilgalys took the lead.

His first stop – Durham Tech.

In 2010, he enrolled in Planning and Operating a Successful Business taught by Carl Baumann at the Durham Tech Orange County Campus.

“I got lucky because Carl was formerly an executive at Miller Brewing Company,” Vilgalys said. “It was great to meet someone with such vast experience in the same industry I wanted to pursue. He was fantastic.”

For 10 weeks, Vilgalys learned the ins and outs of business plans, financials, and most importantly, marketing.

“On the first day, Carl had everybody in the class stand up, describe what they wanted to do and give an elevator speech, essentially,” Vilgalys said. “But when we finished, he said, ‘All of you are wrong. You are all in marketing because the only thing that matters is marketing.’ That’s something that has always stuck with me. It’s the biggest problem to solve constantly as a business owner. How to find consumers and how to reach them.”

Vilgalys says the class played a vital role in launching the business.

“The class gave me the context to start taking this more seriously because it made it look a lot more achievable,” he said. “It takes you through the stuff that isn’t the cool part of a business, but you need to figure out like how to deliver your product, price it and how you’re going to reach consumers. It slows you down to the point of instead of picturing a thriving business with your feet on the desk counting money, you have to picture what you’re actually going to have to do to get started and then sustain it.”

Gabriel Vilgalys later decided to pursue a career in New Zealand, but Rimas kept the dream alive by teaming up with two partners, Jason Parker and Dillon Shields. In December 2012, Brothers Vilgalys Spirits was born.

Today, the distillery operates out of two 1,300-square-foot units at 803 Ramseur Street in downtown Durham where they produce 12,000 bottles of Krupnikas each year. Vilgalys said they’re proud to partner with local apiaries like Vintage Bee to make large volumes of Krupnikas, which requires 50 gallons of honey for each batch, leveraging 800 bottles.

Baumann invited Vilgalys back to the classroom several times to talk to future entrepreneurs.

“It’s been fun to go back into the classroom,” Vilgalys said. “I get approached by people that are interested in getting into the world of spirits in one way or another so it’s always nice to share advice. When I first got started I reached out to local distillery owners as well that gave me free advice because they’ve been where you’ve been so I always make a point to take those meetings and talk people through what I’ve learned and what I would’ve done differently.”

Vilgalys said he’s proud to report his company was the first distributer of Krupnikas in the United States, followed only by a handful of others today.

“Nothing else like it was out there and we had to figure out how to take advantage because we weren’t the only ones who knew about it,” he said.

Tours and tastings are offered at Brothers Vilgalys Spirits three days each week for just $5 per person.

“The class at Durham Tech had a lot of positive repercussions for my business,” Vilgalys said. “It’s really a fantastic resource.”

With Single Parent Program, Searle credits Durham Tech in changing her life

Two days each week, the alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m.

Chelsea Searle puts on her scrubs and gets her 3-year-old son out of bed and dressed all before 5 a.m. When her mother arrives, she hits the road for an hour commute from Sanford to UNC Hospital’s Park and Ride lot in Chapel Hill where she boards a bus to the hospital to begin her 12.5 hour clinical rotation at 6:30 a.m.

“I know it’s an investment for a better future for me and my son, but it doesn’t make it any easier right now,” she said.

Searle, 25, is enrolled in the Associate Degree in Nursing, or ADN, program at Durham Technical Community College. When she is not working a clinical rotation, she is juggling a full-time course load, a part-time job, and most importantly, being a mom to her son, Kash.

“He said his first words and took his first steps in daycare,” Searle said. “He runs to them and away from me because it’s where he spends most of his time. I just have to stay strong and think of the alternative. If he’s not in daycare, then I’m not at school, and what is that going to accomplish?”

The other three days of the week, Searle drops her son off at daycare at 6 a.m. and makes the hour-long drive to Durham Tech’s main campus to attend class.

“When I drop him off at daycare, it’s just him and the teacher because no one else is there yet,” Searle said. “He’s the first one there and the last one to leave. I hate that, but I have to remind myself that this is just a means to an end.”

Searle said life as a single-parent student is a struggle, but when she came upon the Single Parent Program on Durham Tech’s website, she breathed a sigh of relief.

“The Single Parent Program has made this all possible,” Searle said. “Childcare costs thousands of dollars and to think that there’s this program that sees me on a piece of paper and says, ‘Yes, she’s worthy,’ means everything to me.”

The program offsets childcare costs for students in need and is 100 percent funded by the State of North Carolina. Each semester, Durham Tech allocates an average of $2,800 per student and serves between seven and 15 students. To be eligible for the program, students must have successfully completed one semester at Durham Tech, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and demonstrate financial need.

Karen Mosley, Coordinator of Counseling Services at Durham Tech, has overseen the Single Parent Program since 2014.

“I’ve seen this program impact students’ lives in so many ways,” Mosley said. “Students like Chelsea would not be afforded the opportunity to come to Durham Tech if they did not have childcare paid for. It enables students to do well in school because they are not worried about who is going to take care of their child.”

Searle said she sees the light at the end of the tunnel as she counts down to graduation day in May 2018.

“Sometimes when I’m on the way to school, I think about graduation day and it makes me tear up,” Searle said. “Just thinking about all of the struggle, frustration and time away from my child – it’s going to mean something. Walking across that stage and getting that piece of paper that has my name on it with ‘RN’ will mean the world to me.”

She credited the life-changing resources at Durham Tech for giving her an opportunity to create a better life for her and Kash.

“Durham Tech is more than just a tech school to me. It has made a huge impact in my life. None of the things I have accomplished up until this point would have been possible if I didn’t have Durham Tech,” Searle said. “It’s not just a school, a license or a certification, it’s a piece of paper with my name on it that I worked hard for that’s going to be able to support myself and my child. There’s nothing that can replace that.”

To apply for financial assistance, complete the online application. If you have any questions about the program, please contact Karen Mosley at 919-536-7200 ext. 1408 or

Gamma Beta Phi Honorary Society at Durham Tech announces new inductees

The Gamma Beta Phi Honorary Society has announced the following students as new inductees. Gamma Beta Phi is a student-led organization on a mission to recognize and encourage excellence in education, to promote the development of leadership ability and character in its members, and to foster, disseminate, and improve education through service projects.

Students will be inducted on Saturday, March 17 at 11 a.m. in the Wynn Center Multi-Purpose Room on main campus and faculty and staff are welcome to attend. If you have any questions about the Gamma Beta Phi Honorary Society, please contact Don Sommerfeldt at or 919-536-7235 ext. 8169.

Yuliana Alcocer
Bryan Allison
Gregory Andrea
Camren Andrews
Emilia Arrington
Ann Atienza
Juan Banegas
Ashley Bartlett
Grace Baucom
Kendra Beck
Angel Bennett
Hadi Bitar
Sequoya Boseman
Timothy Boushell
Katherine Burian
Anita Cash
Gabriela Castro
Coleman Chase
Tammara Cherry
Ashley Childs
Desirae “KD” Choquette
Julian Clark
Jasmine Cradle
Tamatha Crews
Gilberto Dominguez
Laura Duran Velazquez
Tanaka Eaddy
Ruthie Erickson
Robert Ewing
Ahmad Faheem
Rebecca Fenner
Cecilia Gaytan Avila
Michelle Geary
Caitlin Gorevin
Joshua Greenway
Paul Gulley
Rana Hammouda
Lauren Hartman
Elizabeth Hassler
Leslie Nicole Hitchcock
Yannick Irakoze
Ji Won Jeong
Jenai Johnson
Dina Jones
Zohair Khan
Kenneth Kirby
Ashley Knight
Rachel LaFell
Favy Lamprea
Angela Latta
Yanan Liu
Tamara Lowell
Tina Lucas
Charles Lucas
Taylor Manares
Amanda Marriner
Kara McLaughlin
Myriam Midgett
Jennifer Mogle
Khalif Muhammad
Brandy Murray
Irene Mutoni
Yvan Michel-Cedric Ngbichi
Sinead O’Duffy
Angela Okpara
Marika Padilla
William Patrick
Leslie Perez
Samantha Perry
Dylan Phillips
Lea Porz
Tifani Purdie
Ivan Renjel
Amairani Rosario
Liliana Salazar
Anuyuga Sampathkumar
Julia Santamaria
Zhane Strachan
Christopher Thomas
Natthanan Wajamathura
Ruodan Wang
James Watson
Lisa Wharton
Elizabeth Whitlock

Durham Tech instructor publishes Black History nursery rhymes book

Audrey Muhammad remembers chatting with her brother in 1996 about how well they could still recite nursery rhymes.

That’s when the idea hit.

“What if there were nursery rhymes that helped children learn about black history?” she said.

Muhammad, an Academic Advisor and Instructor of College Success at Durham Technical Community College, spent the next several years writing nursery rhymes about black historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and modern day figures like Barack Obama and Oprah.

Family members encouraged her to transform her rhymes into a book for all ages.

Last month, Muhammad self-published her book Rhymes of the Times: Black Nursery Rhymes, featuring 28 nursery rhymes that introduce concepts of self-esteem and perseverance all while teaching black history, including “Martin Had a Little Dream,” “Woman on the Bus,” and “Elijah Be Humble, Elijah Be Quick.”

“I hope children will learn to feel good about their history and know that there are a lot of wonderful historical and modern day figures to pattern themselves after,” Muhammad said. “One of the best teachers is a good example and our young people need more good examples in front of them. It’s more than just athletes and rappers. You have entrepreneurs and courageous people that have done wonderful things in the past.”

Before Durham Tech, Muhammad taught as a high school English teacher and said she remembered students not wanting to pick up African-American literature books.

“When I taught high school English, my students said they didn’t want to read African-American literature because they didn’t want to learn about slavery,” Muhammad said. “I thought, that’s all you think black history is about? I was surprised that there was such a negative view of black history. I said you’re just talking about a very limited amount of American history and there’s so much than that. If they look back further, they’ll learn that we built pyramids and had so many inventions, so I included those in the book as well.”

Muhammad says she hopes this book will highlight and uplift black history in a fun and memorable way.

“I hope young people feel good about themselves, aspire to do well in school, and take pride in their family and heritage,” Muhammad said. “The book also helps people from other cultures have respect for a different culture.”

Muhammad set a goal for herself last summer to complete the book by Black History Month so she teamed up with a book consultant, illustrator, and CreateSpace guru to prepare the launch. On February 19, the book officially published.

“It was great to hold the book in my hand for the first time,” Muhammad said. “I wanted to have this book published and I did it. I really took the time to invest in myself to make this happen and I encourage all women to live up to their God-given talents and spend each day doing what they enjoy.”

Muhammad is already thinking about her second book, which will have a similar nursery rhyme theme, but focus on a different culture.

“My daughter has an affinity for different cultures so I’m going to pick her brain on the different cultures I can highlight and uplift for the next book,” Muhammad said. “The more you learn about another culture, the more you can respect it.”

Rhymes of the Times: Black Nursery Rhymes is available in paperback on Amazon and Virtue Today Magazine.

Let’s celebrate March anniversaries and birthdays!

March Anniversaries (Years)

Tseng-Yuan Woo (31); Tom Jaynes (26); Herman Taylor (25); Deborah Maloney (24); Angela Perry (22); Karen McPhaul (22); Emerenciana Alejo (15); Joy Hansen (15); Cindy Hardin (15); Terra Bikah (14); Danyece Allen (13); Iesha Cleveland (11); Susan Baker (11); Kathy McKinley (6); Blake Williams (5); Eliza Murphy (5); Valerie Whitley (3); Rhea Deroian (2)

March Birthdays (Day)

Scott Neal (1); Horace Holloway (1); Nadine Ford (3); Carolyn Beatty (3); Lisa Blair (5); Tseng-Yuan Woo (5); Sara Juarez (5); Melanie Riester (5); Tammie Davis (6); Vega Swepson (7); Tina Bryant-Allen (9); Heather Remley (9); Judy Graham (10); Michelle Laporte (12); Brittney VornDick (12); Donna Alston (12); Shaunecey Johnson (12); Kara Battle (17); LaShon Harley (18); Jairo McMican (19); Donnie Sommerfeldt (22); Deidre Yancey (24); Svetlana Yokum (24); Sheza Healey (28); Keitcha Royal (28); Scott Vratarich (29)