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From the high seas to an engineering degree

From the outside it looked as if Lionel Brookins was set on his career path.

He was earning $70,000 a year with Navy Sealift Command, which operates more than 100 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships and conduct specialized missions.

“The job was very repetitious,” he said. “It really boxed me in and knew I had more to give. “Besides, I really didn’t like being at sea 10 months of the year.”

Brookins will graduate from Tidewater Community College on Dec. 19 with an Associate of Science in Engineering.

A 2002 graduate of Indian River High, he says his grades were low, and he didn’t like to study.

That began to change as he neared 30 and spent even more time at sea.

“All of a sudden I had this burning desire to learn,” he said. “I think it was a God thing. I knew without a doubt that I had to do something more with my life and get to college.

Professor Bill Simmons working with engineering student Lionel Brookins on the Chesapeake Campus
Professor Bill Simmons working with engineering
student Lionel Brookins on the Chesapeake Campus

“It was weird, but I began doing math practice workbooks in my free time. And it was easy. I just seemed wired for it,” he said.

Saving every penny, Brookins left Navy Sealift Command and enrolled at TCC’s Chesapeake Campus in 2013. At first he was unsure of a major, but after his first engineering class, he was hooked.

“Studying engineering has been everything I thought it would be,” he said. “I love wrapping my head around a problem and finding a solution.”

Brookins has found TCC’s curriculum challenging and the faculty supportive.

“I like that they are not going to give you a free pass,” he said. “They want to make sure you are learning what they are teaching.”

He singles out engineering Professors Bill Simmons, Steve Ezzell and Shao-Hui Chuang.

“I simply can’t say enough about them,” he said. “They were always there, patiently answering a lot of questions and helping me grasp some really difficult concepts.”

While at TCC, Brookins was treasurer and secretary of the newly established Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Club and a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year colleges. He holds a 3.9 grade point average and plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University.

After an anticipated master’s degree in power distribution, he’d like to own his own consulting business, working with local power companies.

“I’ve built such a strong foundation here, and I believe I’ll excel wherever I go,” he said. “TCC is a great launching pad, and now the sky is the limit.”

Lionel Brookins in his own words

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