Stories About Our 2016 Graduates

Stories About Our 2016 Graduates

Criminal Justice is All in the Family for Gaston College Graduating Students

Dr. Skinner Shaking Graduate Hand imageThree students who graduated from the Gaston College Criminal Justice Technology program on May 13, have more in common than their area of study. Rich Palmer, his wife Heather, and Heather’s mother, Dava Grayson, are a family that shares an interest in pursuing careers in the field.

Heather Palmer had been a stay-at-home mom and was ready for a job where she could help people. The concept of processing and analyzing evidence intrigued her and in August 2014 she enrolled in the Criminal Justice Technology program with a concentration in Latent Evidence. She will graduate with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Criminal Justice Technology and an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice-Latent Evidence. Her education at Gaston College has already resulted in a job in law enforcement.

Although she was working, Dava Grayson was fascinated by TV shows like “CSI” and wanted to learn and have the experience of crime scene processing. Along with her daughter, she started at Gaston College in August 2014. “I loved the hands-on classes and learning crime scene evidence processes and procedures,” she said. With her Associate Degree in Criminal Justice-Latent Evidence, her goal is to get a job where she can apply her knowledge. “It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you finish,” she added.

Rich Palmer is a war combat veteran who was deployed to Kuwait in 2012 and received the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Service Medal. He left the military in 2014 and has had various jobs, but he always wanted a career in law enforcement. To that end, he enrolled in Gaston College in January 2015. Palmer said that completing the program at Gaston College “has meant the world to me; I didn’t get to walk across stage in high school because I went through the military program.” After earning his AAS in Criminal Justice Technology, he plans to go on for a four-year degree and become a law enforcement officer.

All three family members speak highly of the Gaston College faculty and staff. “The entire staff in the Criminal Justice program was great,” said Heather, “but Kavin Bitter, Calvin Shaw, and Lou Caliendo went beyond just teaching. When life situations happened, they always checked in on us and our kids. They helped as much as they could so that we could continue on with our education. They shared their on-the-job experiences and showed us how things are not textbook in real life. I don’t think I could have completed my degrees and continued on with getting a job if it was not for these three professors.”

“Lou Caliendo taught from his experiences and didn’t just use the book information,” Rich agreed. “To hear his stories of things that actually happened, and to have him share with the class how things can change, and how to look for things, was awesome. He prepared us for the real world more than most teachers could do.”

“I loved the hands-on experience we got with Kavin Bitter and Edward Turas,” said Dava. “They let us handle things and do mock crime scenes. They helped us and gave us feedback on what we did wrong. Because of this, I think I am more prepared than I would be from just reading a book.”

The instructors are enthusiastic about their students as well. “I have had both Heather and Dava as students,” said Kavin Bitter. “Heather, our Latent Evidence Student of the year, was an excellent student who learned forensic concepts easily and could apply what she learned. Dava, like Heather, is an excellent student who excels in her academic pursuits and can apply what she has learned, and she does so working full-time on overnight shifts. It has been a pleasure having them as students and I wish only the best for their future success.”

Sharing the educational journey as a family was “a great experience for us all,” said Heather. “While it wasn’t easy since we all share a home with one computer, and our assignments were due around the same time, we still managed to complete our work. I think we pushed each other more when we had the same classes. The competition we had to see who got the best grade on a test or assignment pushed each other to the max!”

The Criminal Justice Technology program at Gaston College provides knowledge of criminal justice systems and operations. Study focuses on local, state, and federal law enforcement, judicial processes, corrections, and security services. For more information about the program, contact Calvin Shaw, Chair and Instructor of the Criminal Justice and Paralegal Technology Program at or 704-922-6270.

Graduate student imageAfter walking across the stage to receive her diploma, Jessica Poteat will become the third generation in her family to graduate with a nursing degree from Gaston College. A proud family moment for Jessica and her parents following a pinning ceremony last week at the college, Dean Poteat, Jessica and Rachel Poteat.

Three generations of one family have earned
nursing degrees from Gaston College

Among the nearly 1,000 students who graduated from Gaston College on May 13, is Jessica Poteat, who will be earning her Associate Degree in Nursing. She is the third generation in her family to graduate with a nursing degree from Gaston College.

The family tradition started with Poteat’s grandmother, Kaye Barber, who graduated in 1974 from Gaston College as part of its first Associate Degree Nursing class. Barber had considered a career in psychology or sociology but turned to nursing after giving birth to her daughter Rachel. Her experience in the delivery room was difficult and she felt that she was not given adequate attention and care. She did not want anyone else to face the same issues and she decided to become a nurse so she could make a difference in patients’ lives.

At that time, the nursing school program in the area was transitioning from Gaston Memorial Hospital (now CaroMont Regional Medical Center) to Gaston College. The director of the program at the College believed that quality was more important than quantity and only 40 students were accepted from more than 200 applicants. Barber became part of that first class at Gaston College and was one of the 20 students who completed the program. An excellent student, Barber was on the Dean’s List and after earning her Associate Degree in Nursing she took additional related courses at Gaston College.

Barber worked at Gaston Memorial for 15 years and was a nurse at other facilities before retirement. She offers the same advice to new nurses that she gave to her daughter and granddaughter. “Don’t assume anything,” she said. “When in doubt, find out. Look at the patient for answers.”

Barber’s daughter, Rachel Poteat, earned her Associate Degree in Nursing from Gaston College in 2005. A career in nursing was not in Rachel’s original plans, as she had a tendency to pass out at the sight of blood – particularly her own. She got married right before graduating from high school and enrolled in Gaston College to become a legal secretary. However, she soon had two children and did not complete the program.

Rachel could see how much her mother enjoyed being a nurse, and with Barber’s encouragement, she entered the Gaston College nursing program at the age of 30. Although she struggled a bit in her second semester at the College, the faculty and staff gave her the support and reassurance she needed to earn her degree. “If it weren’t for Gaston College, I would not be a nurse today,” said Rachel. “The instructors were committed to helping me succeed.”

Upon graduation, Rachel began working at CaroMont Regional Medical Center and currently is a nurse in the Pre-Op OR. “The Gaston College nursing program is great,” she said. “It is easy to know which new nurses at CaroMont are from Gaston College. Their ability, preparedness, and mindset are exceptional. My mother and I, and now my daughter, are so thankful for the fulfilling careers that were launched by Gaston College.”

Jessica’s interest in nursing arose from her mother’s and grandmother’s enthusiasm for the profession. She enjoyed hearing their stories and felt that nursing was something she could be good at, as she shares their passion for caring for people. Her mother and grandmother both highly recommended Gaston College for the education and wonderful experiences they had while attending.

Jessica has interviewed with CaroMont Regional Medical Center.  She was offered the job on graduation day and she accepted the offer. In the near future, she intends to go on for her Bachelor’s degree, and eventually, her Masters. To that end, she will be taking some prerequisite courses at Gaston College in the fall. Her mother, Rachel, is considering joining Jessica in furthering her own education.

“Gaston College has greatly prepared me for my career as a nurse,” said Jessica. “I feel I am ready to go out into the field on my own after all the wonderful clinical experiences. Every faculty member showed an interest in my success. I’ve met life-changing friends and we’ve been each other’s support group throughout it all.”

Her family’s dedication to the nursing profession and to education was ingrained early in Jessica. “Coming from a family of nurses, if you weren’t running a fever, vomiting or dying, you were going to school,” Jessica said with a laugh.

Angela King, RN, MSN, is the Department Chair for the Associate Degree Nursing program at Gaston College. She has taught both Jessica and Rachel in the nursing program. “I am proud that these caring and compassionate women are making a difference in so many lives in our community,” she said. “Over the years I have seen sons and daughters follow in their mother’s footsteps, or mothers and daughters take on the nursing program at the same time. But to have three generations from one family graduate from our program is pretty remarkable. Gaston College is a great place to learn and for students to reach new heights in their educational pursuits.”

The Gaston College Associate Degree Nursing program is nationally accredited by The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). For information about the Gaston College nursing program, contact Angela King at or 704-922-6371.

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