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Perseverance pays off for TCC scholarship recipient

Dakota Bernacki always knew he would be paying his own way through college.

So when the time came for him to consider his educational options, Tidewater Community College’s affordability made it the clear choice.

“I didn’t want to wing it and hope I got the financial aid I needed at a four-year school,” Bernacki said. “And I also wasn’t 100 percent sure what I was going to study. I wanted some flexibility in my first year of college to explore my options within the electrical and computer engineering fields before committing to a particular degree track.”

The engineering program’s reputation, hands-on skills training and guaranteed transfer agreements sealed the deal.

Bernacki knew the proceeds from his small business, an on-call tech company that specializes in home networking, tech setup and virus/malware removal, would cover the cost of his textbooks. But he wanted to explore all of his funding options.

In his research, he stumbled across TCC’s scholarship website. He applied for a variety of awards but the system was difficult to navigate. Last year’s upgrades made all the difference.

“The new system recommended a variety of scholarships for me, including quite a few that I would not have known about before,” Bernacki said. That includes the Chesapeake Campus General Scholarship, which he received this year.

The Chesapeake Campus General Scholarship was established through donations from a diverse group of donors. The funds are intended to help high-performing students pursue higher education at TCC. Recipients are selected based on financial need, academic standing and personal qualities.

David Kiracofe, professor of history on the Chesapeake Campus, is a faculty member who has contributed to the Chesapeake Campus General Scholarship fund.

“I donate to scholarships because from my experience at TCC, it’s the point at which students struggle the most. For some of them, one good semester can keep them going – without help, their momentum can just evaporate.”

Kiracofe was a scholarship recipient himself in college – “for mathematics, which is really unsuitable because I’m terrible at math” – and he understands how the rising cost of education can complicate a student’s dreams of a degree.

“Community college students often don’t have the luxury of a four-year student,” he said. “They have responsibilities weighing on them like jobs, family obligations and personal issues. My hope is that scholarships like this one can help them complete their educations.”

For Bernacki, the scholarship has helped relieve the financial pressure of student loan debt.

“Knowing I don’t have to repay my scholarship money means one less thing for me to worry about,” he said. “When less debt hangs over your head, it becomes quite a bit easier to focus on learning new things. Paying less out of pocket also gives me more flexibility to transfer immediately to a four-year school instead of taking a few years to work full time and save up.”

Bernacki will finish his Associate of Science in Engineering this fall and hopes to transfer to a four-year school after that to pursue a bachelor’s in computer engineering.

“My education is my responsibility,” he said. “This is my future and there are more resources here at TCC to help me succeed than I could’ve known existed.”

For more information about available scholarships at TCC, visit To learn more about establishing a scholarship at TCC, contact the TCC Educational Foundation at or 757-822-1080.