Dr. Dennis King on Building a Welcoming Culture at A-B Tech

January 23, 2020

Dr. Dennis King, A-B Tech’s sixth president, retires this weekend after 28 years with the college. He originally joined AB Tech in 1992 as the Vice President of Student Services, and was also appointed Special Assistant to the President for Reaccreditation. During his tenure, Dr. King has received several awards and honors, including N.C. Community College Student Personnel Professional of the Year in 2000, A-B Tech Administrator of the Year in 1998 and N.C. Community College Institute for Future Presidents in 1998. He was also named was named NC Community College President of the Year for 2020 just last week.  In honor of his last month of service, we caught up with him about his time as president, and how he’s helped AB Tech’s culture grow and change during his time there.

Hi Dr. King! Can you tell us a little bit about A-B Tech?
I am the President of A-B Tech, which was founded in 1959 and now serves Buncombe and Madison counties from five locations. The College serves approximately 24,000 students a year through our academic, workforce and continuing education programs. Our locations include the main campus in Asheville, A-B Tech Madison, A-B Tech South, A-B Tech Woodfin (Emergency Services Campus), and A-B Tech Enka, where our Small Business Center and Craft Beverage Institute of the Southeast are located.

There are 58 community colleges in North Carolina and each has an assigned service area. A-B Tech serves Buncombe and Madison counties.

Where did your vision begin, and how has it grown?
My vision is rooted in the understanding that community colleges are open to everyone, and that community college students most frequently are new to higher education. Therefore, we must be receptive to make them comfortable – a community college must have a welcoming and accessible culture. I often tell the story about a student I once found in the lobby who told me it was her third trip to campus, but she was too nervous to come in the first two times. We have many such stories…  some of the students I remember most clearly came to us with many challenges but are now graduates who have successful careers.

Who are your key partners?
Our key partners are the Buncombe County, Madison County and Asheville City school systems; the four-year colleges that many of our graduates attend, including UNC Asheville, Western Carolina University, Mars Hill University, and others in the region; the employers who hire our graduates; and the Chambers of Commerce in both counties. We particularly work very closely with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Coalition to help recruit new businesses to the area, and I am especially grateful for the productive relationships I have enjoyed with Kit Cramer, Clark Duncan and Ben Teague over the years.

What has been your greatest challenge? Your greatest victory?
The greatest challenge has been the process of implementing the mandate from Buncombe County voters concerning the quarter-cent sales tax for new construction at A-B Tech.

The greatest victories are opening the new Ferguson Center for Allied Health and Workforce Development; achieving campus status for A-B Tech Woodfin, which generates an additional $570,000 a year; creating the Ferguson Endowment for professional development; beginning a customized training program for GE Aviation and other companies; and every Commencement ceremony – seeing our students graduate and achieve their dreams is the fulfillment of our mission.

What is a little-known fact about your organization?
A- B Tech was never segregated, not for a single day. Our former President, Dr. Harvey Haynes, who passed away last week, told us that his proudest moment was being on stage at Stephens-Lee High School in 1959 and inviting the African-American student body to join our newly founded college.

What does the word “community” mean to you?
The word “community” is in our name and mission. We exist to serve our community.

Congratulations on your retirement, Dr. King! We wish you the best.
Thank you!

Learn more about A-B Tech by visiting their website or calling 828-398-7900.