Top students, instructors named at Athens Technical College for 2024

Jan. 31, 2024

Four individuals were recognized with the highest honors achievable as instructors and students at Athens Technical College in a ceremony on campus on Jan. 30. All four individuals will go on to compete for their respective statewide titles against representatives from the 21 other Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) institutions this spring.

Nicholas Rucker, of Hartwell, Georgia, who is studying to become a physical therapy assistant, has been selected as the Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) Student of the Year for ATC.

According to his instructors, Rucker epitomizes the work ethic needed to become a successful healthcare provider and future leader, noting his timeliness, organization and dedication. “Nicholas is dedicated to helping others, and is positive and enthusiastic about his education and future career, as this will provide him with another avenue to help his patients return to a previous level of function through physical therapy interventions, but also continue to serve his community,” said program chair Ellen O’Keefe.

Coleman Simmons was selected as the College’s Rick Perkins Award for Excellence in Instruction. Simmons, who lives in Winder, Georgia, is the program chair for the air conditioning technology program, which he previously graduated from in 2004. He has taught full-time since 2012 and has led the program since 2015. He previously worked in industry roles in northeast Georgia. Simmons received a B.S. in construction management from Southern Polytechnic State University.

“Coleman has worked very hard the past year getting his program ready to move into the new building, including ordering equipment, meeting with contractors, and organizing suppliers,” said Dean Christina Wolfe, who manages the Business, Industry and Technology Division.” He has done all this on top of a full teaching load made even fuller by the retirement of the full-time instructor in his program this past August. He is always dedicated to student success and making sure that his program reflects the needs of HVAC employers in our service area.

Tiras Anderson, of Athens, Georgia, has been selected to compete for the Dinah Culbreath Wayne Exceptional Adult Georgian in Literacy Education (EAGLE) Award, which recognizes and honors students with exceptional achievement in statewide adult education classes. Delegates for this award are selected based on their ability to articulate the story of adult education.

Describing her journey of moving and switching high schools, Anderson underlined the hardships that can lead to one having to drop out of school. “I lost confidence and didn’t know where I belonged,” she said. “I was dealing with so many issues and feelings about the change in my life. I slept all day and night to escape this reality, even during classes. I would lock myself in my room so no one could wake me when they felt I was sleeping too long… I say these things to show you that not everyone drops out of school because of academic problems. Life happens to everyone, and sometimes you can want it so badly for yourself, but hard times take over.”

Sonia Wilborn, an adjunct instructor at the Walton County Campus, has been selected to receive the Adult Education Instructor of the Year award. Wilborn, who resides in Dacula, Georgia, has more than 30 years of experience in adult literacy and adult education and continues to provide her students with a wealth of knowledge to help them achieve their goals and build their future.

“Adult learners develop more self-confidence and high self-esteem,” said Wilborn, discussing her passion for adult education. “Adult education is a dynamic force. It begets hope rather than hopelessness, opportunity rather than stagnation, dreams realized rather than dreams deferred, and pride rather than shame. To me, adult education means transformation for all concerned.”

Wilborn earned her Master of Education from Tuskegee University in Alabama and continued her education for Adult Literacy Education at Indiana University. She also earned a Ph.D. in Post-Secondary and Adult Education from Capella University.

“These are the highest awards students and instructors can receive at the college, and we are very proud of the dedication they show to their work here,” said ATC President Andrea Daniel. “We wish them all the best of luck in the next round of competitions and look forward to recognizing them in Atlanta.”

Photo Cutline: Winners for ATC’s top awards are pictured with ATC President Andrea Daniel from left to right: Adult Education Instructor of the Year Dr. Sonia Wilborn, Exceptional Adult Georgian Literacy Education (EAGLE) Delegate Tiras Anderson, President Daniel, Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) Student of the Year Nicholas Rucker (physical therapy assistant program), and Rick Perkins Instructor of the Year Award Coleman Simmons (air conditioning technology program).

Athens Technical College has served citizens since 1958 by providing quality educational programs in an 11-county service area. The college offers over 130 program specializations in business, health, technical, and manufacturing-related areas. Students attend on three campuses (Athens-Clarke, Elbert, and Walton) and online plus career academies, adult learning centers,  and continuing education opportunities. To learn more visit

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An Equal Opportunity Institution and a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia