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Boy Scout leader finds a home at TCC

Zach Grinvalsky just completed his first year at Tidewater Community College and is confident he made the right choice by attending community college. Zach chose TCC because of the flexibility it gave him to work and help support his family while receiving a college education. When starting college last year, he was unsure of what to expect but has since found a supportive community that is always there to help him achieve his dreams.

Zach is on track to earn an Associate of Science in Business Administration with the goal of pursuing a career as a corporate lawyer. He originally started at TCC undecided about what to study, but TCC’s Career Services Center helped him discover his passion for law. He says, they were very helpful in leading me on the right track and getting me connected.”

Outside of classes, Zach is the national chief of Boy Scouts of America’s Order of the Arrow, the scouts’ leadership and mentorship program. He credits TCC with preparing him for this role by teaching him effective time management and organizational skills.

He says “I took what I had learned about staying organized at school and pivoted that into my position at Order of the Arrow.” When he is not attending classes, working or fulfilling Order of the Arrow responsibilities, Zach loves to spend time outside. He and his friends go to the beach, go hiking and walk his dog, Kit.

Zach believes community college is an excellent choice for many students as it offers a lot of flexibility. He says, “TCC specifically has a lot of great programs if you want to pursue different career paths. It is something special that you should take advantage of.” He encourages students to utilize the beautiful campuses and many resources that TCC has to offer.

TCC alum expands successful business

For the past four years, TCC alumna Robin Simmons has been warmly greeting customers and neighbors at her business, 17 Hands Coffee.

The coffee spot is a favorite for residents and is located in the Virginia Beach Kempsville area. Robin and her staff create and serve sweet treats, specialty coffees and teas, quiches, scones and cinnamon rolls that sell out by 8:30 a.m. on the weekends!

This month, the community gathered as Robin opened Robin Simmons Bakery adjacent to 17 Hands Coffee, expanding the business with the bakery, more espresso machines and additional space for gathering.

“I want this to be a gathering place for all backgrounds, ages, and religions,” she said. “I want everyone to come here and get to know their neighbors.”

Robin got the idea to open the business while visiting a friend in Los Angeles, California. “We went to one of her favorite coffee shops and it was amazing. That’s when the seed was planted,” Robin said.

Mayor Bobby Dyer helped celebrated the expansion with a ribbon cutting and some encouraging words.

“We are excited to see businesses thrive and grow like this one. We are here to celebrate your success and continued success,” Dyer said.

Dyer encouraged attendees to try the chocolate cake, the best he’s ever had, just as Robin presented him with a cake to take home.

Robin also spoke to attendees and thanked her team and family for their support.

“When I left my job at Inside Business to do baking full time, I never imagined this. It’s my dream and more,” she said. “I’m so grateful for my neighborhood and our customers and friends.”

She also thanked her vendors and partners and the Virginia Beach Police Mounted Patrol for being there. “We are all about horses here!” she added with a laugh.

Robin Simmons with Virginia Beach Police Mounted Patrol.

Robin earned a business degree from TCC and is using those skills to run her own business now.

“It’s helpful on the job to be able to speak to people with some knowledge under my belt,” Robin said. “And specific classes like accounting, business law and public speaking have been important for the journey.”

Her shop is located in a plaza that she lovingly calls “birthday corner” as there is a local creamery, the Sundae Scoop and gift store, DIY Treasures and Gifts, and of course, Robin has cakes for every occasion.

Robin has a vision for expanding to a second location on a five-acre lot with open-air seating and a drive-through for those in-demand lattes and cold brews.

“This has been a long-time coming,” Robin added. “But you can’t leave the earth without doing what you love!”

A $10K gift that keeps giving

It seems a little quieter around Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk Campus now that Business Professor Peter Shaw has retired from teaching.

Shaw was often seen in front of a TV camera doing interviews with local TV reporters about business issues of the day. Interestingly, Shaw completed more than 100 interviews over the last decade.

Shaw got his start at TCC as a student in the 1970s. He was the first of three children in his family to earn a degree. “My mom was a single parent and resources were tight. I came to TCC because the price was right and it was also very accessible,” he said.

A proud TCC alumnus, Shaw earned his Associate of Science in Business Administration in 1976. He continued his studies earning a bachelor’s in business from Old Dominion University and a master’s in business from William & Mary.

Shaw established a scholarship for TCC students just before he retired in 2022. The Business Pathway Scholarship was launched in 2021 with a $10,000 gift and has already provided scholarships for five students.

“I remember working my way through TCC and later Old Dominion and William & Mary. I got help from a lot of people and this is my way of paying back the generosity I received,” Shaw said.

Professor Peter Shaw with President Marcia Conston (left) and Dean Nancy Prather-Johnson.

Shaw taught business administration and management for 25 years at TCC. He says his fondest memories are those aha moments. “When you look in a student’s eye and see that they get it. Those are the moments I’ll treasure above anything else,” he said.

Shaw was well-loved by his students and recognized for his real-world knowledge of the topics he taught. He often mentored students and connected them with opportunities. One of his students, Griffin Leach, landed a summer internship at Towne Bank, thanks to the connections made by Shaw. Leach went on to work as an investment analyst on Wall Street and today is working in Washington, D.C. with a private equity group.

TCC alumnus Griffin Leach.

Recognized for his teaching excellence numerous times during his career, Shaw was TCC’s Professor of the Year in 2010 and he received the John and Suanne Roueche National Teaching Excellence Award from The League of Innovation in the Community College in 2012.

Shaw continues to serve the community as vice chair of the board of Future Hampton Roads. You can also still see him on local TV stations talking about current business issues.

“TCC is where I began my college journey and my gift to TCC is my way of saying I have not forgotten that,” Shaw said. “I see my contribution as a way of paying ‘rent’ for living in our society.”

If you would like information about TCC scholarships or would like to help students in need, please reach out to TCC’s Educational Foundation by emailing

From TCC to Regent Law School

Tanya Mills remembers how her mom struggled when she emigrated to the United States from Cuba.

“The process was brutal and time-consuming,” Tanya said. “But we were committed to making a fresh start in America.”

Mills was 10 years old then. Now at 44, she is a Tidewater Community College alum who recently earned a master’s in law from Regent University School of Law.

Tanya Mills in the mock courtroom at Regent Univesity Law School.

Tanya hopes to work in immigration law, helping to pave the way for other families coming to America.

“I never thought I’d earn an associate degree. I didn’t think education was for me. But then I saw I needed higher education to do what I’m called to do,” she said.

A single mother of two sons, Tanya studied business administration at TCC and took all of her classes on campus. She says that her professors were knowledgeable and hands-on. And they instilled in her a passion for learning which she has passed on to her sons.

Now grown, they’ve both taken classes at TCC. Her oldest son, Paris Blount, 22, recently earned a cyber security degree from Old Dominion University. Her youngest, Cairon Sanders, 18, started at TCC this summer and is working toward an Associate of Science in General Studies.

“When my sons wanted to quit college, I reminded them that once you have your education, it can’t be taken from you,” Tanya said.

The first-generation college student is grateful for her start at TCC because she had the freedom to learn but was also held accountable for her studies by the faculty and academic advisors. “I didn’t do well in high school and found community college to be a buffer for university,” Tanya said. “TCC has courses that can help you figure out your future and the environment is super supportive.”

Tanya in front of a replica of the US Declaration of Independence in the lobby of Regent Law School.

Tanya continued and earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Regent University. In 2022, she added a master’s in law to her accomplishments. She plans to use her law degree to argue cases in the U.S. Immigration Court and offer mediation and provide legal advocacy for families and individuals battling the U.S. immigration system.

“I was once told I wouldn’t amount to anything. But I pushed through all of that and I’m really proud of where I am today.”

“College was hard sometimes, but I was fully supported as a student. What could be better?” — Katherine Guevara, TCC graduate

Katherine Louise Guevara has lived in the United States for just three years. In that time, she has adjusted to a new culture and earned a college degree.

“My goal is always to set a good example for my sisters and to take every opportunity and run with it,” she said.

Katherine is one of Tidewater Community College’s May graduates, earning an Associate of Science in Business Administration. She was also honored with TCC’s Community Engagement Award for community service and academic excellence.

Katherine grew up in the Philippines and emigrated to the United States with her mom and two sisters in June 2019.

She came to TCC at the urging of her family and found a place to thrive.

“We faced many challenges with the pandemic, but we made it. I hope my classmates remember that commencement is not the end. It’s the beginning of the next steps on our journey,” Katherine said.

Katherine got involved in college life as president of the Intercultural Club, a group that works to build a community among international students. “I made so many friends right away at TCC,” she said. “And learning about other cultures, and sharing our stories was one of my favorite things.”

Katherine was also a member of the Student Government Association and volunteered at TCC events and for campus service projects.

“I used my chance at TCC to build myself up, to join clubs and meet people,” Katherine said. “I feel like I’m a different person now as I’m more outgoing and interested in experiencing everything.”

Katherine holds a 3.8 GPA and is also a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

She credits her professors with creating a dynamic learning environment and investing in her success. She sends a shout-out to Leah Flax, Thomas Geary, Ferdinand Hallare, Angela Slaughter, Rebecca Summers and Nancy Whitfield. In addition, she recognizes staffers Alicia Peoples for helping with the Intercultural Club and Emily Hartman for nominating her for the Community Engagement Award and Student Speaker.

While at TCC, Katherine worked for the Sheraton hotel in Virginia Beach and solidified her plans to work in hospitality management. She is transferring to Old Dominion University where she will study Tourism Management.

Katherine is proud to say that TCC is a family thing now. Her sister, Roshan, 18, is a TCC STEM Promise Scholar. She will pay nothing for tuition and fees when she starts at TCC in the fall. And her youngest sister, Jasmine, 17, will be taking classes in the Advanced Technology Center while still in high school. Lastly, Katherine’s stepdad, Robert Bent, will be teaching Electrical Technology at the college’s Chesapeake Campus in the fall.

In her free time, Katherine enjoys making TikTok dance videos, listening to music and spending time with family.

“All of this is really unbelievable. I’m in a new country and making progress on so many goals,” Katherine said. “College was hard sometimes, but I was fully supported as a student. What could be better than that?”

From TCC to the Ellen Show to serving women and families

In the early days of the pandemic in 2020, TCC alumna Rickkita Riddick flew to Hollywood to appear on the Ellen Show.

Not only did she get to meet Ellen DeGeneres, the star of the show, but she also received $10,000 for her family and another $10,000 for the charity she founded and now leads, Sisters Healing Sisters.

Rickkita Riddick on the Ellen Show.
Do you remember TCC alumna Rickkita Taylor? Well, she’s married now and has a new name, Rickkita Riddick.

“Meeting Ellen and being in the room with all of that energy was an amazing experience,” said Rickkita, who graduated with an Associate of Science in Business Administration in 2013.

After the Ellen Show, Rickkita returned to Hampton Roads and purchased food and other items that she freely distributed to many low-income residents during the holidays. She launched emergency shelters. She also enrolled at Norfolk State University and is scheduled to receive a bachelor’s degree in social work in the spring of 2023.

 “I’m so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve received, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without my start at TCC,” Rickkita said.

Rickkita was recently named the Student of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers, Virginia chapter. “I was nominated by my dean and just so surprised. It motivates me to continue serving women, children and families in need,” she said.

Taylor credits then TCC academic advisor Donna Richardson with motivating her to stay the course. “I almost dropped out of school in 2013 and she encouraged me to finish what I started. She told me that I could do it even with the odds stacked against me,” she added. “She inspired me throughout my three years at TCC and beyond. It was because of her that I came back to college in 2020 to pursue my degree at Norfolk State. She continues to push me to be great.”

Rickkita continues to serve women and families. She started a non-profit coalition with six charities called, “Feed the City.” The group finds food deserts throughout Hampton Roads and has fed thousands in the area since it launched in December 2020.

The mom of two hopes to open transitional homes for women and families after graduating from NSU.

“We’re going to start with one home that can house four families facing homelessness, domestic violence or job loss. It’s our goal to partner with women so they can turn their lives around,” she said.

The idea to launch Sisters Healing Sisters happened when Rickkita was a work-study student at TCC.

“I never would have imagined back then that I’d be here today, but I know I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “My work is very satisfying and it never ends. There are always going to be people in need and we’re going to be here to help.”

TCC alumna baking up sweet dreams in Virginia Beach

Walk into 17 Hands Coffee and you will be delighted by the smells and sights around you, from the glass cases filled with delicious baked goods, to the array of aromatic coffees and teas, to the warm décor.

17 Hands Coffee opened in 2019, the dream and inspiration of Tidewater Community College alumna Robin Simmons.

Robin and her staff serve freshly made quiches, scones, cakes, pies and a very long list of coffee and tea drinks that are sure to please.

“I love putting together beautiful, rustic, classic desserts. Our blueberry lemon scones are the most popular thing we bake. They sell out daily. Our shortbread coffee dipper is also a favorite,” she said.

It all began when Robin came to TCC to earn a business degree after graduating from Great Bridge High. “I had to take some pre-college classes and that was possible at TCC. I really applied myself because I had a goal and was able to graduate with honors which really helped my self-esteem,” she said.

With her degree in hand, Robin went to work for Inside Business and later, a local commercial printer.

“I had an associate degree in my pocket and many businesses required a degree and some experience,” she added. “What I know now is that If I hadn’t gone to school, I would not have been able to work where I worked and made the money I made to open my shop. It also gave me the confidence I needed.”

Robin says she still uses what she learned at TCC to run 17 Hands Coffee. “It’s helpful on the job to be able to speak to people with some knowledge under my belt,” Robin said. “And specific classes like accounting, business law and public speaking have been important for the journey.”

Robin partners with other local businesses including Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting Company for her coffee beans and Kewi Inspired Teas in Virginia Beach for tea latte concentrates. She also prints 17 Hands merchandise from a local printer and features local artists on greeting cards featured in the shop.

“One of our top priorities is to be a strong part of our community,” Robin said. “We also strive to set the bar high for everything we make and bake, as well as the service we provide.”

Robin takes care of her staff of bakers and servers. “I want this to be the best place to work, so we offer benefits, paid-time-off and profit-sharing,” she said.

Robin and the bakers at 17 Hands Coffee are gearing up for Valentine’s Day. If you are looking for a sweet treat for your sweetheart, you can find gift baskets, cakes and other desserts by visiting the store or ordering online.

Marking her success are 12 awards for her baked goods from the Virginia State Fair and an expansion next month into the commercial space adjacent to her location at 1830 Kempsville Road in Virginia Beach. Her place will soon boast another espresso bar and expanded seating.

“Success came for me after taking those first steps at TCC,” Robin said. “What I’ve learned is that when it gets hard, you have to love what you’re doing. It’s not about the money.”

TCC alumna earns summer internship at the National Institutes of Health

Tidewater Community College alumna Shannon O’Hara Wiora is getting an insider’s look at working for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

As a summer intern, O’Hara was selected for the 2021 Health Disparities in Tribal Communities summer internship program through the NIH branch that deals with neurological disorders and strokes.

“I’ll be learning about the nervous system, neurological processes, neurodegenerative diseases, movement disorders, brain cancer and stroke,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara is most excited about the research opportunities that will focus on computational methods for cell membranes.

“I love science and my TCC degree has definitely prepared me for the work ahead,” she said.

O’Hara has Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication.

Yet she started taking classes at TCC at 16. Today, the 20-year-old is set to graduate in December 2021 with a computer science associate degree to go with a business degree.

O’Hara is engaging and forthcoming about how she learned to overcome both a disability and difficult circumstances that might have defeated others. 

“Autistic people know how to get through challenges more than most people because we face them every day,” she said.

O’Hara’s world opened on the Virginia Beach Campus. The word she uses again and again to describe TCC is “opportunity.”

Accepted into the STEM Promise Scholarship Program in 2018, she was part of a cohort that receives paid tuition and fees for two years while completing a degree in a STEM field.

O’Hara would like to use her computer science background in an innovative way. “You can build your own creation in computer science,” she said. “I’d like to see what I can do to help people like me succeed.”

She recently became a board advisor for the nonprofit Family Voices. That allows her to promote acceptance of young adults and children with disabilities and weigh in on decisions with policymakers. She hopes to enhance acceptance of people with disabilities while encouraging others to succeed and accomplish their goals.    

O’Hara uses words including strong, stubborn and willful when talking about herself. Her TCC experiences allow her to offer one more – “confident.”

There’s still time to apply for the TCC’s Accelerated Degree Program

While most of us think it takes at least two years to complete an associate degree, Tidewater Community College offers an accelerated option that allows you to complete all of your credits in just one year.

TCC is accepting applications for students interested in earning an Associate of Science in General Studies, an Associate of Science in Business Administration or the General Education Certificate through its Accelerated Degree Program (ADP) .

The Spring Semester cohort begins Feb. 1.

TCC’s Accelerated Degree may be your fast track to a bachelor’s degree

The ADP satisfies freshman and sophomore general education requirements at most Virginia public colleges and universities. Students who complete the degree and meet the GPA required for admission at their transfer institution will likely be admitted as juniors.

The application deadline is Jan. 25. Learn about all the documents necessary to apply here.

The accelerated degree is offered 100% online. Participating students also receive personalized attention and dedicated advising, including monthly check-ins.

The program is open to new high school graduates as well as adult learners, including military-related students, both active duty and dependents.

In her own voice

TCC graduate Lauren Harrell earned her associate degree in one year and transferred to Cornell University in fall 2020. “When I saw the congratulations notice on my admissions portal, I was shocked!” Harrell said. “I ran downstairs to tell my dad, who was working from home because of COVID. We both ran to get my mom, who was on a call. Together we jumped around the kitchen for a long time.”

Completing the Accelerated Degree made Harrell an attractive candidate to some of the nation’s top colleges. Cornell ranks 17th nationally in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent rankings of nearly 1,400 schools. Harrell also earned acceptances from University of Virginia, Vanderbilt and William and Mary.

 “The ADP gave me a sense of what it takes to get college done,” Harrell said. “You don’t have anyone holding your hand, and you have to stay on top of your work and be accountable for what you are doing.”

Learn more about the Accelerated Degree Program here. Email to connect with an advisor and get started.  If you still have questions, email TCC’s Virtual Student Support Team at or call 757-822-1111.

From high school student to college grad in one year

Caroline Mahoney skipped a grade in high school. Now she’s about to skip a year of college, too.

The Virginia Beach native is a 2020 graduate of Kellam High. By spring of 2021, Mahoney will earn her Associate of Science in Business Administration from Tidewater Community College.

Mahoney, 18, is one of 34 students currently enrolled in the college’s Accelerated Degree Program (ADP), offered on the Norfolk and Portsmouth Campuses.

“I saw this as a way to get into the workforce faster. I’m a fast-paced person and enjoy classes that move quickly so I don’t lose interest in the subjects I’m learning.” — Caroline Mahoney

Mahoney heard about the program when a TCC career coach visited her high school during her junior year.

“I saw this as a way to get into the workforce faster,” she said. “I’m a fast-paced person and enjoy classes that move quickly so I don’t lose interest in the subjects I’m learning.”

The college’s ADP program gives students a way to accelerate their education, enabling them to earn an associate degree in three semesters. Degrees are offered in business administration and general studies. Students who complete the ADP can transfer to a four-year university as a junior.

The program usually begins in August and includes classes in 8-week sessions for a full-year.

For the first time this spring, a second cohort of students can enroll and start classes in February. The degrees offered are:

With the COVID-19 pandemic, all ADP courses are offered online.

One of the best aspects of the program for Mahoney is that she can complete the program at home.

“In high school, the bell rings and you have to go here or there,” she said. “Now I make my own schedule and I’m responsible for the work.”

Mahoney says she appreciates the personalized attention from her advisor Meredith Pollard, the lead counselor on the Norfolk Campus. She also credits her professors with holding engaging classes and being accessible during online learning.

“My classes have been super interesting, and I enjoy the diversity of the people,” she said.

“Also, having a woman of color as president, well that gives me a sense of hope and that’s no small thing right now.”

Mahoney is excited about applying for her first job soon. She is seeking a position in accounting and said the accounting courses in her degree have given her an excellent foundation.

“College is so much better than high school because you have a hand in your future,” she said.

“TCC is a great place – it’s like when you’re practicing driving. You are behind the wheel, but in a safe place to start.”

For information about the Accelerated Degree Program, visit here. Or email or call 757-822-1111.

Ellen surprises TCC alumna dedicated to serving others

Tidewater Community College alumna Rickkita Taylor says the three minutes she spent on “Ellen” were life changing.

Not only did she get to meet DeGeneres, the star of the show, she received $10,000 for her family and another $10,000 the charity she runs.

“Meeting Ellen and being in the room with all of that energy was an amazing experience,” said Taylor, who graduated with an Associate of Science in Business Administration in 2013. “She’s very sweet and has an amazing heart.”

Taylor was surprised to learn that Ellen was pretty normal.

“She was genuine and very smiley and upbeat,” Taylor said. “We talked during commercial breaks, and she was interested in what we are doing to serve the community.”

Taylor sent several letters to Ellen beginning in April as the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up. She wrote about the nonprofit she started, Sisters Healing Sisters.

“I started the charity in 2018 because just a few years ago I was that sister in need,” she said. The single mom of two was without a job or home.

Sisters Healing Sisters, run entirely by volunteers, provides meals and outreach programs for women in need. The goal is to educate, empower and elevate women.

Taylor used her savings and scraped by on last year’s grants and donations for most of 2020. The donation from DeGeneres helps the group serve even more people.

Throughout the pandemic, Sisters Healing Sisters has regularly delivered meals and hygiene items to a local women’s shelter. They also provide groceries and hotel vouchers for homeless families.

While Taylor ended up losing her job due to the pandemic, she never stopped serving. “I had a lot of bills piling up, but my faith in God kept me grounded and kept me going,” she said.

“I understand that it’s not about me. It’s about my purpose, which is to help other people,” she added. “Even though it’s been tough, if I can help someone else, that helps me.”

Taylor is now a real estate agent and back in school for her bachelor’s in social work at Norfolk State University. She hopes to open a transitional home for those in need.

Taylor is thankful to all of the organizations and people who support Sisters Healing Sisters.

“It’s been two years, and we are going strong,” she said. “We are all absolutely committed to the mission and not letting anything slow us down.”

Dual enrollment students who took care of business at TCC now thriving at James Madison University

Leora Friedman and Landon Elforsi didn’t want to waste time or money in college given the daunting load both anticipated as undergraduates in James Madison University’s College of Business this fall.

Both are among the inaugural class of graduates from the Entrepreneurship and Business Academy, a partnership between Tidewater Community College and Kempsville High School.

The academy offers three strands of study: entrepreneurship/innovation; business information; and the area that best suited Elforsi and Friedman, corporate finance. Students accepted into the academy are exposed to multiple dual enrollment credit opportunities, which allow them to earn an associate degree while in high school.

Last May, Friedman and Elforsi, along with a dozen of their peers, earned TCC’s Associate of Science in Business Administration. A month later, they completed their high school diplomas.

All of their general education requirements and six of the nine courses required for admission to JMU’s College of Business — ranked in the top 20 among public institutions nationwide — transferred seamlessly. Five of the 14 graduates of the academy attend JMU.

“The opportunity at TCC was very good,” said Elforsi, a finance major who was also accepted into the University of Virginia. “To be offered to complete two years of college before you graduate high school — especially when you’re completing the college part that nobody wants to do — I think it’s great!”

Essentially, the dual enrollment program added up to the future financial advisor, who did not want to pay four-year tuition rates for biology, communication and the other courses that typically fill a college freshman’s schedule.

Friedman’s mouthful of a double major — quantitative finance and math— is arguably the most rigorous at JMU’s College of Business. Fewer than 20 graduate from it every semester. A high level of difficulty appeals to Friedman, who is appreciative that she can commit so much time this semester to her business classes as dual enrollment through TCC satisfied all of her gen-ed requirements.

“It’s definitely one of the harder majors here,” said Friedman, who added an economics minor. “Now that I don’t have to take those gen-ed classes, I can really focus on my harder classes and take less credits each semester. I don’t have to worry about writing a paper on something that doesn’t really interest me.”

Both embrace numbers and mathematics and have for as long as they can remember. Elforsi, 18 and already talking about opening a Roth IRA, jokes he would return from vacation with more money than he left with. Friedman enjoyed math even in elementary school and embraces calculus with a passion.

“When I did the AP Calculus exam I did really well,” she said. “That’s how I knew I should major in it in college.”

In addition to the credits and accounting firm internships completed by each, Elforsi and Friedman felt prepared for the demands of the college classroom. They credit their TCC foundation for that.

“In college, the work is put on you rather than the teacher telling you what to do,” Friedman said. “You have to study. It totally helped me now that I’m at a university. I’m more used to it than my peers.”

Elforsi recommends the academy for those driven to succeed.

“Take dual enrollment over AP classes,” Elforsi said. “Because if you do well in a dual enrollment class, that’s guaranteed college credit.”

For more information, contact Meghan Timlin, academy coordinator at .

Don’t let COVID-19 sidetrack your college plans

“Don’t put your education on hold! Consider community college.”

That’s the message from Tidewater Community College alumnus Matt Zimmerman, a rising senior at George Mason University.  “With universities going to online learning because of COVID, it’s a good idea to do the math and see that community college makes sense,” Zimmerman said. “I got a great education at TCC and didn’t rack up any debt.”

Zimmerman received TCC’s Outstanding High School Scholarship, which includes free tuition and fees for four semesters of full-time study.

The recent Hickory High graduate earned an Associate of Science in Business Administration after achieving a 4.0 GPA.

Matt Zimmerman on Chesapeake Campus.

“I can’t say enough about my experience at TCC,” he added. “My professors were passionate about their subjects and took the time to provide an individual approach to learning.”

Zimmerman credits advisor Holly Desteli with helping him learn to balance college and life and keeping him on track with his degree plan.

“My absolute favorite thing about TCC was the open culture and the student center, a place made for connecting with peers,” he added.

The Chesapeake Student Center includes plenty of space for studying and relaxing and even includes a piano.

Zimmerman was a leader for Student Government Association and officer for TCC CARES, a community service club. He founded the Philosophy Club and was treasurer of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative youth organization.

He also volunteered for the Up to Us Challenge, which brings awareness about the national debt to campus. Through that involvement, he was offered a summer internship with the federal Department of Transportation, where he worked on comparative statistical analysis related to the global shipping industry.

“I got a good look into the professional world in D.C., which was massively different than anything I’d seen before,” he said. “I learned how to work on large projects with real deadlines. More importantly, I learned a set of social skills that you can only gain through experience.”

A high achieving student with low SAT scores, Zimmerman had few options for higher education after high school. But with his TCC degree, Zimmerman was accepted by University of Virginia, William & Mary in addition to George Mason.

Zimmerman is working toward a bachelor’s in philosophy. He is interested in pursuing a law career.

“It was a smooth transition to the four-year school, even though I’ve changed my major three times,” he said.

Zimmerman urges students to use the resources at TCC, including the tutoring and writing centers. 

“Reach out for help if you need it,” he said. “Don’t wait to get involved, and don’t waste money on a university when you can start local at one of the best community colleges out there.”

TCC’s fall classes begin Aug. 24. For information on how you can get started at TCC, email or call 757-822-1111. Visit here for information on scholarships.

From the mission field in Lebanon to college grad

Chris Rugh spent his early 20s working with a Christian missionary group in Lebanon, helping Syrian refugees with their basic needs.

“That was a very introspective time for me, and I learned that I could do more than I ever thought possible,” Rugh said. “I found my passion for serving others and learned I’m a skilled administrator and good with numbers.”

Rugh returned to this country in 2018 to pursue his degree, hoping to use his math skills for good.

He graduates from Tidewater Community College on May 11 with an Associate of Science in Business Administration and plans to continue at William & Mary for his bachelor’s in finance.

“I’ve been plowing through my degree ever since, learning from some great professors on several of TCC’s campuses,” he said. His favorite: Dale Horten who teaches physics on Chesapeake Campus.

While living in a tiny village overseas, Rugh decided to pursue finance so he could be even more effective. “When you see people struggle, you learn to be at peace with things and become very grateful for what you do have.”

Rugh credits Dean Nancy Prather-Johnson with helping to pave the way. “My dean was super helpful and made the journey so smooth,” he said.

While at TCC, Rugh worked full time for an HVAC company. He also joined Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools. In his free time, he connected with other business students in the Investment Club on Chesapeake Campus.

After college, Rugh hopes to return to mission work, using his business degree with a large nonprofit such as World Vision. He’s most interested in helping families break out of the cycle of poverty.

“My passion is serving and helping families overseas have a better quality of life. After that first mission trip I was hooked on serving in this way,” Rugh said.

“I have friends who came to TCC and loved it, and now I know why. It’s been affordable and close to home and overall a great choice for me.”

Navy vet amasses multiple degrees at TCC

You might say Michael Humphrey-Sewell can’t get enough of Tidewater Community College.

The Navy veteran already holds his Associate of Science in Social Sciences and his Associate of Applied Science in Business Administration.

It’s a year later and he’s amassed two more associate degrees. He will graduate on Dec. 16 with associates in engineering and computer science. He’s also earned certifications in CompTIA A+ and Network +.

Humphrey-Sewell, 31, is already at work on his bachelor’s in computer engineering from Old Dominion University, but he’s not done with TCC just yet.  A cybersecurity certificate is also on his TCC bucket list.

“There are just so many useful classes you can take at TCC, and I really like that they’re so hands-on,” he said. “It’s a small environment where you can get to know your professors and they know you. They actually talk to you.”

Working with TCC’s Center for Military and Veterans Education, he has been able to use his GI Bill benefits to pay for his education. “It’s a good deal to come here for free and take classes I like,” he said.

Enjoying the Maker Space inside the Advanced Technology Center on the Virginia Beach Campus

Part of his transition after a nine-year career in the Navy involved developing new skills. He taught acoustic intelligence during his service and liked to tinker with computers. But it wasn’t until he came to TCC that he discovered how well three fields that he enjoys – engineering, business and computer programming – complement each other.

“I really needed to modernize my technology base,” he said. “Modernizing it makes me more marketable. This was a good transition for that. I’m looking to leverage all my old experience with my new.”

Humphrey-Sewell also serves as vice president of TCC’s coding club and secretary of Computers for Student Success. His team finished second at the recent Dominion Hackathon. He’s a regular in the Maker Space inside the Advanced Technology Center, where he’s built websites and his own password manager.

“There’s stuff for every experience level in here,” he said. “There’s 3D printing, circuit design penetration design, testing for robotics.”

In addition to his academics, Humphrey-Sewell is webmaster of the personalized tutoring and testing center Gruzone Education, where teaches computer fundamentals and math.

Eventually, the single dad plans to make a career as a software developer or security analyst.

The New Hampshire native, who landed at the college after shore duty stationed him in Virginia Beach, is grateful for the foundation he found at TCC.

Three years ago when he left the Navy, “I didn’t know what was out there,” he said. “I wouldn’t know about all the opportunities there are if I hadn’t come here.”

TCC alumna brings hope and help to homeless, others in Hampton Roads

When Rickkita Taylor was at Tidewater Community College, she earned more than an associate degree. She learned how to support people in need through her work as a peer counselor with the college’s Women’s Center.

That’s where she came up with an idea for what’s now her own nonprofit. Sisters Healing Sisters aspires to provide help and hope for single moms, homeless families and others in need. Its mission is “empower, educate and elevate women from all walks of life.”  

Taylor served as the in-house marketing supervisor for Diamond Resorts International for three years. She now works as a leasing consultant for an apartment complex.

Now that I have a better paying job because of my TCC degree, I can afford to give more, help more,” she said.

A single mom of two boys, Taylor understands what it’s like to struggle. Losing her retail job led her to TCC to forge a new beginning. She graduated in 2016 with her Associate of Science in Business Administration.

She launched Sisters Healing Sisters nearly a year ago to become part of the solution. Working with a team of volunteers, Taylor organized a “Homeless but not Hopeless” community feeding event that provided meals and toiletries to more than 50 people at the Oceanfront.  The group seeks out others to help, often in unexpected locations.

“Our goal is to reach those with the greatest need. If we have to venture into the woods to find them, that’s what we do,” Taylor said. “We not only give out meals, but we also give out hugs, we talk, we motivate them, and let them know that they are not alone and we are here to help.”

The group also hosted a free workshop on securing credit and career readiness. More than  25 people participated and at the end of the sessions, they received interview outfits and shoes.

Sisters Healing Sisters is currently sponsoring a family for back-to-school, providing clothing, shoes and school supplies. Community partners have joined the effort, offering everything from haircuts to tutoring.

Taylor invests her own money to keep the charity afloat. She juggles that with her work at the apartment complex and will soon sit for her real estate license.

“We definitely want to expand on what we are doing,” she said. “This is not a one-and-done thing for us.”

There’s still time to apply to TCC Accelerated Degree Program

While most of us think of it taking at least two years to receive an associate degree, Tidewater Community College offers an accelerated option that allows you to complete all of your credits in just one year.

TCC is accepting applications for students interested in earning an Associate of Science in General Studies or an Associate of Science in Business Administration through its Accelerated Degree Program (ADP).

Accelerated Degree may be your fast track to a bachelor’s

The ADP satisfies freshman and sophomore general education requirements at most Virginia public colleges and universities. Students who complete the degree and meet the GPA required for admission at their transfer institution will likely be admitted as juniors.

The application deadline is July 26; learn about all the documents necessary to apply here.

The business degree is offered both on campus and 100% online. On campus students must attend classes on either the Norfolk or Portsmouth campuses. They received dedicated advising, including monthly check-ins.

Meredith Pollard, lead counselor and ADP advisor, recommends the program for:

*High achieving students with a clear career path

*Students who already have college credits

*Active duty military and dependents who are stationed in Hampton Roads

Nargis Martin graduated with her accelerated degree in May. “I learn a lot better when it’s going faster, and I’ve appreciated the extra help provided by my ADP teachers and advisor,” she said. Even the monthly check-ins are great because I could express concerns and keep on top of everything.”

Meredith Pollard in the advising area on Norfolk Campus.

Pollard is happy to help. She got her start as an earth science teacher at Booker T Washington High, and while there, found her passion helping students find their career paths. She returned to school for her master’s in high education administration and joined TCC’s advising staff in 2012.

“My greatest joy is to see students graduate after they’ve been told that they can’t do it,” she said. “I see so many small successes day by day, and that’s what excites me about my work. Every day there are new challenges and a chance to change someone’s future.”

For more information, email

Pollard’s top tips for all students:

*Come to campus well before the semester starts. Giving yourself two or three weeks of lead time will help when applying for financial aid and ordering books and supplies.

*Meet with an academic advisor from the start so you don’t waste time taking classes outside of your degree track.

*Review class offerings and understand the difference between taking classes on campus and online.

*Know how you are going to pay for college. TCC is one of the most affordable options.

*Do a little bit of research on possible fields of study and think about where you may like to transfer.

*Don’t worry if your path is unclear. Community college is an ideal place to find your path.

*Know that TCC offers different class offering with 16-, 12- and eight-week classes.

From Cavalier Manor to TCC to leader with human trafficking task force

Growing up in Portsmouth’s Cavalier Manor, Courtney Pierce dreamed of working for a Fortune 500 company.

Instead, after earning an Associate of Science in Business Administration from Tidewater Community College, she found a career closer to her heart.

Every day she uses what she learned at TCC at Samaritan House, where she oversees grant funds from the Department of Justice to help a social service program better respond to victims of human trafficking in Hampton Roads.

Courtney Pierce is a member of the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force.
Courtney Pierce is a member of the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force.

“I manage a federal budget and have to be concerned about the sustainability of the grant,” said Pierce, who also holds a bachelor’s in Leadership and Management from Regent University. “I also engage with community groups and use my public speaking skills learned from my time at TCC.”

Pierce initially worked at Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority and as a victim advocate at Samaritan House, where she helped clients file for protective orders and accompanied them to court.

“It’s a privilege and honor to do this work,” Pierce said. “My role is to ensure we’re compliant with all of the requirements for the grant. I also shape the services we offer to include the best and promising practices to help clients heal.”

Pierce says working for Samaritan House is a continuation of her family motto, “Love God – serve others,” noting, “My family was always helping people, whether they needed a place to stay or a job.”

She refers to her clients as the real heroes. “They’re the ones doing the work; we provide the support they need to make lasting changes,” she said. “For me, I lend an ear and get to be a container for their sacred stories. That’s something that I’ll never take lightly.”

TCC’s hosted a human trafficking panel with Adriana Mirarchi, Homeland Security Investigations; Courtney Pierce, Samaritan House; Ebony Velazquez, Attorney General’s office of human trafficking; Shorntail Goodrich, TCC alumna; Krista Fulton, Norfolk Commonwealth Attorney’s office; and Rebecca Stone, Norfolk Police Department.
TCC hosted a human trafficking panel with Adriana Mirarchi, Homeland Security; Courtney Pierce, Samaritan House; Ebony Velazquez, Attorney General’s office; Shorntail Goodrich, TCC alumna; Krista Fulton, Norfolk Commonwealth Attorney’s office; and Rebecca Stone, Norfolk Police.

Ultimately, Pierce would like to work in restorative justice, which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.

One of the highlights from her time at the college was the 2008 commencement when she was proud to be among the hundreds of students receiving certificates and degrees. “My parents encouraged me to attend graduation, and it was there that I really saw the impact TCC has on so many lives and the community,” Pierce said.

She is happy to share about her success at TCC and encourages those coming after her, saying, “Take advantage of everything TCC offers from the small classes to the tutoring centers. It took me three years to earn my degree, and I know you can do it, too!”

Bookworm evolved into leader with a creative flair thanks to TCC

Tori Grissom spent her first semester at Tidewater Community College with her nose in a book. When she wasn’t in class, the home-schooled Chesapeake native read for pleasure.

It wasn’t until her second semester, spring 2017, that she stepped out of her comfort zone by participating in the Student Government Association Health and Wellness Initiative, a resource fair, on Chesapeake Campus.

Doing so launched her in a new direction. Grissom soon took on the roles of SGA social media coordinator and president. Victoria Grissom

“I definitely feel like a different person,” she said. “They say people don’t change, but I disagree. I came in as an introverted homeschooler, and I’m leaving with new confidence in myself.”

Grissom will walk across the stage at the Ted Constant Convocation Center on May 13, earning her Associate of Science in Business Administration. She will transfer to Christopher Newport University to work toward her bachelor’s in marketing in the fall.

Grissom never planned to attend college, but her mother insisted she consider TCC. Her sisters, both TCC alums, found the college to be an affordable option.

Grissom found a career path at the college – she wants to work in marketing – and leaves with a list of what she enjoyed most.

“The highlight of my time at TCC has been the people; I’m so thankful for my teachers,” she said. “They are invested in our success and even attend student-led events just to lend support.”

Grissom credits her extracurricular activities with building both her leadership and social skills.

During her time as social media coordinator for SGA, Grissom transformed their profiles and was a passionate advocate of students and their needs. Later as president of SGA, Grissom addressed commuter safety by advocating for speed bumps. She also helped address food insecurities on campus, working with staff to establish a food pantry for students in need.

Grissom’s other TCC activities included Breakaway Bible Club; Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year college students; and TCC C.A.R.E.S., a community engagement group.

She credits administrator Sara Hair for being her biggest cheerleader on campus. “Sara was my SGA advisor, and she’s been there every step of the way,” Grissom said. “She checks on me often, and not just about student government, but about my life, too.”

As she prepares to graduate from TCC, Grissom offers this message for students. “Get involved as soon as possible. The people I met at TCC became my friend group and basically my family. Also, find out what you love to do and make that your career.

“I know my future work will involve creativity, and the world is my oyster.”

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.