Skip navigation

TCC grad finds meaningful work in area shipyard

Tidewater Community College alum Phillip Le’s morning commute to Newport News Shipbuilding includes stunning sunrises over the HRBT.

“Seeing the sun come up over the water never fails to make me shed a tear of happiness,” he said. “I wake up every day knowing I worked hard to be doing something greater than I ever imagined.”

Phillip earned an Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology in December 2022 and is now completing a paid cooperative education program at the shipyard. He is also working on a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering technology at Old Dominion University.

Phillip learned about the shipbuilder’s cooperative education program from TCC Professor Kenny Grimes.

“Because TCC has small classes, you get to know your professors and they get to know you,” he added. “They know your strengths and weaknesses and can recommend positions suited for you.”

At just 21, Phillip is working as a nuclear engineer servicing America’s nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. “This is bigger than any job I thought I’d be doing. I’m honored to contribute to keeping our nation secure,” he said. “It’s also really enjoyable seeing what I learned at TCC getting applied to real projects,  in this case America’s finest vessels.”

Phillip started at TCC just before the pandemic and he notes that virtual learning took a toll on his mental health. “I really missed the interactions with classmates and working in the labs,” he said. “But I’m so glad I stuck it out.”

Phillip Le (top right) with the Rock On team.

While at TCC, Phillip was involved with the Engineering Club and the STEM Club. He also volunteered for two engineering projects, one for NASA called “Rock On” and the other for an American Society for Engineering Education Model Design Competition

“I’m prepared for my higher-level classes at ODU and that’s because of the extra hands-on projects and fully supplied labs available at TCC,” he said.

Phillip also learned about trial and error at the college. “Engineering is all about trying and trying again,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to fail, just get up and start again.”

Phillip wants to thank all his engineering and math professors who helped guide the way. “I want to thank all of my teachers and especially Mr. Grimes who taught me how to think and communicate like an engineer and connected me with my first job,” Phillip said.

“Working and going to school is tough some days,” Phillip added. “But I’m humbled and grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.”

Computer savvy grad turns hobby into career path

Jared Cochran has always been interested in science and technology. In fact, in his free time growing up he built computers with his dad.

He got his start at Tidewater Community College as a dual-enrollment student taking general education courses in English and pre-calculus.

“As a homeschool student, I had a lot of freedom to explore different areas and satisfy my curiosity,” Jared said. “I took college courses early, as well as watched science and math educators in my spare time.”

When Jared, 21, started full-time at TCC after high school, he found the move to college to be seamless.

“It was a smooth transition and I’ve gotten a lot of help from faculty who’ve acted as advisors and kept me on track,” he said.

Jaren Cochran at work in the Joint-Use Library.

He also realized he could use his computer experience to build a career. “It was eye-opening when I realized I could take that hobby and find valuable work in a field I really enjoy,” he said.

This December, Jared is earning an Associate of Science in Engineering with a 3.8 GPA. He is one of more than 1,350 graduates earning degrees or certificates next week.

“You come in with these expectations that engineering is going to be really difficult, and it is,” he added. “But it is also manageable with the support of faculty.”

Jared says Professors Paul Gordy and Kenneth Grimes have been a big part of his journey. “They recommended me for internships and were always there to help. They also shared their knowledge and real-world experiences in our classes,” he said.

The Portsmouth resident also found the college’s engineering resources to be state-of-the-art.

“Everything in the program really comes together and makes so much sense,” Jared said “And the tools in the labs are very high quality. We have a giant cabinet full of circuits, capacitors, inductors and so many other tools to complete our lab work.”

While at TCC Jared completed two highly competitive internships. The first was with Old Dominion University Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center. The second was with ODU in a research program for undergraduates.

Jared plans to continue at ODU for a bachelor’s in computer engineering. He would one day like to work as a hardware engineer and has his eye on larger companies like Intel Corp.

“Anyone can do this with work with persistence and a little stubborn streak,” he said.

“Engineering is all about trial and error and getting up to do it again.”

TCC team takes third place in national robotic competition

Engineering students at Tidewater Community College took third place in the 2022 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Model Design Competition.

Teams from across the nation competed by building their robots and also developing a presentation about the design and build experience.

“I’m very proud of this team,” said William Simmons, Engineering professor and faculty advisor. “They did a tremendous job on their presentation and while the robot had a few hiccups, it was a great showing for the college.”

TCC team members are Delaney Theilman, Phillip Le, Danny Benson, Josh Hayes, Jacob Hayes, Jacob Ramirez and Will Dawson.

The TCC robot named “Merciless Tillie” is the fourth robot built by TCC students specifically for the competition.

“Practice makes perfect, and we did plenty of that preparing for this competition,” said Delaney Theilman, TCC engineering student and the team leader. “We had to come up with our own ideas and not use any kits.”

This ASEE competition is open to students at both 2-year and 4-year colleges. All of the TCC’s participants are members of the Engineering Club and the STEM Club.

The competition is held each year as part of the ASEE annual conference. The goal of the competition is to give student teams an opportunity to use the engineering design process to build an autonomous vehicle to complete a specified task and on a specified track.

“Competitions like this one build on what we are learning in the classroom,” Theilman added. “We became sort of jack of all trades in getting the project completed.”

Student teams faced many realistic challenges in this competition, such as constraints on cost, size, batteries, and, of course, time.

“It was a really great experience to build and troubleshoot the robot. We learned a lot by figuring out what was working and what wasn’t,” said Jacob Ramirez, TCC engineering student.

Student Josh Hayes added, “We gained skills in using the Inventor software and coding. We also made all of the complex parts using 3-D printers, laser cutters and other tools in the lab.”

Building success! The robot takes off on the right track.

Student teams not only have to build a vehicle to navigate the course and complete a specific task, but also have to give presentations before a panel of judges and provide written reports that include a summary of the team’s design efforts, CAD drawings, parts list and a cost analysis.

Engineering student Jacob Hayes added, “We learned those soft skills, too, like how to convey information and work as a team. The best part was making new friends.”

To learn more about TCC’s STEM programs, contact the Virtual Student Support Team at 757-822-1111.

STEM Promise Scholar sets her sights on NASA career

Mya Day loves science and has always wanted to work at NASA.

As a Tidewater Community College STEM Promise Scholar, she is on her way to making this dream come true.

“I feel so fortunate to be part of STEM Promise. It’s pretty great having tuition covered, but it doesn’t end there,” Mya said. “The connections, internships and volunteer opportunities are also a big plus.”

Mya, 18, chose TCC because the Virginia Beach Campus is close to home, allowing her to ease into the college experience. “It’s been the perfect challenge and I’m getting a good education,” she said.

Mya is working toward an Associate of Science in Engineering and enjoying a full slate of science and math classes. She especially enjoys chemistry class with her now favorite instructor, Casey Clements. “She’s this high-energy teacher who doesn’t make you feel stupid for asking a question. I really appreciate that.”

Taking classes both in-person and online, Mya says it’s the best of both worlds. “I really enjoy being on campus for labs and making connections with classmates,” she added.

Mya was also selected to be part of the CIVIC Scholars Program, a collaborative initiative between the CIVIC Leadership Institute, Old Dominion University and TCC that fosters a spirit of civic engagement, professionalism and leadership in college students in Hampton Roads.

Mya plans to transfer to Old Dominion University for her bachelor’s in engineering.

“College is not easy,” Mya added. “But with persistence and work, I know it’s going to be so worth it in the end.”

TCC’s STEM Promise Scholarship program is accepting applications now through April 1. STEM Promise covers all tuition and fees for four semesters at TCC. Students who complete their degrees transfer to their selected universities as juniors. To learn more about the program visit here.

TCC grad hopes to one day explore space

Emmanuel Abuah emigrated from Nigeria to the United States to join his parents about a year before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He set his sights on studying engineering at Virginia Tech, but quickly realized that he needed to stay closer to home and start at a more affordable school.

He applied and was accepted into Tidewater Community College’s STEM Promise program, which covers the full cost of tuition for up to four semesters.

This May, he is one of the student speakers during the virtual commencement and will talk about his journey to earning an Associate of Science in Engineering.

Emmanuel Abuah at Virginia Beach Campus.

“My growth at TCC has not just been educational. Being from a different culture, I struggled with my accent and my lack of social integration,” Abuah said. “TCC provided the cushion I needed to help me settle in and keep me on the path to my degree.”

Abuah was recently named one of 18 honorees of the inaugural Academic Excellence and Service Award, a new recognition for exemplary TCC students.

“As one of our top performing scholars, I’m impressed with Emmanuel’s drive and work ethic. Having maintained a perfect GPA every semester, he takes his course work very seriously and has a plan to tackle his academic goals,” said Jaedda Hall, the STEM Promise program advisor.

While at TCC, Abuah worked in the Engineering lab on the Virginia Beach Campus, a job that opened doors for other work in the area. He also obtained a Virginia driver’s license, an accomplishment that gave him even more options for jobs.

He made lifelong friends through the Virginia Beach Campus Engineering Club and the STEM Promise program.

“The community of TCC has been so beneficial for me. From the friends I’ve made for keeps, to the instructors and advisors who supported, encouraged and challenged me,” he said.

For other students his message is simple. “Have a plan and seek advice. Make friends and get connected,” Abuah said. “Do more than just attend class. Get involved in all TCC has to offer.”

Abuah now plans a career in aeronautics/astronautics. He would like to be an astronaut and one day explore space.

He intends to attend Virginia Tech or Stanford University to pursue a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering.

“TCC has laid the perfect runway for my ascent to the stars,” Abuah said. “As we leave TCC with our goals in view, we are proving that it’s true – from here you really can go anywhere.”

From TCC to working around the world

A day at the office is never the same for Austin Burrow. He travels around the world working for the State Department.

The Navy veteran is an electrical project coordinator for State’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations.

He maintains the electrical systems in U.S. Embassies and keeps the staff and diplomats safe.

 “This is really a dream job,” Burrow said. “I never thought I’d be doing this work and sometimes I still can’t believe it.”

Burrow started on this journey after earning his engineering degree at Tidewater Community College.

A former nuclear electrician’s mate for the Navy, Burrow, 30, was stationed in Hampton Roads when he began his studies at TCC in 2017.

Newly married at the time, Burrow’s wife Kristen also began retraining for a new career at TCC.

“I knew I was going to transition out of the military and TCC was a cost-effective way to explore career options,” he said. “I took a variety of classes before settling on engineering.”

Burrow says the college’s small classes enabled him to ask questions and get to know the faculty.

“I’m very grateful to have started at TCC and found it to be the best college experience,” Burrow said. “I’m definitely a fan of community college because I got to know my professors and they knew me.”

He also credits his engineering faculty with preparing him for the work because of their own on-the-job experiences. “All of my TCC professors were working in the field and that really added another dimension to the learning,” he said.

Another highlight for Burrow was the STEM Club on Chesapeake Campus. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the club represented TCC at the air show at Naval Air Station Oceana.

“It was amazing sharing my love of science and technology with kids and demonstrating everything from a 3-D printer to an electric bike,” Burrow said.

Burrow began his career as a field engineer for InPwr, Inc. He worked at Norfolk Naval Station preparing engineering drawings and doing electrical engineering.

“It was long hours and hard work, but my TCC degree prepared me, especially the AutoCAD and engineering classes,” he said. “I still remember the lessons from my favorite teachers, Edward Morris (engineering) and Kenneth Jones (calculus).”

Newly located to Northern Virginia, Burrow is working on his bachelor’s in electrical engineering online through Arizona State University. When he is not globe-trotting, he works at the State Annex in Arlington.

Ongoing learning is important to Burrow, a master electrician, who also holds industry certifications in Certified Construction Manager and Certified Associate in Project Management.

Recognition for his work came quickly for Burrow who was named an Independent Electrical Contractors Emerging Leader in 2020. He was also one of the Electrical Construction & Maintenance magazine’s “30 under 30” for 2020.

As for Kristen, she now has a job she loves. A TCC nursing graduate, she found her calling as a frontline health care worker. She works in the neurological step-down unit at a Washington D.C. hospital. Kristen also holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from University of Tennessee.

Burrow used his GI Bill benefits to pay for college and says his time in the Navy and at TCC launched him into a rewarding career. “I enjoy going to work every day and encourage others to find work that fits them well,” he said.

TCC’s Virtual Student Support Team can help you get started at TCC. Email or call 757-822-1111. Military-related students receive specialized support through the college’s Center for Military and Veterans Education.

TCC alums become friends and valentines

It took more than two years for Cupid’s arrow to hit Deven Singleton and Jena Essary.

But this year the two Tidewater Community College alums are finally celebrating their first Valentine’s Day together.

The pair met in 2019 when they were STEM Promise scholars. Singleton was studying engineering and Essary computer science.

Caroline Jacobs, Kiana Brown, Seth Grieling, Jena Essary, Valerie Randall and Deven Singleton are all part of the TCC six pack.

To keep up with their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) studies they formed a study group with four other students including Caroline Jacobs, Valerie Randall, Kiana Brown and Seth Grieling.

“The program brought together a lot of like-minded students, so it was easy to connect and lean on each other when the going got tough,” Essary said.  

The group met weekly in the Chesapeake Campus Student Center.

“Being in a cohort, and doing our TCC degrees together, that was the best part,” Singleton said.

“The faculty support and small classes were also a plus. We were known to our teachers and each other, and that accountability kept me on track,” Essary added.

The group became the TCC six pack, doing life together, even after graduation.

“The connections we made at TCC have carried over to university and we see each other and text often,” Singleton said.

As for Singleton and Essary, friendship blossomed into a relationship in December 2020 and the pair is looking to the future together.

Both are completing their degrees at Old Dominion University and working in their fields as paid interns.

Singleton is an electrical engineer, in a salaried position with Naval Surface Warfare Center at Naval Air Station Oceana.

“It wasn’t easy to find an internship during the pandemic, so I’m super grateful for this opportunity,” Singleton said. “The exposure I’m getting doing research and development is a great way to enter the workforce.”

Essary is working in the office of public engagement at NASA Langley Research Center. She is the information technology technician for the office and working on mobile and web-based applications.

 The couple hopes to work in Hampton Roads for the next five years and then possibly move to Huntsville, Alabama, a growing area for the STEM fields.

In their free time, the couple enjoys working out and, of course, spending time with the six pack. Essary also started a side business, Jena’s Jewelry, to keep busy during the pandemic.

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

Live! From inside a Machine Technology lab

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 the Precision Machining Lab

Lathes. Computer numerical control mills. Measurement tools.

Students in Rick Dyer’s machining classes are hands-on with state-of-the art equipment at the Precision Machining Lab on the Chesapeake Campus. It’s the same stuff they’ll encounter in the real world.

Students complete the lab work at their own pace for several classes, including Machine Shop Practices (Machining 161) and Cooperative Education in Machine Technology (Machining 297).

In the basic course, they learn safety procedures and master hand tools, precision measuring instruments, drill presses, cut-off saws, engine lathes, manual surface grinders, and milling machines.

Steve Toi doing precision work.

“Tonight, we’re making a motor shaft, gauge blocks and drill gauges used for sharpening drill bits,” Dyer said. “We’re thrilled to be back in the space because trying to learn online is tough. You have to see it and feel it to really do this work.”

Safety remains a priority in light of COVID-19.

 “We have plenty of room to work and we are being diligent about cleaning the machines and tools between users,” Dyer said. “We’re using a plant-based disinfectant that kills germs but also protects the equipment from corrosion.”

 Student voices

Andrew Crowe

“This is an excellent program. With my full schedule it’s very helpful to have these labs in the evenings,” said Andrew Crowe, an IT tech in the Navy, retraining for a career as a metal worker. “I’m enjoying the interactions with classmates. It gets lonely teleworking at home, so this is a great distraction, and it’s preparing me for what comes after the military.”

“In here, you’re not working on a computer screen, and what you make you have in your hand. It either works or it doesn’t,” said Chris Smith. “We’re getting excellent instruction from Mr. Dyer, who is an expert in the field.” Smith is making a motor shaft and expanding his skills so he can get into fabrication. He currently works as an electrical engineering tech for the Coast Guard.

“I love working with machinery and making things,” said J.D. Evett. “I got away from this work 20 years ago, and I’m so glad to be back into it.” Evett is working on a surface grinder making a set of gauge blocks. He transferred to TCC after his program shut down at another college due to COVID-19. He said he is grateful to continue learning to get closer to his goal.

“It’s still surprising to see the tool come to life when we cut it,” said Carter Casady, a dual-enrolled high school sophomore from Kellam High. “I’m enjoying the machining as well as actually being in a lab and talking to other people.”

Good to know

The Precision Machining Lab prepares students for work in advanced manufacturing on the seven basic machine tools: turning machines, shapers, and planers, drilling machines, milling machines, grinding machines, power saws, and presses.

The lab includes computer numerical controlled mills, lathes, and surface grinders, along with numerous manual machine tools.
The lab is used by TCC students studying Machine Technology, Mechatronics, Maritime Technologies and Engineering.

About the instructor

Program lead Rick Dyer with JD Evett.

Rick Dyer studied machining at Southeastern Regional Technical High School and completed his journeyman certification in 1981.  He served 22 years in the Navy as a machinery repairman.  After retiring, he worked for Newport News Ship Building as a planning engineer until accepting a teaching position with Norfolk Public Schools.

He studied career and technical education at Old Dominion University and holds a master’s in community college education.  He has been at TCC since 2007, teaching engineering graphics, manufacturing and mechatronics at the Chesapeake and Virginia Beach campuses. In 2019, Dyer became the program lead for the Machining Technology Program.

 Sign up

To learn more about TCC’s hands-on career and technical programs, including Machine Technology, email Dyer at or email or call 757-822-1111.

“I hope I can encourage more women to enter the STEM fields.”

“Why pay so much more for your general education when TCC is right in your own backyard?”

That was the question high achiever Brooke Marcia asked herself.

That led her to choose Tidewater Community College.

A 2020 graduate from the international baccalaureate program at Princess Anne High, Marcia was accepted into the engineering program at Old Dominion University. Instead, she will begin her journey at TCC.

 “One of my goals in going to college is to graduate debt free, and TCC seemed like a cost-effective option,” Marcia said. “It was also close to home, and I could still see my family and friends and go to church.”

Marcia received a scholarship from TCC and will serve as a student ambassador on the Virginia Beach Campus. She is hoping the experience will help polish her public speaking and leadership skills.

“I’m excited to promote community college, especially during COVID-19, and to those who don’t see themselves going to college at all,” she said.

 “Some of my friends have joked me about starting at community college, but I think it’s time to break that stigma.”

 Marcia will transfer to Old Dominion after earning her Associate of Science in Engineering. She plans a career as an electrical engineer and has set her sights on NASA, where she recently completed the Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars program.

The  interactive online science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning experience is highlighted by a seven-day residential summer academy at NASA Langley Research Center.

Marcia with astronaut Roger Crouch.
Marcia with astronaut Roger Crouch who flew two NASA Space Shuttle missions.

“Engineering has been my passion since I was little and is the only thing I can see myself doing,” she said. “I hope I can encourage more women to enter the STEM fields.”

TCC is a family affair for the Marcias. Brooke’s father, Art, started at TCC and later earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering from Old Dominion. Her mother, Kathleen, earned her associate degree at TCC and a bachelor’s in education from Regent University.

“My parents, uncle and family friends all started at TCC and now have successful careers,” Marcia said. “It feels good to be following in their footsteps.”

TCC’s fall classes begin Aug. 24. For information on how you can get started at TCC, email or call 757-822-1122.

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.”

It’s never too late to be a STEM scholar

All Kellie Burchfield needed to do was enroll in one more class to complete her certificate in Geographic Information Systems.

Instead, information about Tidewater Community College’s STEM Promise Program caught her eye. The Women’s Center scholarship awards tuition and fees for four semesters to 20 students annually who choose degree paths in STEM fields.

It’s a competitive pool with as many as 100 applicants, many of them directly from STEM academies at the local high schools.

At 49 years old, “I didn’t think I would get it,” Burchfield admitted.

The senior engineering technician at the City of Suffolk’s Department of Public Utilities applied with the support of her colleagues, including the assistant director who wrote her recommendation letter.

“Shocked,” was her reaction when she was among the students selected. “I mean, it was really wonderful,” she said.

These days, Burchfield balances her full-time job with five classes, some online and evening. She’s also a regular at her daughter’s cheerleading events and the only parent home during the week as her husband, Tony, holds a job based in Fredericksburg.

“He’s home every other weekend, and that really helps,” Burchfield said. “That’s when I bury myself in my room to study.”

Traditional college wasn’t an option for Burchfield right after high school; instead, she went to work. She started in an administrative role in land surveying and learned that business from the ground up. Earning her associate in computer science at TCC helped her move into a better opportunity with the City of Suffolk.

That’s where’s she’s been for the last seven years, moving from asset management to engineering technician to her current role, a mobile one that allows her to travel all over Virginia’s largest geographic city.

Working directly with the engineers in her department made her eager to learn more about the profession herself, prompting her to apply to the STEM Promise Scholarship Program. She is working toward an Associate of Science in Civil Engineering Technology.

So far, she ranks pre-calculus as her toughest obstacle; online tutorials help.

“I’m learning everything all over again,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘What was I thinking?’ Most of the time though, I’m OK.”

When she graduates from TCC in December 2021, Burchfield will consider transferring to Old Dominion University for her bachelor’s in civil engineering. She encourages anyone, especially women, to considering applying for TCC’s STEM Scholarship.

She stresses it’s never too late to learn something new.

“We really need more women in the field,” she said. “This is a great first step.”

For information about applying to the Women’s Center STEM Promise Scholarship Program, email coordinator Jaedda Hall at

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 2020-21 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.

To be eligible a student must:

  • qualify for in-state tuition;
  • have a high school GPA of 3.5 or higher;
  • place into College Composition (English 111) and Precalculus (Math 161) or higher;
  • have no more than 24 TCC credits;

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 March 1, 2020.

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

For more information, contact the TCC Enrollment Team at 757-822-1111 or

From here, Marine veteran might be Ivy-bound thanks to new TCC partnership

When Marine veteran Christian Martinez graduates from Tidewater Community College this fall, he plans to transfer to Princeton University though he hasn’t ruled out MIT and Cornell.

It’s a road Martinez never thought possible until he completed the Warrior-Scholar Project last month. The mentoring program transitions service members to the academic world through a series of highly intensive, immersive boot camps hosted by the nation’s top universities.

Martinez had never heard of it until Shelly Bearden, the Veterans Resource Liaison at TCC’s Center for Military and Veterans Education (CMVE) encouraged him to apply. The CMVE recently entered into an agreement with the Warrior-Scholar Project, which plans to hold informational sessions at the Virginia Beach Campus in November to recruit more military-related students from here.

The nonprofit trains military personnel in the academic and social skills required for college success and works with service members who are navigating the college application or transfer process.

Martinez completed the two-week experience at Princeton and admittedly, “I fell in love with the place,” he said. Now transferring there seems attainable.

Bearden said the skills-bridge project is perfect for high achieving enlisted, transitioning and veteran service members who have flexibility in their higher education plans. Accepted students pay nothing for their two weeks on campus held at a host institution. Princeton is one possibility; others include Yale, Harvard, Notre Dame and Georgetown.

Applying to any Ivy League school was a daunting prospect for Martinez, who enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Tallwood High six years ago. The former sergeant used his GI Bill benefits at TCC in pursuing an Associate of Science in Engineering. He planned to transfer in-state, but now his perspective is altered.

“I’m going to Princeton,” he said with confidence.

Martinez fell in love with the New Jersey campus, where, “All the buildings are castles,” he said. His first week there started a humanities focus, consisting of analytical readings of more than 15 books ranging in scope from early democracy to modern military. Lectures and analysis from Princeton faculty followed. Then the writing process started.

Christian Martinez and Shelly Bearden
Shelly Bearden, the Veterans Resource Liaison at TCC’s Center for Military and Veterans Administration, encouraged student Christian Martinez to apply for the Warrior-Scholar Project.

“We learned how to analyze each text, dissect each paragraph, use study skills that I never knew before, write a strong Ivy League level essay and mostly, write an essay for their admission essay section,” Martinez said. “Reading and writing was my weakness before attending this program. I never had the confidence that I could be a decent writer.”

He ended up writing an essay that drew from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address and the Melian Dialogue.

That essay will be part of his packet for Ivy League admission.

The second part of the program played more to Martinez’s strength, focusing on STEM, and in particular physics. He learned under a senior physics lecturer who connected to the class by using military-related analogies. He and his group completed a final project in cryptology.

“I never liked physics that much,” Martinez said. The professor he learned under at Princeton made such an impression that instead of a chemical engineer majoring, he plans to pursue astrophysics.

Martinez returned to TCC with more focus and drive, pumped about a future that likely will include a doctorate.

Already four from his Warrior-Scholar cohort have been accepted to Columbia, one to the University of Chicago, one to the University of Pennsylvania and another to Princeton. Martinez is still awaiting the final word from Princeton but all signs look good for that to be his next stop.

“I’m grateful to TCC for telling me about this program,” he said. “Being part of it was probably the best experience in my life.”

Are you a military-related student interested in the Warrior-Scholar Project? Contact Bearden, Veterans Resource Liaison at the CMVE, at

Engineering student will graduate from TCC with an associate and a prosthetic arm he designed

Tidewater Community College student AJ Bafetti initially wanted to challenge himself with an engineering project that involved 3-D design.

The end product, a prosthetic he refers to as “Light Arm,” is not only beneficial to him but inspiring to others.

Bafetti’s story, as told by WTKR reporter Margaret Cavanagh, went viral last week, picked up by news outlets that include CNN and CBS This Morning. The story appeared in local affiliates ranging from Miami and Nashville to Columbus, Ohio and Las Vegas. The Virginian-Pilot also featured him on April 19.

“I was surprised it went coast to coast,” said Bafetti, 22, also contacted by a radio talk show on WGN in Chicago. “It’s been pretty cool.”

Bafetti will finish the coursework for his Associate of Science in Engineering by the end of the summer and transfer to Old Dominion University this fall for his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.

AJ Bafetti, Chris Gollogly
AJ Bafetti, left, designed his own prosthetic arm with the help of Chris Gollogly, president of TCC’s engineering club.

The Grassfield High School grad, born without a forearm, grew up a LEGO lover and wanted to turn his love of building into a career. Economics steered him toward TCC, where he has excelled and taken part in the VCCS-NASA “STEM in Flight” internship.

Bafetti got the idea to make his own prosthetic during his first semester here. He had only ever used a 3-D printer to make a phone holder before but had the confidence he could design his own limb after sharing concept sketches with Professor Edward Morris.

The TCC engineering professor encouraged him as did Paul Gordy, program head for the department who also heads the college’s Engineering Club. Bafetti received assistance from club president Chris Gollogly and the manufacturer AMTEK, which provided the materials, a plastic similar to LEGOs.

Bafetti tested several prototypes using the computer-assisted design software AutoCAD. To maximize efficiency, it’s important that that limb be lightweight, something he continues to perfect.

“Ideally it would be less than a pound,” he said.

Bafetti uses the arm now, which includes a grey hook in lieu of a hand. He plans to wear it during all waking hours once final design kinks are worked out.

While he calls it a “passion project,” Bafetti discovered by doing it that he wants to continue to help others by designing their prosthetic limbs. Working closely with faculty and peers at TCC, he said he learned collaborative skills that will help him in the professional world.

Margaret Cavanaugh, AJ Bafetti
Sharing his story with WTKR’s Margaret Cavanagh

“As engineers, we’re supposed to be problem-solvers,” Bafetti said. “That’s want I want to do.”

STEM Scholar Program grads on their way to four-year schools with associate degrees in hand

Robert Sutton found friends and resources at Tidewater Community College, but perhaps the best part of all is the passport his associate degree provided.

After graduating with his Associate of Science in Engineering, Sutton leaves TCC debt-free and bound for Virginia Tech this fall. Sutton and four others who were recipients of the Women’s Center STEM Promise Program Scholarship, graduated on May 13 at TCC’s 68th Commencement Exercises.

“The engineering community at TCC was a wonderful community to be connected with,” Sutton said. “The resources in the H Building (the Advanced Technology Center) were amazing, and the professors were absolutely phenomenal.”

robert sutton
Robert Sutton with chief academic officer Corey McCray
Kasen Martel
Kasen Martel earned his Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology.

When Sutton graduated from Ocean Lakes High in 2017, he didn’t get accepted into Virginia Tech’s prestigious engineering program. He planned to attend TCC given the college’s transfer agreement with Tech, but learning of the STEM Promise Program scholarship – which pays for two years of tuition and includes specialized support from dedicated advisors.

Sutton, accepted into the initial cohort of 10, appreciates the foundation Professor Kenny Grimes laid early on. “He helped me get off to a really strong start,” said Sutton, planning to pursue his bachelor’s in civil engineering.

The four other May 2019 STEM Scholar grads, Katherine Synowiec, Deloren Perry, Deven Singleton and Kasen Martel, will transfer to Old Dominion University.

Katherine Synowiec
Katherine Synowiec will intern with VDOT this summer.

Synowiec remembers the day she learned she was selected for the program. “I was left utterly speechless,” said the Salem High grad. “The scholarship really helped my family and me. We were thrilled to hear that my time at TCC would be financially covered, which allowed us to exhale. It allowed me to focus on my studies and not stress about the challenges of paying for college.”

Synowiec, interning at VDOT this summer, plans to complete her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.

Perry, who earned her Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology with a Specialization in Cyber Security, appreciated the extra guidance.  “My favorite part of the program was the check-ins,” said the graduate of the STEM Academy at Landstown High. “They were really encouraging to help us push through during the middle of a semester.”

Singleton leaves TCC with his Associate of Science in Engineering with plans for a bachelor’s in electrical engineering.

Deven Singleton
Deven Singleton is planning a future in electrical engineering.

“I really enjoyed how personal the professors can be,” he said. “You also get to know your classmates really well, and it was a great experience to begin my education. You save loads of money and get a quality education.”

Deloren Perry
Deloren Perry earned her associate in information technology with a cyber security specialization.

Martel, who came to TCC from the STEM Academy at Grassfield High, graduated with his Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology. He will pursue a bachelor’s in the same field.

Nine from TCC earn recognition from All-Virginia Academic Team

Nine Tidewater Community College students have been nominated to the Phi Theta Kappa 2019 All-Virginia Academic Team.

They are Dakota Bernacki and Katelyn Solis from the Chesapeake Campus; Charleston Yancey and Jeffrey White from the Norfolk Campus; Cynthia Law and Jordan Caravas from the Portsmouth Campus; and Alethea Lim, Christopher Metzger and Jason Yarbrough from the Virginia Beach Campus.

They will represent the college this spring when Virginia’s Community Colleges will recognize them and other team members from across the state at an awards luncheon in Richmond. From that group of community college students, 10 will be eligible for national awards.

Dakota BernackiDakota Bernacki

 Homeschooled through high school, the Windsor resident graduated from TCC in December 2018 with an Associate of Science in Engineering and a 4.0 GPA. Bernacki worked at his small “geek squad” business while earning his degree. “My professors were phenomenal,” he said. “It wasn’t easy — it’s engineering — but it was definitely worth it. Starting at TCC was the right choice for me.” Bernacki will work toward his bachelor’s in computer engineering from Old Dominion University or Virginia Commonwealth University this fall.

Jordan CaravasJordan Caravas

The Smithfield High School graduate is earning her Associate of Science in Science. She holds a 3.8 GPA and plans to transfer to Christopher Newport University to work toward her bachelor’s in organismal biology when she graduates in May. “I really like it here,” she said of TCC. “They have everything I need here; classes have been great.”

Cynthia LawCynthia Law

The first generation college student will graduate with her Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice in May and will remain at TCC to complete her Associate of Science in Social Sciences. Law initially wanted a career in forensics, but her work-study job at TCC opened her eyes to something that interested her more. “I really want to do something hands-on with people, and I love children,” said Law, who holds a 3.89 GPA and plans to transfer to Old Dominion.

Alethea LimAlethea Lim

The Landstown High School graduate will finish with an Associate of Science in Science and an Associate of Science in Social Sciences. The student ambassador on the Virginia Beach Campus holds a 4.0 GPA and plans to transfer to Old Dominion this fall and major in biology. “TCC offered me a full scholarship paying for my tuition,” she said. “The college has given me more opportunities to learn while giving back to my community. I really enjoy how personal the professors can be and how understanding they are.”

Christopher Metzger

The Richmond resident will graduate with an Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Management. Metzger chose the TCC program because it is accredited by the licensing body for health information management. “I’m looking to do data analytics or something with medical research,” he said. He holds a 4.0 GPA and is planning for a future in the Sentara system.

Katelyn SolisKatelyn Solis

The Great Bridge High graduate came to TCC with no firm career goals. Now she plans to be an anesthesiologist. She will graduate in May with an Associate of Science in Science and a 3.7 GPA. She works as a pharmacy technician and volunteers with Edmarc Hospice for Children. She plans to transfer to Virginia Tech to earn her bachelor’s in biology and later apply to medical school. “I encourage students to take advantage of everything TCC has to offer,” she said. “I found a lot of help with the First Year Success advisors and at the Learning Assistance Center, where tutoring is free.”

Jeff WhiteJeffrey White

 Unsure about his career goals, the pro tem of Norfolk’s Student Government Association took a year off to travel abroad before coming to TCC. He found his path and earned a 4.0 GPA and an Associate of Science in Science in December 2018. Now studying biology at Morehouse College, White plans to attend medical school and pursue a career as an endocrinologist.

Charleston YanceyCharleston Yancey

 The vice president of Norfolk’s Student Government Association will graduate in May with his Associate of Science in Social Sciences. The Norfolk native developed a love of public speaking at TCC in Professor Jaclyn Randle’s public speaking class. “She the greatest teacher I ever had,” he said. “My time at TCC has been transformative, and I benefitted a lot from taking her class.” Yancey, who holds a 3.85 GPA, plans to transfer to Virginia Wesleyan University.

Jason YarbroughJason Yarbrough

 The hospital corpsman from the U.S. Navy graduated with his Associate of Science in Science last fall and will graduate with an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts in May. He is already enrolled at Old Dominion where he is pursuing a bachelor’s with a pre-med concentration. “My experience with TCC has been nothing but positive,” he said. “I thoroughly appreciate the way the availability of classes is administered. The scheduling allows for nontraditional students, like me, convenience and range. The professors are also very mindful of their students’ time beyond the classroom, cooperate when needed, and are more than understanding of certain unforeseeable circumstances.”  Yarbrough holds a 4.0 GPA at TCC.

A warm office and an engineering degree in her future are what this mom loves about her shipyard apprenticeship

If your image of working in a shipyard is of a grizzled guy weathering windy waterfront conditions with dirty hands, consider Danielle Eckstein.

The 26-year-old is a mother of three, including twin toddlers. She didn’t tinker with tools growing up. She prefers an office job to working outside in the elements.

The Woodside High School graduate found the perfect career path as an apprentice at Newport News Shipbuilding, where she earns a competitive wage while she works toward her Associate of Applied Science in Engineering from Tidewater Community College.

“I see a lot of women working in different trades here,” she said. “Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something or you’re not capable of doing something. Hard work does pay off.”

Eckstein balanced multiple low-wage retail positions after high school that left her frustrated every time she got her paycheck. Her father, Ernie, had long touted the opportunities at Newport News Shipyard, and finally he talked her into completing a training program that led to a wage position there as an electrician.

Eckstein wanted more and applied to The Apprentice School, where she was accepted a year later. After competing basic coursework, she gained entry into the shipyard’s apprenticeship program. She started her initial coursework at the shipyard just two weeks after giving birth to twins, Camden and Austin.

Now she’s immersed in a program that she regards as challenging and rewarding. Twice a week, Eckstein is on campus at TCC, where she juggles three classes, statics, differential equations and chemistry. The other days she works in the yard, but she doesn’t need to bundle up to handle the sometimes frigid temperatures along the James River.

“I’m inside, in a nice warm office and I love it,” she said. Eckstein’s focus is on production planning, which involves working with digital software specific to shipbuilding.

When Eckstein walks past the USS Gerald R. Ford, the lead ship of her class of Navy aircraft carriers, she is reminded of the small role she played. It never fails to bring a smile.

And, once she finishes her apprenticeship and earns her TCC degree, Eckstein will be ready to achieve a supervisory role anywhere in the company.

You might say her ship has come in.

“I like having a degree in my future,” she said. “My boys are little now, but I want them to see you’re never too old to finish school and hard work eventually pays off.”

Interested in an apprenticeship? Contact Karen Miller at TCC’s Apprenticeship Institute at Visit

TCC awarded National Science Foundation grant for STEM

Tidewater Community College is part of a new coalition to diversify the nation’s workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by increasing the number of degrees awarded in those disciplines.

The National Science Foundation recently announced grants for six Louis Stokes regional centers of excellence in support of that effort. Minority populations, including African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska natives, natives of Hawaii and native Pacific Islanders, continue to be underrepresented in the STEM fields. Student working in chemistry lab.

TCC’s award was for $197,000 over a three-year period.

TCC’s partner institutions in the Southeastern Coalition for Engagement and Exchange in Nanotechnology Education are Norfolk State University, Penn State University, NASA Langley Research Center, Jefferson National Laboratory Applied Research Center and Eastern Virginia Medical School.

“Demand for workers with skills in the higher paying STEM fields is expected to continue to outpace demand for non-STEM workers over the next decade,” said Thomas Stout, TCC’s dean of STEM. “We want to prepare our workforce to meet immediate and future needs.”

This partnership provides opportunities for TCC students to train in the semi-conductor fabrication labs at Norfolk State University. In doing so, they will gain valuable hands-on experience and prepare for work in the industry.

TCC offers an Associate of Science in Science transfer degree and multiple associate degrees in the health sciences, engineering and technology fields.

Hokie engineer with TCC roots bound for Taiwan

Kenneth Moody is a graduate of Virginia Tech’s engineering program headed for a transformative year in Taiwan.

His road started at Tidewater Community College.

Five years ago Moody was directionless until he started at TCC, where he worked his first job, met professors who remain mentors and graduated with an Associate of Science in Engineering.

“I had so much support at TCC – the support of just about every professor I had, which, if you think about it, is amazing,” Moody said. “The foundation and preparation I got were strong, without a doubt.”

Moody navigated hard times that began when his father lost his job the day after Kenneth graduated from Green Run High. The family lost their home and took refuge in a small car with little to eat beyond fast food and saltine crackers. A house in Portsmouth without heat, a refrigerator or furniture became home and the reality of an education became real when he visited the Portsmouth Campus.

Moody was a math whiz – imagine scoring a 5 on an AP calculus test – and financial aid covered his tuition. He became president of Mu Alpha Theta, the math honor society, and reveled in tutoring struggling students at TCC’s Learning Assistance Center.

“That was the first job I ever had,” he said. “I never knew what it was like to communicate with coworkers and build that rapport and then, at the same time, I learned to communicate with students I was helping.”

Those were skills that he found immeasurably helpful at Virginia Tech, where initially he was stumped by a more formal environment with faculty than the community feel he found at TCC.

“I’m not that social and at Tech I learned I needed to take the initiative,” Moody said. “Once I started building relationships and networking, I was successful.”

Moody went to Tech with the intention of working as a mechanical engineer in automobile safety. He also pursued his love of languages by learning Mandarin Chinese, a skill he serendipitously realized could impact his career.

While completing a postgraduate summer research project in material science, he found his Mandarin skills useful in translating documents. When the opportunity arose to study Mandarin for a year at National Taiwan Normal University, Moody jumped at it. What he thought was little more than a hobby evolved into a marketable skill to potential employers with business ties abroad. A partial scholarship will help cover costs.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity,” Moody said.

Moody, who just arrived in Taipei, said TCC will always be special a special place for him, noting, “I definitely have TCC roots. There was so much going on around me when I was going to TCC. Going to class, I always had a cloud of doubt around me. The support TCC gives students is really invaluable.”