Alice Warren has plenty of stories to tell from her almost four decades at NC State.
There was the time she took a group of new faculty and staff to the Charlotte Motor Speedway as part of a tour to learn how the university‚Äôs research and engagement affects the entire state. The speedway operations manager offered to let the tour bus take a lap around the track.
‚ÄúWe brought everybody back on the bus,‚ÄĚ Warren recalls. ‚ÄúThe bus driver‚Äôs stoked because he‚Äôs always wanted to do this.‚ÄĚ
As the bus hit 70 mph and leaned into the first turn, Warren felt a tap on her shoulder. It was her boss, who was regretting the whole idea.
‚ÄúIf you want your job on Monday, get us off this ‚ÄĒ blank ‚ÄĒ racetrack,‚ÄĚ the boss told her.
Warren, sitting at the front, turned to the bus driver.
‚ÄúAnd what did I say?‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúGo, Jim, go!‚ÄĚ
The vice provost of continuing education is used to life in the fast lane. She‚Äôs spent her career organizing workshops, seminars, events and other learning opportunities for organizations and individuals. The McKimmon Conference and Training Center welcomes thousands of visitors in a typical week.
But come Oct. 1, Warren will walk through its doors for the last time. After 39 years, she‚Äôs ready to retire.
Warren started as a continuing education specialist at the McKimmon Center on July 1, 1979, a mere week after completing her master‚Äôs degree in vocational industrial education. She managed about 50 short courses, conferences and workshops in the Office of Professional Development, helping people of all kinds build new skills. The division continues that work today.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs up to us to help train those folks, the adults primarily who are out there and need new skill sets to stay engaged with the companies they work for, because that makes an impact on the bottom line for the companies,‚ÄĚ Warren says.
She found mentors in John Cudd and Denis Jackson, both former division leaders. As Jackson moved up the ranks, Warren took over his programs, such as the Sport Fishing School in Hatteras, now in its 65th year, that teaches people about tackle, lines, hooks, fishing techniques and the types of fish found off the coast of North Carolina.
It was hard work, but the office had fun, Warren says. The continuing ed photography students often roasted their instructors, one of whom was nicknamed ‚Äúthe old goat.‚ÄĚ One day some students asked Warren if she could help them find a real goat for his roast. Warren smuggled one in from a pasture where the Joyner Visitors Center now stands and then returned it as quickly as possible.
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt need anybody from the university calling me asking, ‚ÄėHave you seen a goat? We‚Äôve lost a goat,’‚ÄĚ she says.
Rising Through the Ranks
After 13 years as a continuing education specialist, Warren applied for an assistant director‚Äôs job. She polished her interview skills and practiced assertiveness. She knew the obstacles she faced.
‚ÄúBack then, women were not necessarily considered for a lot of those kinds of positions,‚ÄĚ Warren says. ‚ÄúI‚Äôd like to think that I‚Äôve created a spotlight on women and helped women rise up through the administrative ranks of the university.‚ÄĚ
She also took on leadership roles outside the university, becoming chair of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association‚Äôs regional division. She spent one year as a regional representative and 10 on the national organization‚Äôs board of directors.
Warren kept moving up at work, too, with her positions including associate director for continuing and professional education and associate to the assistant vice chancellor. She served as assistant vice chancellor for extension, engagement and economic development for three years before starting in her final role as vice provost for continuing education in July 2011.
‚ÄúI applied every step of the way,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúI had to make the cuts. I had to be interviewed. I had to sell myself to be the best choice. I‚Äôve just been very fortunate to have taken very purposeful steps along my career path to end up in this last seat. And I would not trade my experience for anything in the world. I would not do anything differently.‚ÄĚ
A Center‚Äôs Mission
The McKimmon Center has faced big challenges during Warren‚Äôs time there. There was once talk of separating it from continuing education and allocating it as meeting space for the university. Warren helped Tom Miller, senior vice provost for academic outreach and entrepreneurship, and Provost Warwick Arden prepare a presentation about why that was a bad idea. She pointed out that the center‚Äôs seed money came from canning clubs ‚ÄĒ similar to 4-H clubs ‚ÄĒ almost 100 years ago.
‚ÄúOur very roots for how this building was conceived came from extension work that was already going on in counties across our state,‚ÄĚ she says.
It worked. The center remained untouched.
Warren is proud of the division‚Äôs work. The center hosts conferences and workshops and provides conveniences that help them run smoothly, such as large conference rooms and free parking. Its programs include certifications, professional development and courses and events for people age 50 and up. It served almost 232,000 people during the 2017-18 fiscal year.
The conference center works closely with others on campus, partnering with the StateView Hotel for guest rooms and consulting with faculty on course content.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs been very purposeful, collaborative work,‚ÄĚ Warren says. ‚ÄúI always want to invite more people to the party than maybe I really need because I want people to say, ‚ÄėWow, she even thought to include us.‚Äô I‚Äôve never tried to cut people out because I saw it as a competitive thing. I see it as a collaborative thing because we‚Äôre all NC State and we‚Äôve all got to help each other survive.‚ÄĚ
Warren developed one program that embodies that spirit. Connecting in North Carolina takes new faculty and staff around the state to see the impact of land-grant initiatives and learn about state industry, history, culture and geography. The Charlotte Motor Speedway was one such stop, where visitors learned about the facility‚Äôs operations and economic impact before Jim the bus driver took them on the ride of their lives. Other stops have included Mt. Olive Pickles and Carolina Turkeys factories, a school bus manufacturing plant and the USS North Carolina.
Warren says she learns a lot at the sites, but she also enjoys spending time with new employees on the bus and getting to know them.
‚ÄúI sit there and I go, ‚ÄúWow, NC State is so lucky,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúAnd these students who are going to be be in the class with these faculty members are going to be so lucky.‚ÄĚ
Tempted to Stay ‚ÄĒ Almost
The student body is where Warren has seen the most change.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs been a big growth in the types of academic students that now come to NC State,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúI mean, these kids are off the chart when it comes to community service, their coursework, their GPAs.‚ÄĚ
University branding plays a part in that, Warren says.
‚ÄúOur visuals are different. Our websites are more dynamic. Our photos tell a story,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúI think our whole branding campaign has elevated a consistent message of NC State to a different level.‚ÄĚ
Warren also praised the university administration for developing and sticking to its strategic plan.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs what drives the university every day now,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúThose five strategic goals. All of us are held accountable to those five goals. They are embedded in our work plans. We‚Äôve had strategic plans ever since we‚Äôve been here, but many of those plans became a document on the shelf. I don‚Äôt ever recall us living the strategic plan like we‚Äôre doing now.‚ÄĚ
NC State is thriving so much that Warren was almost tempted to stay. After all, she has until her last day to withdraw her retirement paperwork.
‚ÄúBut no, no, it‚Äôs time. It‚Äôs time. I‚Äôm ready. I need a break.‚ÄĚ
Warren has no immediate retirement plans. She‚Äôll be busy with her daughter‚Äôs upcoming wedding. She‚Äôd like to spend more time at White Lake in Bladen County, where she spent her summers. She‚Äôs thought about getting a recreational vehicle so she and her husband can drive around the country ‚ÄĒ no plans, no schedule.
‚ÄúMy husband and daughter are still adjusting to the fact that I‚Äôm actually retiring,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúMy husband said I‚Äôm going to have trouble not looking at my calendar every day, but I‚Äôm looking forward to having an empty day.‚ÄĚ
She‚Äôd like to stay productive ‚ÄĒ maybe do volunteer work or, as befits someone dedicated to continuing education, take classes through the McKimmon Center‚Äôs Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
‚ÄúRemember, you are never fully educated,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúYou need to be learning something every day, because that‚Äôs how you will survive in life and in this world.‚ÄĚ