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Durham Tech Alumni Spotlight

Syreeta Lynn, ’04
Senior Clinical Monitoring Associate, PAREXEL International


When Syreeta Lynn returned to campus as a guest speaker at the 10-year anniversary of the Clinical Trials Research Associate program at Durham Technical Community College, she told a story of struggle and determination.

“I was a single parent to two children, in school full-time, working full-time, and doing field work,” Lynn said. “There were times I didn’t think I was going to make it, but it all worked out in the end. I knew I was where I was supposed to be and doing what I was supposed to be doing.”

Prior to enrolling in the Clinical Trials program in 2001, Lynn was hired for an entry-level call center position at a pharmaceutical research organization. Just two weeks on the job, the supervisor recognized her potential and offered her a promotion as an In-House Clinical Research Associate. The position ensured compliance with FDA protocols during clinical trials and at that time, was typically filled by nurses.

“It was unheard of for someone with only a high school diploma to be offered that position,” Lynn said. “I started doing the work and I absolutely loved it. The first assignment paid $12/hour, but the second assignment paid $25/hour. I remember thinking, I’ve got to do this. I love it, possessed the key skills and personal qualities to be successful, and it’s a great way to make a lucrative living.”

As soon as Lynn started the new position, she began looking for educational opportunities to advance in the industry. She chose Durham Tech because it was the only school in the area that had a two-year program for clinical trials.

“Durham Tech gave me the clinical research foundation that I needed to hit the ground running,” Lynn said. “The Clinical Trials program was a life-changer. Though I was in the industry before I came to Durham Tech, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain a career in the industry without this degree.”

The program required students to do four field work internships to gain experience and Lynn’s third rotation was with PharmaLinkFHI, now Novella Clinical.

“Before I completed the rotation, they called me asking if I’d entertain the idea of permanent, full-time employment,” Lynn said.

Lynn had a full-time job before she graduated from the program and now has 17 years of experience in the industry. She attributes much of her success to Melissa Ockert, the dean and department head of health technologies at Durham Tech. In 2001, Ockert was the program director and taught Introduction to Clinical Trials.

Lynn said she didn’t know what to make of Ockert to start.

“The work she gave us was overwhelming and at times I didn’t think she wanted us to succeed, but it was actually the total opposite,” Lynn said. “Once I was able to sit back, listen and learn, I realized that Melissa was amazing. There was no better person to teach the class, if you didn’t embrace her you were selling yourself short. She knew a lot and she was willing to share what she knew. Melissa was instrumental in my success both in the program and after graduation.”

The road leading up to Lynn’s enrollment at Durham Tech was not an easy one, but she says it made her a stronger person. Originally from Newark, New Jersey, Lynn moved to Durham when she was 10 years old and lived in a housing project with her mother.

“There are very few, if any, people in the projects who are aspiring to new heights in life,” Lynn said. “The struggle motivated me. As a child I couldn’t change my environment, but I knew when I was old enough to change it, I would. Once I had my son, shortly after high school, I kicked it into high gear. I watched my mom struggle all of our lives and I knew that was something I didn’t want for my children.”

Lynn, 42, is now married with four children, four step-children, and working from home as a Senior Clinical Monitoring Associate at PAREXEL International.

“You must have a willingness and a capability to learn to succeed,” Lynn said of her advice to future students. “You can’t be willing, but not be capable or be capable, but not be willing — you must have both.”

Eight years after graduation, Lynn earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Services Administration from Drexel University. Her daughter, 16, is currently enrolled in Middle College High School at Durham Tech, a program that allows high school students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and associate’s degree.

“Without this degree, my life would be a struggle,” Lynn said. “Durham Tech is a hidden treasure and the Clinical Trials program has totally changed my life. For those reasons, I will always be indebted to Durham Tech.”

Yu Yan: Painting His Story

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Written by: Maria Smith, Ph.D. (Transitions Coordinator/Instructor, English as a Second Language)

English as a Second Language courses at Durham Technical Community College serve adult language learners from all over the world. In our classrooms, students and instructors expand their knowledge and understanding of different cultural practices and viewpoints, often through the personal stories that we share with one another. This past week, Yu Yan, who has attended Chapel Hill classes since August 2016, shared with us his extraordinary story in an unconventional way – through the language of painting.

Artist and professor, Yu Yan, from the city of Lanzhou in northwest China, came to the United States in April 2016 for two reasons. He wished to see that which he had heretofore only seen depicted in books: the “real” American landscape. He also wished to visit American museums where he could absorb the master oil paintings of Western culture that he had studied as a boy and student under the tutelage of his father, a well-known painter in China.

“Exploring the Origin, Enlightening the Heart,” is the early fruit of Yu Yan’s American sojourn. The exhibition, held from February 20 – February 25 at the FedEx Global Education Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, featured 17 of 30 paintings that Yan completed while in residence as a visiting scholar with the UNC Art Department and during his travels throughout the U.S. The title of the exhibition encapsulates both the intellectual and emotional aspects of Yan’s endeavors to “explore the origin of Eastern and Western paintings” and to express “in works of art” what the unique vistas of the American landscape and an “enlightened heart” had inspired.

At an exuberant yet intimate reception on Thursday, February 23, Yan presented his paintings to his fellow Durham Tech ESL classmates and instructors. Despite the challenges of expressing sophisticated concepts and nuanced emotions in English, Yan neither hesitated nor watered down his discussion. He demonstrated a favored brush technique, and explained the philosophical messages of two works of calligraphy. Perhaps most meaningful to us, an international audience, were his personal observations. He shared his wonder, for example, “I never saw the sky this beautiful – it really shook me,” of the extraordinary colors of an October sunset in the Smoky Mountains and of the spectacle of Bryce Canyon in Utah, which inspired the first painting of his collection.

With each painting, Yan led us on journeys near and far, from the bucolic countryside of Chapel Hill to the Great Smoky Mountains, north to Niagara Falls, across country to the American west and Pacific Ocean—and beyond to his homeland along the ancient Silk Road in China. For Yan, it is the journey that truly counts.

“My work is more driven by the process of exploration than by the arrival at a destination,” Yan said.

In April, Yan and his wife, Jie Yu (also a Durham Tech ESL student and visiting scholar in the School of Media and Journalism at UNC), will leave their beloved friends and colleagues in the United States. Yan will return to his work as an Associate Professor of Art at Lanzhou University and Jie will return to work as a photographer and journalist for the Gan Su Daily.

We bid them both a warm farewell and swift return to North Carolina.

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Two More Durham Tech Faculty Accepted to SoTL

Danielle Johnson and Scott Stauble have been selected to participate in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) in the Teaching-Learning Center (TLC).

SoTL is the synthesis of teaching, learning, and research in higher education. The TLC supports full-time and part-time faculty participation in SoTL projects that substantially change the ways in which instructors teach. SoTL is a multi-semester process that culminates in the participants sharing their research and experiences with the larger college community.

Danielle is a part-time early childhood education instructor in the Career and Technical Programs department. Danielle’s project will focus on incorporating new, meaningful group work into her early childhood education courses. She is specifically interested in how group work can foster greater student engagement and increase student success.

Scott is a full-time biology instructor in the Arts, Sciences, and University Transfer department. Scott will globalize his BIO 168 or BIO 169 course. With the college’s renewed attention on globalization through the Global Distinction Program and the resources he can receive from UNC’s World View initiative, his project is especially timely and well supported.

Danielle and Scott will conduct their research over the summer and implement the changes in their courses in Fall 2017. They will report out to the college on their process and results in Spring 2018. Each will receive a $500 SoTL stipend for successfully completing their projects.

Danielle and Scott join current SoTL participants Marina DelVecchio, Jason Moldoff, Jonathan Cook, and Sheza Healey. Jonathan and Sheza will share their results in April; see the TLC calendar for more information. And previous SoTL participants Lea Bingham, and Daysha Lawrence have completed their SoTL projects; look for articles written by them in the latest volume of Learning Matters to be published later this semester.

The next round of applications SoTL applications will be due on September 1, 2017. See the SoTL webpages on the TLC website or contact Gabby McCutchen, TLC director, for more details.

Congratulations, Danielle and Scott! We look forward to hearing about your results!

Durham Tech was represented at the Hillsborough Holiday Parade held Saturday, December 3. Faculty, staff, students, families, and friends from Durham Tech’s Orange County Campus enjoyed sharing their holiday spirit with other members of the community! Thank you to all participants!

Durham Tech EMS at Hillsborough Holiday Parade

Durham Tech EMS at Hillsborough Holiday Parade