Lee Balentine

Rad Tech Program Director Named Innovator of the Year at Piedmont Tech

The Piedmont Technical College (PTC) Area Commission recognized Radiologic Technology Program Director Lee Balentine with its 2022 Innovator of the Year at its meeting on April 19. At the first inkling that the college might shut down because of COVID-19 in spring 2020, Balentine’s first thought was that the Radiologic Technology Program would need to suspend operations indefinitely, putting students way off course for graduation. 


“I thought there is no way we can do this. Honestly, I am kind of old-fashioned. I’m not opposed to change, but I am a little bit older and haven’t always embraced technology,” Balentine said. “I had felt that education should be face to face, so I was very concerned about how to proceed.” 


Balentine and his team nonetheless circled the wagons and brainstormed next steps. Then came word that the program’s clinical site, Self Regional Healthcare, was shutting down its clinicals, leaving no mechanism for students to complete this critical part of the curriculum. Balentine needed solutions on the fly, and out of an emergency huddle with members of his faculty, a bold idea emerged. 


Instead of suspending the program, why not modify the order of some courses within the program? Faculty proposed moving lecture-based classes to the summer of 2020 and clinicals to fall of 2021 when, it was hoped, in-person learning would return. This would entail running summer and fall clinicals at the same time in the fall semester, requiring students to attend clinicals four days a week, something that had never been done in the program’s history. 


“Our students are really to be commended,” Balentine said. “It was difficult. We weren’t sure it would work, but all of our students graduated on time, and all passed the board exam.”


With program sequence issues addressed for the moment, and approval of changes secured from the program’s accrediting organization, faculty scrambled to resume teaching content originally intended the for face-to-face classroom fully online. 


The idea of lecturing online doesn’t seem problematic at first glance, but Balentine soon recognized a barrier that could derail the progress of some students. With permission from Health Care Dean Tara Gonce, Balentine found a technology-based strategy to overcome the issue.


“The college recently had equipped an office into a Webex Room. It’s the latest and greatest thing we have. … I teach radiation physics, and I wondered, how am I going to sit at home with a laptop and web camera trying to teach physics when there is math involved?” he said. “In order to teach math, you have to have a document camera so you can work out problems manually for all to see in real time. It’s a live thing. And I could have all of my students displayed simultaneously on a 70” screen. In addition, the internet on campus is much better than at home, because I live in a rural area with limited bandwidth.” 


The brand-new Webex Room was available for use because there were no people on campus, so Dean Gonce gave the green light for Balentine to come on campus and use it. This enabled him to deliver content synchronously and record videos with state-of-the-art equipment. 


“I really needed that technology to teach during the pandemic,” Balentine added. “That was one of the biggest reasons we got everyone graduated on time. We never missed a beat.”


Another concern during quarantine were those in-person classes that had a mandatory lab component. Students needed to check off the successful demonstration of various competencies, such as positioning a patient for imaging and giving instructions to the “patient,” etc. To facilitate uninterrupted lab work, faculty had students videotaped themselves at home demonstrating the skills with a patient stand-in, which could be a stuffed animal or even a compliant family member. Using this method, all students were able to complete their labs amid ongoing pandemic restrictions.


Balentine has served on the Council of Education for the South Carolina Society of Radiologic Technologists for the past 20 years and is currently president-elect of that organization. In recognition of his continued exemplary service, Balentine was named SCTEA Teacher of the Year at PTC in 2005 and was presented with the college’s prestigious Presidential Medallion in 2007.


After 21 years at PTC, Balentine feels that he has assembled the best faculty team in the Radiologic Technology Program’s history. Collectively, he and his team have moved the needle for quality at PTC by laboring for and securing game-changing assets for the college and their program. All have that uncommon ability to be relatable to their students because they are PTC graduates themselves and have walked that proverbial mile in their students’ shoes. Members of his team include Clinical Coordinator Dana Long, Instructor Jerry Ryans, and Instructor Lindsey Edwards. Combined, they have more than 100 years of field experience. 


Like many of the profession’s finest leaders, Balentine eschews the spotlight, preferring to place credit and recognition with his team who, he noted, secured some $143,000 in grant funding over the past two years to bring in and install new resources at PTC, including a virtual radiography simulation lab that features 10 computers equipped with specialized simulation software that allows students to take images of patients in a virtual setting. The system will notify students if their settings make the exposure too light or too dark, as well as other details based on what parameters the students select. 


“Our program is the only one in the state using this technology,” Balentine said. 


These grants also will enable the installation of a new state-of-the-art digital imaging room at the college in 2022.


“Before, we had computed radiography (CR), a longtime industry standard, but all CR technology soon will be phased out, and we will be using only digital radiography,” Balentine said, again praising his faculty. “The things they have done have been substantial.”


Every improvement, innovation, or enhancement in the Radiologic Technology Program came with pronounced research and thoughtful contemplation geared toward maintaining the highest quality standards at the college. In addition, the program has continuously aced its accreditation from the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. 


“We have had two back-to-back, 8-year accreditations. That is the maximum our accrediting agency awards,” Balentine said. “To me, that speaks to the quality of our program.”


For his excellent performance, the PTC Area Commission on April 19 awarded Balentine its Innovator of the Year Award.

PHOTOS: 
•    Lee Balentine receives the PTC Innovator of the Year Award at the PTC Area Commission Meeting on April 19.
•    Balentine is active with his students, serving as advisor to the Rad Tech Club in this photo from last fall.
•    PTC Radiologic Technology Faculty, from left:  Jerry Ryans, instructor; Dana Long, clinical coordinator; Lindsay Edwards, adjunct instructor; and Lee Balentine, program director