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“I knew I had to reinvent myself to make a life for my family.” – Karen Etulle, TCC alumna

Karen Etulle is finally living the American dream.

She came to the United States in 2014 seeking a better life, but the dream was put on hold.

The mother of four faced domestic violence and went into hiding for three years, living in shelters and moving from house to house with friends.

“I had no money, no job and everything was falling apart. I knew I had to reinvent myself to make a life for my family. I found TCC with its nationally recognized cyber curriculum and got to work,” she said.

Karen Etulle on TCC’s Norfolk Campus.

Today, the TCC alumna is pursuing an Associate of Applied Science in Cyber Security and one of three TCC students to receive the National Science Foundation CyberCorps Scholarship for Service. The scholarship will cover tuition and fees for her last year at TCC and also pay for her bachelor’s degree.

The scholarship includes a generous stipend, book allowance and professional development funds. When she graduates, Etulle will work in a federal agency doing cyber work for at least three years.

“I’m so grateful for this scholarship and thank God for all of my opportunities,” she said.

Etulle recalls the time when she was living in a shelter and her children were asking for rice and chicken. “I went to Walmart to buy groceries and I didn’t have enough money. The man behind me paid the bill and I was so relieved. Now with everything in me, I want to pay it forward,” she said.

Etulle took some career tests online and enrolled in classes at the Virginia Beach Campus.

“I’ve learned so much. When I started, I didn’t have any money, but I found so many resources that paved the way for my success,” she said.

While at TCC, Etulle works with TCC’s Computers for Student Success and is a member of Women in Cyber Security.

“I have an apartment and my children are flourishing. I’ve found a home with cyber security and I enjoy the work,” she said.

One of her daughters is also a student at TCC. She is earning a degree with LEAP (Learn. Explore. Accelerate. Persevere), a full scholarship for first-time college students that includes a free laptop.

Etulle will complete her TCC degree in 2022 and has already been accepted at Old Dominion University to complete her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Paying it forward is important to Etulle. She’s at work organizing blood drives for American Red Cross, teaching at the Philippine Cultural Center and serving as a youth advisor at her church.

Etulle credits TCC’s faculty with giving her good insights into cyber careers. “All of my faculty come from industry and they share stories and talk passionately about their work. They inspire me every day to work hard so I can be part of that world, too.”