Lynn Nichols recently earned the 2020 Award of Excellence from the Gastonia chapter of Altrusa.
That’s the word this week from Gaston College spokeswoman Stephanie Michael Pickett. Altrusa is an international nonprofit group, dedicated to community service, and since 2016, Nichols has been the college’s associate dean of health and human services. Announced at the college’s annual employee appreciation and recognition ceremony, the award is bestowed “in recognition of outstanding service to students and representation of the highest ideals of Gaston College and Altrusa International.”
The Altrusa Award for Excellence recognizes an outstanding Gaston College faculty or staff member who personifies the college’s mission, vision and values. Nominees are judged on their involvement with students and their positive impact upon their lives. They must exhibit an enthusiasm for life, concern for others and a commitment to lifelong learning. They are also evaluated on their extraordinary accomplishments and contributions to the college, community or other civic activities.
Penny Ewing, who teaches in the medical assisting program, nominated Nichols for the Altrusa Award.
Nichols is “the epitome of what a lifelong learner and teacher is,” said Ewing. “She stands above all others in her commitment to hard work and being committed to student success. Lynn has always been available for her students, taking time to tutor, to explain and often just to lend an ear to whatever problem they had. I know many times she has found resources for students that were struggling, not only academically but also personally as well.”
A first-generation high school graduate, Nichols enrolled in the college’s medical assisting program in her late 20’s. Betty Jones, the then-department chairman, was amongst her instructors.
“She saw potential in me as a student that no one else had ever recognized,” said Nichols, “and she convinced me that I could succeed in college.”
After graduation from Gaston College, Nichols enrolled in and was graduated from Pfeiffer University, having earned a bachelor of science degree in health care management. While working on her undergraduate degree, she also worked as an adjunct instructor in medical assisting and then became the full-time lead clinical and lab instructor. With Jones’s continued encouragement, Nichols afterward earned a master’s degree in adult education/higher education from Appalachian State University. She served more than 15 years as the lead clinical and lab instructor in medical assisting and then became its co-ordinator for five years.
“My educational philosophy includes the belief that it is my role as an instructor to provide a safe and respectful classroom environment conducive to learning,” she said. “Students want to learn content that will be useful, meaningful and relevant to their lives and interests. When teaching, I try to connect the learning content to life.”
Nichols believes student success depends upon retention at all levels, and her efforts toward this begin early in her courses. From one-on-one counseling sessions to requiring students to re-take any failed exam to help them master the content, to advising students of the many resources available, including tutoring and financial assistance, she strives to give her students all the tools they need to succeed.
In her Altrusa Award nomination form, Ewing said that Nichols’s “hard work and commitment have been an inspiration, not only to myself but also to others as well. I aspire to be to others what her example has been to many.”
“Knowing what the Altrusa Award for Excellence represents, I am truly honored to have been nominated for it and to be a recipient,” said Nichols, adding that accepting it also honors her past mentors and all who’ve supported her throughout her career and as a graduate of Gaston College and Pfeiffer and Appalachian State universities. “But without the education and opportunities that I first received as a student at Gaston College, I would not have the career I now have. I am so blessed in my career that it is important for me to make a positive difference in the lives of our students and in whatever role I am in as a member of the Gaston College family, because that is what I have received from Gaston College, both as a student and as a faculty member.”