Staff member dedicates herself to students in need

By Jennifer Bringle

Sybil Newman, coordinator of Titan Link. (Photos by Carla Kucinski)

Sybil Newman, coordinator of Titan Link. (Photos by Carla Kucinski)

Aljenisha Curley was at a crossroads.

After moving to Greensboro to care for a sick relative, she found herself with nowhere to live, no transportation and on some days, little to eat. Though she was dedicated to pursuing her education at Guilford Technical Community College, she found it increasingly hard to get to campus and focus on her studies with so much going on in her personal life.

That’s where Sybil Newman and Titan Link stepped in.

The program, which is part of the Center for Academic Engagement at GTCC, provides support and resources for students facing non-academic challenges. As coordinator of Titan Link, Newman serves as a conduit between students in need and other campus entities and community agencies that can assist them.

Through Titan Link, Newman helped Curley find an apartment, provided her with essentials from the campus food pantry, and supplied her with bus passes so she could get to campus to attend class.

“It was really a blessing because I had given up because I didn’t have anyone here to help me,” Curley says. “She really lifted me up and helped me stay in school—right now I have all A’s and one B.”

Newman followed a circuitous route to GTCC. Growing up, she always had a penchant for music, and her talent won her a record deal in 1987. For more than two decades, she traveled the country as a professional singer.

But Newman longed for more. She wanted to serve others.

“I grew up in a family of service people—people who worked with community organizations to help others,” she says. “I think that although music has always been an integral part of my life, it was not all that I was. Even while I was in (the music business), I tended to gravitate toward projects that allowed me to lend service.”

In 2000, she was recruited by GTCC to work in the Highway to Success program, which helped at-risk students earn a GED or high school equivalency. From there, she helped launch the Center for Working Families, a program focused on three areas: education/employment, work support and financial literacy/wealth and asset building. Funded by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the program was the only one of its kind at a community college in North Carolina, and among only three community colleges nationwide.

In 2016, Newman was tapped again, this time by GTCC President Dr. Randy Parker, to spearhead a new initiative on campus—Titan Link.

Sybil Newman (left) counsels a GTCC student (right) at Titan Link on the Jamestown Campus. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

Sybil Newman (left) counsels a GTCC student (right) at Titan Link on the Jamestown Campus. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

Newman has found that students often get derailed by non-academic challenges simply because the process to find help was too convoluted and arduous. Through Titan Link, she has built a network of faculty, staff and outside resources that students can easily access with one visit to her office.

“Titan Link allows them to come here, and I process everything that needs to be done, so they don’t have to go building to building,” she says. “We wanted to make sure there was dialogue between the departments and create a pipeline where (the students) come here and we take care of the rest.”

A huge part of the initiative’s success lies in the relationships Newman builds with students. Many of those who come to her for help may not feel comfortable sharing their situation. Newman feels part of her job is to set them at ease, and then give them the tools they need to make positive changes.

“With Titan Link, we want to create a space of trust where they know things they share here won’t be shared anywhere else, and give them a sense of advocacy,” Newman says. “I do things in front of them so when I’m not there to do something, they know what it looks like to do it.”

This academic year, GTCC recognized her for her work and dedication at GTCC with the 2016-2017 Staff Member of the Year Award. She also was a finalist for the Staff of the Year Award given by the North Carolina Community College System. For Newman, the relationships she has formed with students and seeing them thrive has become one of the greatest joys of not only her professional career, but her life.

“It’s gratifying to know that people trust you with their life stuff,” Newman says. “I know about students who are HIV positive—sensitive stuff like that. I feel you have to be really careful about who you allow to open your front door. If they don’t speak to the mission of what you want your house to look like you might not want to let them in. I’m glad they let me in.”


May 22, 2017