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Navy veteran finds new direction, NASA internship through TCC

Arthur WhiteArthur White thought he was set for life as an E-6 in the Navy. He had bought a home and enjoyed military life, not even minding the four deployments, as he had no wife or children waiting for his return.

But in an effort to trim the ranks, the Navy sent the 11-year veteran and 3,000 other sailors packing in 2011. It’s called an “involuntary separation.”

“Initially I was scared to death,” he said. “I was in culture shock.”

White, 35, had no direction until he considered Tidewater Community College. Using his GI Bill benefits, he will graduate with an Associate of Applied Science in Electrical Technology in May 2015.

White has spent his final semester working as an engineering technician intern at NASA, a position he hopes will turn into a job. Either way, he enjoys the college so much, he plans to continue classes in American Sign Language to work toward becoming an interpreter.

“I knew I needed a certification to do more with my life, but going back to school wasn’t easy,” he said.

Arthur White in his own words

White sought help and found it, citing professors, veterans advisors and tutoring services as helping him navigate a new way of life.

“You will only fail at TCC if you want to fail,” he said. “I had one instructor come in on Sunday, one who came in on Saturday. I worked with aides who came in on Saturdays for labs. And then there’s Al Koon. That guy is awesome.”

When White needed a class that wasn’t offered, Koon set up an independent study to keep him on track. “Arthur was a good student,” Koon said. “He worked hard, studied and was very serious about his classes. He was the kind of student teachers appreciate.” 

It was Koon who sent White the information about the NASA Pathways Internship Employment Program, which provides students the opportunity to work in agencies and employ federal careers while still in school.

“I’ve loved meeting the people there; they’re highly intelligent,” he said

White enjoys the electrical technology program at TCC, given its versatility. “You can do programming, you can be an actual technician, you can go into calibrating. Just the basic degree gives you an understanding of electronics.”

Whereas White formerly worked on switchboards and generators in the Navy, he now troubleshoots smaller equipment. In addition to NASA, White sees potential in employment with the local shipyards or Virginia Dominion Power.

He is excited about walking in TCC’s commencement.

“At first I wasn’t going to, but I earned this, even though it’s late,” he said. “I did what I was supposed to do every day, and here I am.”

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