Computer Technology Instructor Named Innovator of the Year at PTC

He wasn’t even born when lean operating practices came into vogue, but Henry Ecker has led several successful lean initiatives at Piedmont Technical College (PTC) and distinguished himself among his colleagues as a game-changer and problem-solver. His achievements in the brief few years the computer technology instructor has been with the college have earned him the title of Innovator of the Year at PTC. 

In addition to contributing his insights and ideas while serving on multiple working committees and the Faculty Senate, Ecker has offered instructional assistance beyond his own classroom when needed.

“The only thing more amazing than Henry’s wealth of knowledge is the freedom and willingness at which he shares that knowledge,” said Jason White, PTC electronic engineering technology instructor. “He’s not even in my division, and he has made a positive impact on our program and our students’ education.” 

When Ecker joined the college’s Online/Hybrid Course Review Committee, he immediately noted the cumbersome, antiquated process that was in place to review courses every semester. 

“When Henry saw the process involved, he said, ‘OMG, I think I can help with that. You need an automated system,’” said Menka Brown, interim dean of business information technology, public service and commercial arts. Ecker went to work immediately, applying lean principles, logic and his programming expertise to streamline and simplify the course review process. The resulting database-driven tool improved the committee chairman’s ability to quickly identify areas in need of improvement. 

“Henry made it into a much leaner process that provided reviewer access to the courses in D2L (the college’s learning management system) automatically in a centralized location, eliminating the need to send the spreadsheet around between reviewers,” explained Karla Gilliam, dean of curriculum and online learning. “It helped us close the loop. He even created color-coded graphs and charts to represent the data visually so we could interpret it more easily and quickly. He did a phenomenal job.”

The database also significantly facilitates identification of professional development opportunities while, at the same time, saving hours and hours of faculty time. “That one database will provide information for quality improvement at different levels of the college,” Gilliam added. “Just that one database!”

In addition to developing the database, Ecker built a number of customized tools in D2L to make life easier for faculty, including a dynamic attendance scheduler as well as grade-transfer instruments.

In his own courses, Ecker added an incentive tool in D2L that adds competitive gaming elements to his courses to further engage and motivate his students. Several instructors have followed suit and incorporated the tool into their own classes. 

“I have been impressed with the depth and breadth of Mr. Ecker’s knowledge and expertise,” said Dr. Keli Fewox, vice president for academic affairs at PTC. “Even more impressive is his willingness to take on new projects and think about them in innovative ways. He continues to grow in his role at the college and has become the ‘go to’ when looking for new ways to both think about and execute tasks in the most effective and efficient ways.”

As Ecker’s reputation continues to flourish at PTC, so do the praises expressed for him across the college spectrum.

“Without a doubt, Henry is a rock star in the eyes of our faculty and staff,” said Dr. Hope E. Rivers, president of PTC. “Perhaps what is most remarkable about him is his complete lack of pretense or ego. He tirelessly works to improve processes across the college.”

“Henry really is brilliant, and he is so young,” Brown said. “I know he spent hundreds of hours on that course review project. It’s just incredible.”