Aaron McCullum selected as nominee for the Dallas Herring Achievement Award and is recipient of the Tony Kleese & Christine Kelly-Kleese Resilience Award


Aaron McCullum, a Durham Tech Architectural Technology student, has been selected as the College’s nominee for the Dallas Herring Achievement Award and the recipient of the Tony Kleese & Christine Kelly-Kleese Resilience Award.   

The Dallas Herring Achievement Award was established by the North Carolina Community College System in 2010 to honor the late Dr. Dallas Herring, one of the state’s earliest advocates of community colleges. All 58 community colleges choose a candidate. The state award is bestowed annually upon a current or former student who best embodies Herring’s philosophy of “taking people where they are and carrying them as far as they can go.” 

McCullum grew up in a family where education was not emphasized. He did not complete high school and chose to focus on being a great father and a long-distance truck driver/instructor. 

“I liked my driving job, but really wanted a career that garnered respect from my community,” McCullum said. “My first step was going to Durham Tech to get my high school diploma.” 

After obtaining his high school diploma through the College, McCullum considered going into culinary arts, but he kept seeing signs that the future held something different for him. In fact, it was one sign that he saw over and over. 

“While I was changing classes I noticed, and kept noticing, a sign that read ‘Architectural Drafting. What’s your Angle,'" McCullum said.  

Signals about a future in Architectural Drafting came again while McCullum was in a college prep course. His teacher was sharing information on how to register for classes, and he used Architectural Drafting as an example. 

“As the teacher was talking a girl in my class leaned over and jokingly said, ‘I know you won’t take that because you can’t even spell it.’ Well, that did it. I told myself I would take that and I would prove her wrong. I would also end up proving my own self-doubt wrong because I was unsure of my abilities at that point.” 

Durham Tech made him feel challenged and helped, welcomed, and accepted, McCullum said, and his Architectural Technology classes did, too. 

“I struggled with several adversities both personally and academically, but I went to class and continued on,” McCullum said. “I kept telling myself, ‘I’m already there.’ As the student representative to the Advisory Committee, I had the opportunity to sit next to President Buxton and it hit me. Me, in my raggedy T-shirt, was accepted by the people in the room. The President of the College was sitting right next to me. I was hanging with these people. I am already there.” 

Rick Lawrence, program director and instructor in the Architectural Technology program, nominated McCullum because of his resilience, leadership, and desire to help and encourage others. 


“Like many of his classmates on Aug. 15, 2022, Aaron stepped into the Ingram Building bringing with him doubt and a lack of support outside of the school,” Lawrence said. “Aaron has battled insecurities that would make any of us stop and consider going a different direction, but he is here, at Durham Tech. He is here, on this day and every day since, making the Architectural Technology program his own. And as Aaron is doing this for himself, he is doing everything he can to bring others along with him.” 

Lawrence said McCullum is highly regarded by his classmates. He has taken it upon himself to become a mentor and/or motivator to the younger men in the classroom. He is a great role model, arriving early for class, spending extra time after class working on projects, and learning architectural concepts and software applications. He supports his classmates in multiple ways. 

“His performance in the Architectural Technology program speaks for itself, but the measure of this man comes not from his stature and volume, but rather from what he gives of himself to others in the class,” Lawrence said. 

After graduating from Durham Tech, McCullum hopes to attend a four-year school. First on his list is North Carolina A&T for their Architectural Engineering program.