By Bradley Robertson

The new ASCEND program, hosted by Southern Union State Community College, transformed its method of teaching along with the rest of education when schools closed their doors in March because of COVID-19.

ASCEND is a four week-long program that’s mission is “Improving Lives and Growing Business.” As part of the AL Ready to Work curriculum, ASCEND teaches basic skills in communication, computer technology, budgeting and resume building in order to give students a boost in life and career. What sets this program apart from othe’s is the relationship ASCEND holds with local Industry.

ASCEND has Industry partners in Lee, Chambers and Russell counties and is wanting to extend into Macon County. Industry partners include Briggs and Stratton, Rexnord, Pharmavite, Baxter, VectorPly, West Fraser, Aptar, RAPA, Golden State Foods and Norbord.

After completing the short program, graduates are placed into actual interviews with ASCEND Industry partners. This gives students an extra boost into a successful and reliable career they would not have otherwise.

ASCEND formally holds class at the Opelika campus, however, beginning April 6, instructors began teaching online through Google Meet to keep from having to completely halt the program.

ASCEND graduated five students at the end of April and 4 new students began Virtual ASCEND
May 4.

Program director and retired industry leader Greg Leikvold led the ASCEND team to quickly get the virtual class up and going.

“I’ve been impressed with the engagement level and commitment of our students,”  Leikvold said.  “While there have been plenty of technical issues and other obstacles, these students have remained focused and intentional in their efforts.”

“It’s really impressive, (these are) just the kind of excellent employees our local manufacturers are looking for!” Leikvold added.

The basic requirements for the Virtual program are having a home computer, internet access and availability. Class is held Monday through Thursday in Google Meet from 9 a.m. to noon.

ASCEND has a trio of instructors, all aiding in its success.

Instructor Elva Brown says she is enjoying the online teaching.

 “Student feedback is positive and they are also supportive, despite any challenges we may encounter along the way. Overall, I think that the students are fully involved in the whole process.”

Brown added that being on-line encourages and promotes meaningful group discussions.

“Especially when you are teaching a module like Technology Basics. It is more impactful when they are actually experiencing something in real-time.”

Griff Pemberton, a fellow ASCEND educator, has seen many benefits of changing gears to an online classroom, not only for the student but also the instructor.

“The virtual classroom offers an opportunity for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend in person. The students seem to feel more comfortable in classroom discussions, and that creates a challenge for me as an instructor to better facilitate those discussions. I have to remind myself to ask more open-ended questions. So not only are the students stretching and growing, so are we the instructors.”

With hundreds of local citizens losing jobs because of the pandemic, seeing a program like this taking root in our community is a benefit to people and business.

ASCEND is currently seeking students for it’s June program beginning June 1. If you are seeking employment or want more details of the program, visit or call 334-745-6437, ext. 5496.