Justin Cleney is the 2023 Oegeechee Tech GOAL winner

Justin Cleney, who earned his bachelor’s degree in information technology from Ogeche Technical College last spring and is currently completing his master’s degree — this time in cybersecurity, working full-time in that field — is the college’s 2023 honoree.

The college, the OTC Foundation and the OTC Student Leadership Council recognized sophomore Christine Goddard and two other Area Goal finalists and their nominated teachers at a reception Thursday evening, Jan. 26, in the Oak Room of the Jack Hill Building. Now in its 51st year, the Georgia Career Awards Leadership Program, or GOAL, has students compete to represent their colleges in speeches and interviews, followed by state and regional rounds that select a statewide GOAL winner who receives a new car. He will serve as the Education Spokesperson at Georgia Tech College for the year.

A 2020 Claxton High School honor graduate, Cleney attended Ogeechee Tech in 2017 as a 15-year-old dual-enrollment 10th grader. 18 years old nursing program.

“But after I graduated high school, the onset of COVID changed everything,” Cleney said. “So I decided I enjoyed computers and wanted to go get an IT degree, and the new cybersecurity program offered here at OTC piqued my interest.”

On the first day, instructor Terry Hand sat in the classroom, he said, “It was amazing” and he was “engaged” in the subject.

“His passion for education, his passion for cybersecurity, was contagious,” she said emotionally. “I looked forward to class every day, often arriving at least an hour early. It made learning fun and challenging.

In fact, Cleney was among the 2023 Ogeechee Tech GOAL finalists selected by Hand, an information technology teacher at the college for nearly 20 years and instructor of the growing cybersecurity program.

Hand’s other nominee, Dalton Flanders, a cybersecurity student, also received one of the final awards. All four finalists spoke before the runner-up and winner were announced by OTC President Lori Durden.


Ogeechee Technical College President Lori Durden congratulates teacher Terry Hand, left, and cyber security student Justin Cleney, who were named 2023 Georgia Career Awards (GOAL) winners during a ceremony Thursday, Jan. 26.
– Photo by SCOTT BRYANT/Staff

“I’m proud of them. Cybersecurity is a new, popular and exciting program,” Hand said after the award was announced. “But it’s not me. Look at them. They are excited and energetic and they go in and study hard and are prepared.

“It’s a real honor to be a part of this and see these kids achieve their dreams. …,” he said. “I watch them find that passion and grow, and find work and move on with their lives.”

In three years, the cybersecurity program has grown from four students to 55.

The Sack Company, a Statesboro-based building services contractor, hired Kleinin, now 21, to do cybersecurity work six months ago. He works full-time and attends classes at night, and is grateful that the organization is supporting him in his work to complete this year with an associate’s degree in cyber security so that he can continue his education.

The GOAL winner’s parents, David and Andrea Clenny of Claxton, attended the award ceremony together. So did his supervisor and co-worker at Sack.

In prize money sponsored by the OTC Foundation, Clenny received $250, Christine Goddard took home $100, and the two finalists received $50 each.

Goddard, a student in the dental assistant program who commutes from Hazlehurst to attend Ogeechee Tech, was nominated by teacher Yvonne Jenkins.

Finalist Annabel Sydnor, a student in the Fish and Wildlife Management program, was selected by instructor Casey Corbett.

The fifth 2023 GOAL participant was business administration student Gil Shepherd, nominated by teacher Alex Harris.

Hand received a nominee teacher award, including a cash award.

Ann Hester, the 2022 Ogeechee Tech GOAL winner, returned to offer words of encouragement to the 2023 participants, and Cindy Phillips, the college’s GOAL coordinator, explained the process.

Clenny is expected to represent OTC at the regional tournament, Feb. 21 in Tifton. A total of nine semifinalists, three each from each of the region’s three regions, will compete for the statewide goalie title at the April 24-26 tournament.

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