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Degree made graduate’s dreams come true

Tawanda Cofield-Hill stared at a future mirroring her childhood – one that combined single parenthood with struggling to make a decent wage.

“I didn’t envy that time, so I didn’t want to make it a repeat,” she said.

Opportunities for promotion passed her by. The third time it happened she asked why and realized the answer was her lack of higher education.

Cofield-Hill had skills but no degree. Now she has both and a promotion, too – at the Holiday Inn Express in Norfolk. Cofield-Hill, 44, graduated from Tidewater Community College in May with her Associate of Applied Science in Hospitality Management with a specialization in Food Service Management.

“The degree has turned this life into a life the kind of person like me is only used to seeing on TV,” she said. “I never thought about a college education. Now I know what all the hype is about,” said Cofield-Hill

Like her own mother, Cofield-Hill became a single parent at age 17, initially working as a security guard. She envisioned her son experiencing the college life she never did, but lost him to a shooting during a robbery in 2005. Deshawn Cofield died in the back of an ambulance at 18 years of age.

“Losing a child is one of the most devastating experiences a parent could ever endure,” she said. “When the chance to send him off to school was taken away from me, I made a promise to him and to God that if I’m granted another day to see a new sunlight, then I would use that new day to do something better for myself.”

Cooking for others was a passion, and she moved from a restaurant position to cooking for the children at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. But she struggled to advance given her lack of a degree.

“That’s when TCC chose me,” she said.

A co-worker told her about the college’s culinary arts program, and the flexible schedule allowed her to begin classes while working. By her third semester at TCC, Cofield-Hill realized that she didn’t just want a career preparing food – she was better suited to be in a leadership position working with people, leading her to hospitality management at TCC. The 65-credit program allows students to specialize in either lodging or food service.

It was the perfect fit for Cofield-Hill, who also became immersed in other aspects of the college, including the Virginia Beach Campus’ legislative trip to Richmond in January 2014. The day included a sit-down visit at the General Assembly with Sen. Jeff McWaters.

“I never thought I would be sitting down talking to a senator about my community college experience,” she said. “I was able to sit in on a Senate meeting that day and hear and indulge in things that just don’t happen to people where I’m from. TCC not only educated me. It ultimately helped me find myself.

Her promotion to front desk supervisor at Holiday Inn Express came in June, and Cofield-Hill wants to continue to advance. She plans to work toward her bachelor’s in the field.

“I am so indebted to TCC,” she said. “You come to TCC, you can go anywhere from here. Those words are true. It opened up so many other doors to me that I would have never been presented with. Take that first step and walk through that door, a whole bunch of other doors will come open for you.”

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