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TCC alum lands dream job at NASA

Kyle Epperly is a Tidewater Community College alum twice over. He earned his first associate degree in Automotive Technology in 2006. For the last 12 years, he worked at Hall Automotive as a master technician.

Kyle came to TCC once again looking for a new career. He wanted work that was less physically demanding, more challenging and on the cutting-edge of technology.

He found TCC’s Mechatronics degree online and started a new journey.

While at TCC, Kyle learned about an internship opportunity at NASA Langley. He applied and began working there in January of 2023. He is now an engineering technician apprentice and working on testing structures for spacecraft.

Mechatronics is suited for students like Kyle with a passion for technology who enjoy hands-on work. He said, “The transition from being an automotive technician to working in mechatronics has been easy. I’m still doing what I’ve always loved which is working with my hands and technology.”

Mechatronics students spend about half the time in classroom instruction and the rest in state-of-the-art laboratories. Kyle said, “What I liked most about TCC is that it gave me the skills that I actually use in my job now. Every class was hands-on which really helped me understand the material. You don’t just learn theory but get to see how the systems really work.”

The Associate of Applied Science in Mechatronics covers motor controls, hydraulics, computer programming, pneumatics, programmable logic controllers and more. The broad industry allows students to use the degree to specialize in something they love or do something different each day.

Kyle is part of the Materials and Structures Experiment branch where he performs tests to ensure that materials measure up to NASA’s durability expectations.

The mechatronics industry is constantly growing and expanding which provides people the opportunity to continually increase their knowledge in the field. There are plenty of advanced manufacturing firms in Hampton Roads that provide graduates with ample job prospects. According to the Department of Labor Job Outlook, mechatronics technicians earn a median salary of $60,360 per year or about $29 per hour.

Kyle is confident he made the right decision to return to school and pursue this career. He said, “I am grateful that my family was so supportive and pushed me to find the time to pursue this degree while still working a full-time job. It was worth all the hard work.”

For more information regarding Mechatronics at TCC, contact Thomas Stout at or call TCC’s Virtual Student Support Team at 757-822-1111.

Tidewater Community College Launches Rivian Technical Trades Program

Hampton Roads, VA (June 12, 2023) – Tidewater Community College has launched the Rivian Technical Trades program, a partnership program with electric vehicle maker Rivian designed to train the next generation of electric vehicle (EV) technicians. The program’s first cohort of students joined in March of this year and will complete their training as part of this program this summer.

The program involves five months of training with a focus on electric vehicle service and light repair. Upon completion of the program, students have the opportunity to become Rivian Service Technicians or enter the high-demand EV service job market in a similar capacity.

“We are thrilled to partner with Rivian to provide this quality training opportunity for future technicians,” said Tamara Williams, Vice President of TCC’s Center for Workforce Solutions. “With interest increasing for electric vehicles, this training is just what is needed to prepare the workforce of the future.”

This program is an earn-and-learn program, where students are paid $26 per hour as part of their internship at a local Rivian Service Center if they maintain at least a B average in their coursework.

Student technicians learn the latest electric vehicle technologies inside the classroom and put those theories into practice with hands-on training at the college’s Skilled Trades Academy, as well as at Rivian Service Centers during their paid internships. As part of this partnership, Rivian has provided two vehicle lifts, an alignment rack, and three Rivian vehicles – a Rivian R1T pickup, R1S SUV and one of the company’s custom electric delivery vans for Amazon – to the college for onsite training.

“The Rivian Technical Trades program provides training that will unleash students’ potential to become electric vehicle technicians,” says Nana Danso, Rivian’s Senior Manager of Workforce Development. “It’s specifically designed to spark careers in the burgeoning electric vehicle service sector by building on the skills needed to power the future through electric mobility with a flexible, bi-directional approach.”

The program caters to those who have already completed an automotive technology degree or transitioning military members with relevant experience. Participating students are also required to have a basic knowledge of electrical systems.

To learn more about the program, call TCC’s Center for Workforce Solutions at 757-822-1234 or email

Rivian exists to create products and services that help our planet transition to carbon-neutral energy and transportation. Rivian designs, develops, and manufactures category-defining electric vehicles and accessories and sells them directly to customers in the consumer and commercial markets. Rivian complements its vehicles with a full suite of proprietary, value-added services that address the entire lifecycle of the vehicle and deepen its customer relationships. Learn more about the company, products, and careers at

Founded in 1968, Tidewater Community College ( helps students of all ages and backgrounds achieve their educational and career goals. TCC is the largest provider of higher education and workforce solutions in southeastern Virginia, serving both students and local employers with in-demand academic and career programs. It is one of 23 schools that make up Virginia’s Community Colleges.

Nissan vehicle donation to enhance student training

Tidewater Community College’s Automotive Technology program got a boost this week thanks to Nissan North America.

Nissan donated 10 late-model vehicles to the college’s general automotive program to enhance student training. The donated vehicles include sedans, SUVs and even a 370Z sports car.

Nissan donated ten vehicles that will be used for students to train on.

“We’re thrilled by this donation that includes a hybrid Pathfinder, a diesel Titan XD and eight other well-kept vehicles,” said Beno Rubin, pathway dean for Manufacturing and Transportation at the college. “These vehicles will enhance student learning and ensure they are prepared to enter the automotive repair industry.”

The 10 Nissan vehicles are welcome additions to the Regional Automotive Center’s fleet of vehicles that includes Toyotas, Hondas, Subarus, Fords, Jeeps and Chryslers.

“Today’s technicians are highly trained on computers, mechanics and problem-solving skills,” said Harry Brown, fixed operations manager for Nissan North America. “And with the extreme shortage of trained techs, we are grateful for the opportunity to supply these vehicles and assist in training the next generation of technicians.”

Training vehicles includes SUVs, trucks and cars and even a diesel and a hybrid vehicle.

Stuart Mitcheison, TCC’s lead instructor for the general automotive program has been working as an automotive technician for three decades. He spent 23 years as a master technician for Nissan. In addition, for more than a decade he’s shared his knowledge with future technicians, first as a part-time instructor and now as a full-time faculty lead.

“This donation is a great boost for our general automotive program,” Mitcheison said. “With the variety of different vehicles and engines, these newer vehicles will greatly enhance the student’s experience at the college.”

Dan Bannister, owner of Bannister Nissan in Chesapeake and Norfolk said, “It’s awesome that Nissan is participating in this way. It’s phenomenal to be able to hire technicians trained on our vehicles by a master technician with decades of experience.”

TCC’s automotive technology program, accredited by the Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation, prepares students for work in the field and provides updated training for those already working. Students learn general automotive repair, servicing and diagnostics.

The Regional Automotive Center in Chesapeake has nine classrooms and 15 instructional bays.

“My favorite things about teaching are those aha moments when students put things together and just get it,” Mitcheison added.

TCC’s Regional Automotive Center is a 30,000-square-foot facility located at 600 Innovation Drive in Chesapeake. The center has nine classrooms and 15 instructional laboratories; a four-wheel chassis dynamometer, diagnostic scan tools, three alignment machines, and all of the necessary tools and equipment to deliver instruction. Students are trained on the latest equipment at the forefront of industry trends.

“We are thrilled to be able to continue to build a relationship with TCC to help our dealerships,” added Peter Rusin, district technical service manager with Nissan North America. “We see this as a win-win for all of us.”

To learn more about TCC’s Automotive Technology programs, email or call 757-822-5000.

Norfolk Truck Center donates equipment for TCC’s Diesel Technology Program

Tidewater Community College Diesel Technology students are learning on state-of-the-art equipment thanks to a donation from Norfolk Truck Center.

Through the Navistar International Corporation equipment donation program, Norfolk Truck Center donated an International A26 engine and an Eaton Fuller transmission to be used for training at the Regional Automotive Center.

To combat the trucking industry’s growing technician shortage, Navistar and its International dealer network collaborated to launch an integrated equipment donation program to supply accredited technical schools with training equipment and career opportunities.

“Having a relationship with Norfolk Truck Company elevates our training program,” said Beno Rubin, pathway dean for manufacturing and transportation at TCC. “Not only does their involvement enable our students to learn on relevant, late-model equipment, but also opens the doors to rewarding career opportunities.”

Norfolk Truck Company is also providing externship opportunities for students, enabling them to gain real-world experience at their locations.

For more information about TCC’s Automotive, Diesel and Marine Technology programs, contact Rubin at or contact the Virtual Student Support Team at or call 757-822-1111.

Apply now for TCC’s STEM Promise Program

High school seniors, adult learners and military-related students who want to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can apply to Tidewater Community College for a scholarship that pays four semesters of tuition and fees in full.

The TCC Women’s Center STEM Promise Program will award 20 scholarships for the 2021-22 academic year. Recipients will graduate ready to enter a career or to transfer to a four-year college to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

 “Demand for workers with skills in higher-paying STEM fields is expected to continue to outpace demand for non-STEM workers over the next decade,” said program coordinator Jaedda Hall. “This program is designed to create a larger and more diverse STEM workforce pipeline for our local area and beyond.”

STEM Promise Program scholars benefit from TCC’s smaller class sizes, specialized support from advisors and STEM career exploration and mentoring from the college’s Women’s Center.

You may qualify if you:

  • have a high school GPA of 3.5 or higher (or GED equivalent);
  • are eligible for in-state tuition;
  • place into College Composition (English 111) and PreCalculus (Math 161) or higher;
  • have earned no more than 24 TCC credits at the time of application submission.

Scholarship recipients must enroll as full-time students in one of the following TCC programs:

These associate degrees transfer to bachelor’s programs at four-year institutions. Graduates may be eligible for a Two-Year Transfer Grant from Virginia’s Community Colleges, which provides up to $3,000 annually for STEM students who complete their final two years at select universities in the Commonwealth.

Although the scholarship is aimed at women and minorities, anyone can apply. The deadline is April 1, 2021.

Interested students must first apply for admission to TCC. From there, they can apply for the scholarship by visiting

For more information, contact the Virtual Student Support Team at 757-822-1111 or email

Priority partnership with TCC offers nonviolent offenders a second chance

Two years ago, TJ Sexton and Ahmad Bilal lived in jail. Today, both are employed full time making more than $50,000 annually.

They are two of the inaugural graduates from the Priority Technical Training Center (PTTC), a program launched in 2018 by Tidewater Community College, Priority Automotive and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office to give nonviolent offenders a new lease on life.

“Teaching nonviolent offenders to make a good, honest living and put their past in the rearview mirror is good for our communities, good for our law enforcement agencies, and good for Priority,” said Dennis Ellmer, chief executive officer and president of Priority Automotive. “This may seem like an unlikely partnership, but it just makes perfect sense.”

Built and funded entirely by Priority, the state-of-the-art automotive training center opened with dealerships across the country scrambling to find highly skilled auto technicians to service vehicles that grow more technologically advanced by the day.

Program participants were incarcerated at the Norfolk jail and bused to the facility five days a week for classroom instruction and on-the-job training. The year-long program boasts 27 graduates from the first two cohorts. Twenty four of those graduates, after their release from jail, are employed full-time at Priority dealerships.

Ray Mattox, the fixed operations director at Priority Chevrolet in Chesapeake, recalls a time when the PTTC grads working there now couldn’t turn a wrench.

“When they started, I paired them with a mentor technician to be sure they were learning the skills correctly,” Mattox said. “Today, they are high performers in our service centers, and I absolutely don’t know what I would do without them.”

Program graduate Sexton notes that his living situation is 10 times better now, calling the program the biggest blessing of his life.

“This is my second chance,” he said. “I didn’t know how I was going to get to this place that I pretty much dreamed about. I live in a nice apartment. I’m building my credit and I have three cars. But the best part is that I have a job I enjoy and stability like never before.”

Troy Clifton, executive director of Priority Toyota Charity Bowl, is the program coordinator and unofficial cheerleader.

“Make no mistake, these are my guys. I may wear a suit, but they know they can trust me, and I’m going to go to bat for them,” Clifton said. “I’m gratified at how well the trainees bought into the program and how well the mentors and coworkers have supported them.”

“I didn’t think I’d have this life, and I have no idea where I’d be without the program,” added program grad Bilal. “Every day, I can take what I’ve learned and pay it forward. That means a lot to me.”

Upon completion of the program, PTTC graduates have the opportunity to continue their education, earn new certifications and an Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology from TCC.

A state Senate joint resolution recently commended Ellmer for initiation and execution of the PTTC. Ellmer and Priority Automotive invested more than $2 million to establish the inmate training program. The program is on hold due to COVID-19 but is expected to resume in the future.

Priority Automotive CEO Dennis Ellmer (center) was recognized with a Senate joint resolution for creating the Priority Technical Training Center.

Live! From inside the classroom – Automotive

In this series, we provide a closer look at hands-on learning during COVID-19.

While COVID-19 means online learning for most Tidewater Community College students, some are back in the classroom for hands-on training. In fact, more than 400 sections of classes in interior design, automotive, health professions, welding, veterinary technology, culinary arts, visual arts, electronics technology and other programs have on-campus components. 

A peek inside an Automotive Technology instructional bay

Walk into one of the 15 instructional bays at the Regional Automotive Center (RAC), and you’ll see students at work on real cars using state-of-the-art equipment and tools.

In the Toyota lab, students learn about advanced electrical repairs with instructor Darryl Parker. Vehicles in the bay have been set up to have “problems,” which include nonfunctioning power windows, fog lights and headlights.

All of the students in the lab are second-year students who are also completing externship hours at local repair facilities.

Tips for learning

They work as a team! Before COVID-19, teams were larger, but social distancing and safety guidelines resulted in two-person teams collaborating to solve each problem.

Student voices

“It’s good to be back! My favorite thing is the hands-on with all the right tools. I’m absolutely glad to be here,” said Cody Kaneiss, who works at Charles Barker Lexus and hopes to become a master technician with his own shop.

“It’s hard to learn a lot of things we need to online,” said Jaiden Jenkins, who works at Casey Toyota. “It’s much better to be in here with the cars. I’m a little nervous being back because we are learning advanced electrical work, but not because of COVID.”

“With this kind of program, you really need the hands-on,” said Aaron Johnson, who works at Checkered Flag Toyota. “It’s a little more difficult now with the safety precautions, but well worth it!”

About the professor

Parker is a master technician with more than 20 years in the field. During labs he shares his real-world experiences and expertise with students.

“We are in our ninth week of face-to-face labs because we started in thesummer,” he said. “Students are working safely and doing an excellent job on their assigned tasks. It’s great to see everyone sticking to the guidelines.”

About the program

Students in the college’s Automotive Technology program prepare to become technicians at dealerships and shops across the state. TCC’s technologically advanced curriculum is based on the Master Automotive Technology standards set forth by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Students learn in the RAC, the area’s only high-tech facility for automotive technicians.

For more information about the Regional Automotive Center and the college’s automotive, diesel and marine technology programs, call Bobby Rowe, Sr. at 757-822-5176 or email

New automotive certificates prepare you for a career in just two semesters

Are you looking to train for an automotive career in a hurry?

Then consider Tidewater Community College’s new Career Studies Certificate in Maintenance and Light Repair. This certificate can be completed in just two semesters and includes the technical and hands-on training necessary for entry-level work in repair facilities and dealerships.

This certificate prepares students for the ASE certification exams in Steering and Suspension; Brakes; and the Virginia Safety Inspection exam.

If you want to learn even more, consider the two-semester Career Studies Certificate in Automotive Technician and prepare for the ASE exams in Engine Repair; Automatic Transmission/Transaxle; Manual Drive Train and Axles; and Heating and Air Conditioning.

Both of these Career Studies Certificates stack into the Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology and are taught by master technicians with years of experience in the field.

By earning a degree or certificate, you give yourself an advantage in the job market over those without formal training. TCC’s technologically advanced automotive curriculum is based on the Master Automotive Service Technology standards set forth by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Education Foundation.

All classes are held in the Regional Automotive Center, a 30,000 square-foot facility in Chesapeake featuring classroom spaces and instructional bays that facilitate hands-on learning on real vehicles.

Inside the RAC: Toyota T-TEN

Walk into Tidewater Community College’s Regional Automotive Center and you’ll see highly polished floors and new vehicles on display.

But don’t let the quiet lobby fool you.

Step into one of the 15 instructional laboratory bays and you’ll hear a cacophony from impact guns, wrenches and other machinery mixed with the hum of student and instructor voices.

Inside this Toyota lab, students were servicing front disc brakes and using the on-car brake lathe to repair rotors.

Toyota T-TEN students earn an associate degrees in  automotive technology, along with certificates in chassis systems, engine performance, powertrains and electronics. As important as the academic degrees are to advancing, the ability to do the job from day one gives RAC students a real advantage.

Not surprisingly, after just one semester at the college, every student in class works a paid, entry-level position at a Toyota dealership.

Students get hands-on training in the Toyota program at TCC’s Regional Automotive Center.

“I got hired because of my time at TCC,” said Chris Rogue who works at Checked Flag Toyota. “Everything we’re learning can be immediately used in the field.”

Jaiden Jenkins, recently hired by Casey Toyota, enjoys using the vehicle computer systems to diagnose any problem agrees. “The benefits and pay are good, and the more you learn, and the more credentials you have, the more you earn,” he said.

Toyota students learn on newer Toyota vehicles and use tools and online repair guides provided by the manufacturer.

Instructor Darryl Parker works with a student in the Toyota program.

“I like that our instructor is involved in every step of the hands-on work. He makes sure we’re learning proper techniques and doing everything to industry standards,” said Zachary Clark, who works at Priority Toyota.

“My favorite thing has been taking apart an engine and then putting it back together,” said Sawyer Matthews who works at Charles Barker Toyota. “This program helps us learn the skills we need to become master technicians.”

TCC’s technologically advanced automotive curriculum is based on the Master Automotive Service Technology standards set forth by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Education Foundation.

TCC is one of 38 schools nationwide that provide Toyota-specific training. The RAC also offers manufacturer programs for Ford, Honda, Chrysler and Subaru.

Step inside and see for yourself. Interested in exploring the career options at the RAC? Call 757-822-5000 to schedule a tour and for more information.

TCC receives grant from TowneBank that will benefit visual, culinary, hospitality and automotive program expansion

The Tidewater Community College Educational Foundation is a recipient of a $500,000 grant from TowneBank. The funds will support the development of the TCC Perry Center for Visual & Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and the expansion of the Regional Automotive Center (RAC).

The 47,000-square-foot TCC Perry Center will be located in the NEON District at the former site of the Greyhound bus station at Brambleton and Monticello avenues. It will expand TCC’s visual arts education program and train the next generation of chefs by expanding the college’s culinary arts program, including housing a program in restaurant management in Norfolk.

“For 20 years TowneBank has been a gold standard for what a true community leader should strive to be, investing in a wide range of organizations that have helped grow our region’s economy and enhance cultural opportunities,” said TCC President Gregory DeCinque.  “We are honored by TowneBank’s incredibly generous gift to TCC and are humbled by their confidence as we work together to build the next generation in the workforce and educational training opportunities for our local community.”

TCC also recently received a grant of $500,000 over the next five years from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation in support of the new building slated to open in the fall of 2021.

The TowneBank grant will be used to provide challenge grant funds to encourage area automobile dealers to help build the expansion of the RAC, Hampton Roads’ lone high-tech education facility for the automotive, marine and diesel industries.

“Since 1968, Tidewater Community College has been a vital part of the Hampton Roads community. TowneBank is honored to support TCC in its ongoing efforts to provide quality education. We are excited to be a part of TCC’s bright future,” said Morgan Davis, TowneBank president and CEO.

The expansion of the TCC Perry Center and the RAC will largely be funded through private donations raised through Go Further! TCC’s Campaign for a Competitive Workforce. For information about donating, contact Steven Jones, executive director of the TCC Educational Foundation, at

From here, go to work as an automotive technician and business owner

Horace Linton used to tinker on cars. After graduating from Tidewater Community College, he turned the hobby into a career. “I was actually able to see what it means that education is key because it can help you secure your employment and earnings and then supply your dreams, whether it be the white picket fence or a cruise,” said the Virginia Beach resident, who earned an automotive degree.

Drive your future: In today’s busy world of work, family and leisure activities, reliable transportation is essential. With vehicles becoming more complex with advanced technology and dozens of computer systems in every car and truck, skilled technicians are in high demand by dealerships and local repair shops.

The degree: TCC prepares you to become a technician in the automotive industry or provides updated training if you’re already working in the field. Students can earn an Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology in the general program or specialize in a manufacturer-specific programs from Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Toyota and Subaru.

Every program enables you to become an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified technician in automotive chassis systems, automotive electronics, powertrains and engine performance.

Meet a TCC alum and automotive technology faculty member: Linton immigrated to the states from Jamaica in 1996. He came for the educational opportunities and a better future.

“At TCC you learn the science behind what you are doing and get a firm foundation for the future,” Linton said.

Linton graduated with his automotive associate degree and returned to TCC to earn his Associate of Science in Business Administration. He started his own automotive business after working as an ASE master technician in a variety of locations from Kramer Tire to Checkered Flag Audi and Porsche.

Linton owns a booming family business and works alongside his brother, mom and dad, while also employing other technicians. He specializes in wheel and rim repair, while also offering full-service automotive repair.

Students in the PTTC
Students in the Priority Technical Training Center came into the program with little knowledge, and will leave knowing how to diagnose problems and complete repairs.

Paying it forward: Linton is helping the next generation of technicians prepare for work in the field. He began teaching at TCC’s Regional Automotive Center in 2016 and now instructs students through the Priority Technical Training Center in Chesapeake, funded by Priority Automotive and designed to give nonviolent offenders from the Norfolk jail training for jobs as auto technicians.

Built and funded entirely by Priority, the state-of-the-art training center opens as dealerships across the country scramble to find highly skilled auto technicians to service vehicles that grow more technologically advanced by the day.

“When these students started they didn’t know anything about cars. Now I’m confident that they can do repairs properly,” Linton said. “I like the unique challenge of this program and enjoy mentoring my students and showing them another way of doing things. I feel like I’m making a real difference.”

Interested? For information about TCC’s Automotive Technology programs, contact Beno Rubin at or call 757-822-5000.

Priority Automotive sponsors the college’s first Jordan McNair Memorial scholars

Nate Parker and Omar Lezcano never met Jordan McNair, but they are grateful for his life and passion for Hondas.

They are the inaugural recipients of the Jordan McNair Memorial Honda PACT Scholarship, sponsored by Priority Automotive.

Priority established the scholarship following the death of McNair, a student in Honda’s Professional Automotive Career Training program at the Regional Automotive Center.

The McNair scholarship, which is for second-year TCC students enrolled in the Honda program, covers half the cost of tuition.

2018-19 McNair Memorial scholars

Nate Parker and Omar Lezcano at the Regional Automotive Center in Chesapeake.

Parker, 22, started off in information technology and realized it was not the field for him. He never considered automotive as a career until he learned about the programs offered at TCC.

“I’ve always enjoyed being able to look at something and figure out how it works,” Parker said. “My buddy went to another tech school, and that’s all I knew before coming here. At TCC you get hands-on training with master technicians on real vehicles.”

Parker currently works at Priority Honda and will graduate with his Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology in May. He plans to continue working at Priority but would like to travel to Europe to work on Hondas there.

Lezcano, 20, started working on cars with his cousin while in middle school. He decided to turn his hobby into a career once he visited the RAC.

“I never thought I’d go to school, but once I saw this facility with the instructional bays and vehicles, I knew I was supposed to be here,” Lezcano said. “The program has fast-tracked me at my work and been a great experience.”

Lezcano credits the Honda program with increasing his knowledge “through the roof” and providing opportunities even before graduation. He works at Priority Acura and will earn his associate degree in May.

Want to learn more?

For information on scholarships, visit

ADHD didn’t prevent this student from succeeding. Now she’s helping others overcome disabilities at TCC

Toni Anderson spent the better part of the last decade as a gas station attendant, scraping to get by.

Today at Tidewater Community College, she is on the path to becoming a cybersecurity professional with high earning potential and aspirations of working for the FBI.

“If not for TCC, I’d still be working at 7-Eleven,” Anderson said. “I’m just shocked that I’ve come this far. I never imagined that I’d be a college graduate, but now I’m almost there. It’s really a miracle.”

Anderson is working toward her Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology and Career Studies Certificate in Cyber Security. She plans to graduate this spring.

“I was bouncing around from job to job, living paycheck to paycheck,” Anderson said. “I really wanted a steady job with benefits, and I knew I had to go back to school.”

The 2009 Hickory High graduate applied for admission to TCC several times but never followed through, inhibited by her ADHD. In the summer of 2016, she applied again, determined to begin the journey.

She works closely with the college’s Office of Educational Accessibility and staffer Elisabeth Jakubowski to manage her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the classroom.

“Ms. Libby has been a huge help and my emotional support. She’s like family and has been there for me through some major life events,” Anderson said.

“For the first few semesters, I took face-to-face classes and found my professors to be helpful and personable. They never made me feel like a bother even if I asked a lot of questions,” she said.

Anderson credits faculty member Stacy Freeman with guiding her through developmental math, noting that, “She was like a math angel to me. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Anderson started on the IT path taking just one computer class. As her interest grew, she added more classes and decided to focus on transferring to Old Dominion University to study cybersecurity and cybercrime. She’s also looking into paid summer internships with the Workforce Recruitment Program and the FBI.

“It has been amazing to see the hands-on work pay off. I’m now using what I learned two semesters ago and connecting all of this knowledge together,” she added.

Anderson holds a 3.6 GPA and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools. This fall she was awarded the Kathy Camper Commonwealth Legacy Scholarship from the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education. The scholarship covers the bulk of her tuition costs during her last year at TCC.

At the TCC Women’s Center, she participated in Women Inspiring Self-Empowerment (W.I.S.E.) leadership development program, where she paired with mentor Jahnene Thomas, a business intelligence systems engineer for the City of Virginia Beach.

“W.I.S.E. was a definite highlight of my time at TCC,” she said. “Working with my mentor and networking with other professionals was a priceless opportunity and very inspiring.”

Today, Anderson is paying it forward, helping students with disabilities succeed in school. She is a note taker and a volunteer peer mentor who works with first-semester students on the autism spectrum.

A first-generation college student, Anderson said her mom came to TCC to study computers but didn’t graduate.

“My mom is really proud of me, and I’m proud too,” she said. “I never thought I’d be working in an office setting doing this kind of work. I’m living proof that anyone can do this.”

TCC provides training for new automotive center aimed at improving lives of nonviolent offenders

Priority Automotive is joining Tidewater Community College and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office to give repeat, nonviolent offenders a new lease on life.

Gov. Ralph Northam at the Priority Technical Training Center in Chesapeake.
Gov. Ralph Northam at the Priority Technical Training Center in Chesapeake.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam joined Priority Automotive, TCC and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 27 to unveil the automobile dealer’s new Priority Technical Training Center in Chesapeake, where 16 nonviolent offenders from the Norfolk Jail have already begun training for jobs as auto technicians.

“Teaching nonviolent offenders to make a good, honest living and put their past in the rearview mirror is good for our communities, good for our law enforcement agencies, and good for Priority,” said Dennis Ellmer, chief executive officer and president of Priority Automotive. “This may seem like an unlikely
partnership, but it just makes perfect sense.”

Built and funded entirely by Priority, the state-of-the-art automotive training center opens as dealerships across the country scramble to find highly skilled auto technicians to service vehicles that grow more technologically advanced by the day.

TCC President Gregory DeCinque sees the program as a valuable resource for Hampton Roads. “The Priority program is the latest example of TCC focusing on access to educational opportunities and responding to the needs of the automotive industry to train additional technicians,” he said. “Ultimately, this will not only improve people’s lives but also our regional economy.”

Located just behind the Priority Infiniti dealership in Chesapeake, the center has been two years in the making. The center includes 12 repair bays and will train 16 nonviolent offenders for careers in automotive repair through a two-year certified program offered by TCC.

Instructor Horace Linton with the first class of students at the Priority Technical Training Center.
Instructor Horace Linton with the first class of students at the training center.

Classes started in September and will end in May. Trainees will attend class full time two days a week and work at Priority dealerships three days a week. After successfully completing their second semester, trainees will be offered full-time jobs at one of 14 Priority dealerships across Hampton Roads.

They will also have the opportunity to continue their education, earn new certifications and earn an Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology from TCC.

Ellmer said he got the idea during a trip to Fiji, where he met a tour guide who earned a tourism degree while incarcerated in a local jail.

“I thought, ‘Wow, we have to do something like this back home,’” Ellmer said.

Not long after his return, Ellmer shared his idea with former TCC President Edna Baehre-Kolovani, who loved the idea. The pair approached the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office, where Lt. Col. Mike O’Toole helped bring the concept to life.

“We have people coming out of our jail with few opportunities for worthwhile employment because of their past,” O’Toole said. “And with no way to find a decent job and make an honest living, they sometimes resort to old habits and wind up right back here in jail. There’s both a
social and financial cost to that for taxpayers. It can be a revolving door that just keeps spinning. This program is designed to put an end to that.”

In fact, it costs Norfolk taxpayers an average of $26,000 to house a single offender for one year, said Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron.

“What we know is over 96 percent of our offenders are coming back to our community,” Baron said. “We also know former offenders are less likely to return to jail if they have gainful employment at the time of their release. By funding the cost to build the center and pay the trainees’ tuition, what Priority is doing here is nothing short of life changing for these inmates. And great for the community.”

Baron’s office has been instrumental in implementation of the program by evaluating and selecting participants, providing transportation to and from class and work, and providing tools and facilities for inmates to study and complete homework assignments. The Norfolk Sheriff’s Department has had a work-release program in place for more than 30 years, with inmates working at businesses in the community.

“This is a logical next step,” Baron said. “Combining our work-release program with an educational vocational program is a natural next step in promoting rehabilitation and saving tax dollars by reducing the number of people who return to jail.”

Ellmer noted this is not just about saving taxpayers money or filling jobs at his dealership. “This is about giving these people a sense of worth, a second chance and an opportunity to live the right way and do the right thing,” he said. “We think that’s good for everyone.”