Pop Star Sybil Newman Now Finds Her Passion Through GTCC’s Titan Link

Published on: September 21, 2021
Director of GTCC Titan Link Sybil Newman on a recent concert tour.

Sybil Newman insists she is not an angel. Hundreds of Guilford Technical Community College students, past and present, would insist differently.

Newman heads up the college’s Titan Link program, a program that helps not only GTCC students, but also faculty and staff, smooth over rough patches in their lives. From financial to hardware to software to childcare and transportation, Newman and her group work wonders to make life more navigable for those who may be in need.

“Titan Link is the safe space for students as life drops things on them, especially the adverse things,” said Newman, the director of Titan Link. “We address the non-academic challenges and barriers, those things like transportation, childcare, loss of loved ones … the things they don’t expect. The life happens things.”

Originally Newman taught adult education at GTCC. While working with those students she discovered the many barriers, really, everyday needs, that often prevent success for these GED candidates. She knew something needed to be done to improve their odds and that she was quite possibly the one to do it.

“I taught in adult ed for a long time and what I realized was our students had needs, students would say that they needed to get social security cards, medication, things like that. I found myself putting them in my car,” recalled Newman.

The idea of what would become Titan Link was born out of those experiences.

“When I started Titan Link, it was called the Center for Working Families. It began with a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and it was nestled in the adult education department,” recalled Newman. “Once it was realized how it helped retention, it was decided it could work for all of our students.”

Today Titan Link has offices on all three GTCC campuses, and a staff of four. Typically, Titan Link helps more than 1,100 students and staff members a year.

The value of Titan Link was accentuated in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when GTCC classes moved to a virtual model. For many students, though, working from home was an impossibility due to a lack of digital infrastructure. Newman and her staff quickly mobilized to meet those needs.

“We were able to address the digital problems some students have had the past two years,” Newman understated. “I’m glad we were able to mitigate some of the hardships students had. You have to learn how to collaborate; we’ve learned to do that internally and externally.”

Newman and her staff were able to secure and obtain more than 300 laptops to pass along to those students needing a boost to work from home. They also helped set up hot spots and other digital needs to keep students on track. The laptops and hot spots were funded by the Guilford Technical Community College Foundation.

It is assistance like this, in time of large-scale emergencies or smaller personal crisis like childcare or transportation needs, that has earned Newman praise from all corners of the college. She shrugs it all off though, especially the angel analogy.

“An angel? No, I feel I’m working in my passion. I’m a woman of faith and I know my placement is intentional and I’ve had nothing to do with it,” said Newman. “It’s difficult not to consider what people are going through. I know life is not the same for everyone, so I teach them how to be self-advocates. I want to equip them with what they need, so they can fight the fight on their own terms as their coach, and that’s what I am. It is my duty to listen.”

Occasionally, when working with a student or walking through an airport, Newman will get the “do you know you look just like Sybil?” question. Normally she just smiles and says she gets that a lot. But she is that Sybil, the pop and R&B star Sybil, the Sybil recognized by a first name only.

During the late 1980s and through the 1990s, she charted top-20 hits in the United States and around the world. She had several top 10 songs in the United Kingdom and a number-one hit in New Zealand.

But early in the new millennium the grind of the music industry had begun to wear on her.

“I was tired. I didn’t like the way the music industry was going,” said Newman. “I wanted to maintain who I was in a business that was no longer a fit for who I am. I refused to compromise. When I saw it wasn’t about the music, but you had to be a perfect size five and look a certain way, I stepped back and took a lay of the land.

“I took a break and looked and decided it was time for something new.”

As one would expect of Newman, she was prepared for the future. Before signing her first music contract, she already had an undergraduate degree from North Carolina A&T, where she was Miss A&T in 1984 and 1985.

She is a native of Patterson, New Jersey, and when she came South to attend A&T, she had no desire to work in education. She remembers telling her grandmother becoming a teacher wasn’t in her future because they “didn’t make any money.”

“My plan was to leave North Carolina after graduation (from A&T), attend Columbia University and become a lawyer. I started studying the LSAT and realized I didn’t want to do that.”

So, she went to work for an editing and publishing company in New York, a job she kept even after she began performing professionally and making records.

“It wasn’t until 1986 when I got to do a three-month tour around Scotland, Wales and England, I said there’s something to this music. That’s when I left my job.”

In the end, it was her music career that helped her decide to move into education.

“Music set the tone for me. When you travel the world and see the level of poverty, it makes you step back and not complain,” she said.

Newman began working at GTCC in 2000 in the adult education program, and by 2009 was running the program now known as Titan Link.

“I realized I was really good at reaching these students. The thing about community college and everything it entails, is meeting them where they are and taking them further. That really resonated with me,” said Newman.

Newman is still involved in music, but on her own terms. She spent part of this summer performing in music festivals in England.

“I still work. I still travel. I’m creative and not letting any grass grow under me,” she said before embarking on that trip. “I acknowledge it if people ask about my music, but I don’t go around and tell folks about it. But I won’t deny I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

For more information on Titan Link, visit https://www.gtcc.edu/student-life/student-success-center/titan-link-center-for-academic-engagement/index.php.

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