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TCC alumna building a life she loves

Kathryn Hart spends her days building communities as a construction superintendent for a Washington, D.C. contractor.

At night, she’s building an online community to support, connect and inspire women in the construction industry. The Tidewater Community College alumna founded “Space to Build” with the mission of removing the feeling of isolation women can sometimes feel when building the communities around us.

Hart’s podcast, “Space to Build,” airs weekly on Spotify, Apple, iHeart Radio, Amazon Music and other platforms. Launched in November 2020, Hart welcomes guests from the construction community to talk about their successes and challenges.

“In this industry, you can feel isolated and this is a way to open doors and set the pace for other women in the field,” Hart said. “My goal is for women to find a community of women who encourage and empower them to grow in the construction industry.”

Hart, 28, got her start building communities at TCC as a member of the Engineering Club on the Virginia Beach Campus. “What I remember most about TCC is the people I was around all the time. We were like family,” she said. “Having that community got me through some of the toughest classes because there was always someone there to help out.”

“I started at TCC because I knew I’d get a good education and save money. But the real benefit was finding my way into a career I love.” — Kathryn Hart

In 2013 Hart earned two associate degrees at TCC – one in science, the other in social sciences. She found her path into the construction industry through conversations with Professor Paul Gordy and other Engineering Club members. She even learned about Virginia Tech’s Myers-Lawson School of Construction through the group.

“I started at TCC because I knew I’d get a good education and save money,” Hart said. “But the real benefit was finding my way into a career I love.”

Hart continued her education at Virginia Tech, earning a bachelor’s with a dual degree in building construction and psychology in 2016.

At Virginia Tech, Hart co-founded “Building Women in Construction,” a student club that is still meeting today. The goal of the group is to encourage students to grow personally and professionally and to provide career developing activities for members.

We had large contractors contact us and we visited job sites and toured firms. This experience helped me build a network and gave me friends in the industry before I ever set foot in it,” she said.

Today, as a construction superintendent, Hart coordinates the field work and handles the onsite supervision of subcontractors, as well as the materials, safety, and quality control on the job site. She builds everything from multi-family apartments to data centers and school renovations.

Hart’s favorite thing about the work is interacting with people and watching nothing turn into something. “I enjoy watching the process from drawings to the physical end product,” she said.

Hart is involved professionally with the National Association of Women in Construction and serves as the Northeast Chair for Professional Development and Education.

Hart encourages others to follow in her footsteps because the opportunities are plentiful.

“This is an industry with smart people and good pay,” Hart said.

Once on the job, Hart bought her first car and her own home in Northern Virginia – all by the age of 25.

 Her home now shelters two roommates, and a mini zoo with a fish, turtle, degus (ground squirrels), two cats and a dog.

“People can sometimes underestimate young women on the job. But if you show up with a strong work ethic and are willing to learn, you will be successful,” she said.

From TCC to Hollywood and the American dream

Once upon a time, Nigel Tierney sat in a classroom at Tidewater Community College where he learned computer basics along with graphic design.

Today, Hollywood is his home, and if you’ve seen the final “Shrek” film or have been among the 160 million viewers watching Lil Dicky’s latest music video, you’ve seen his genius.

Nigel Tierney at DreamWorks
Nigel Tierney at DreamWorks.

The former senior technical director at DreamWorks Animation today heads content at the Emmy-award winning media company RYOT. It’s a fairytale story that started at TCC.

“Community college is a necessary part of American society and helped me reach the American dream,” Tierney said from Los Angeles.

The native of Kilkenny, Ireland, came to this country in his early 20s to work in the Leprechaun store at Busch Gardens, enjoyed Hampton Roads and decided to study computer science at TCC. Tierney earned his associate degree in computer science in 2005, and from here, transferred to Old Dominion University for his bachelor’s and master’s.

“I was recently telling my son about the time I was taking a ferry across the water to the Portsmouth Campus for a graphic design class,” he said. “I was standing on the deck when a seagull stole a Pop-Tart right out of my hand. I remember being so bummed, as I was to be gone a half a day and now had no breakfast. But then I had this beautiful, reflective moment where I was blown away to be in America and taking a ferry to class.

“TCC was a core part of my journey, and not only the education, but the hustle it instilled in me. I was confused on how to make my way, and TCC really empowered me to traverse the American education system.”

Two weeks after presenting his master’s thesis, Tierney was in Hollywood working with DreamWorks as technical director. His first project, “Shrek Forever After,” is the final chapter of Shrek and Fiona’s adventures full of more computer-animated graphics that enchant on the big screen.  “DreamWorks taught me to care about the pixel, the final image and every frame,” said Tierney, who later managed creative teams for “The Croods,” “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” and “Kung Fu Panda 3.”

Tierney recently co-produced and co-directed the animated music video “Earth,” for the song by rapper Lil Dicky. The project, co-produced by his own company, Tierney Corp., won a bronze award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It brought together 32 artists to shed light on climate change and encourage people to do their part to save the planet.

“We recorded all of these celebrities at different times and created a very beautiful video that reminds me of a children’s book,” Tierney said.  “With ‘Earth’, I got to bring an entire team together to execute a vision. And the end result is something really special and impactful.”

Tierney’s work at RYOT includes content creation for Verizon’s 5G studio as well as Verizon brands such as AOL, Yahoo, Tublr and Xbox.

“We’re creating content that is innovative, powerful and tells a meaningful story. We’re using interactive 2D video, augmented reality and virtual reality,” Tierney said. We can be adaptive, because we are not constrained to a 90-minute film or a 22-minute TV show.”

The married father of two is at work on a new project in partnership with Time Magazine that will bring Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech to virtual reality for the first time.

His TCC roots remain dear to him. He returned to Virginia for the first time for Pharrell’s “Something in the Water” festival as Verizon was a sponsor.

“Even an hour ago, I was writing project notes with the knowledge I gained in class,” Tierney said. “I still feel part of the area and even have my 757 number,” Tierney said. “Thanks to Tidewater and everyone there for all you do.”

Computer-savvy alum at work for IBM

Hezroy Hammil identifies as a Virginia Tech Hokie thanks to starting at Tidewater Community College.

Now he’s putting his education to work at IBM’s Client Innovation Center. Hammil develops and tests cloud applications for the government. His work is on the leading edge of the field and involves automation using mirco-services to build dynamic applications.

“The coursework at Tech was immensely difficult, but TCC prepared me well for the higher level work,” he said.

TCC alumnus Hezroy Hammil graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2017.
Hammil graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2017.

Hammil graduated with his bachelor’s in computer engineering and a minor in cyber security from Tech in May 2017. He spent his first two years at TCC earning an Associate of Science in Science with a Specialization in Computer Science.

“What I remember most about college is graduating from Tech with my bachelor’s,” he said. “It was that pinnacle moment when I’d finally accomplished what I started.

“The journey was not easy. But I kept my eyes on my goals and now I’m where I want to be.”

While at TCC, Hammil jumped into college life at the Chesapeake Campus becoming a Student Government Association senator, and a year later, president of the group. “I got involved and realized right away that I had a passion for serving and giving back,” he said. “I also enjoyed advocating for the student body during a time when the new buildings were under construction.”

He and other student volunteers had an active voice in planning for the Chesapeake Campus Student Center. Hammil also served as chapter president of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools. He was also member of the Computer Club, Bible Club and Student African American Brotherhood.

“TCC laid the foundation for me to be doing what I have always wanted to do. The experiences I gained there propelled me to take on the next steps,” he said.

Hammil hopes to one day own his own computer business and be his own boss.

“I encourage people I meet to start at a community college before transferring into a four-year school,” he said. “Financially and otherwise, I’m in a way better position because of TCC.”


TCC annual award winners to be honored on Aug. 16

Tidewater Community College will recognize six faculty and staff members from across the college with annual special awards on Aug. 16.

Selected by their peers, the honorees will receive their awards at TCC’s 2018 Fall Convocation at the Chesapeake Campus Student Center.

Professor of the Year

Manisha Trivedi, who teaches biology, anatomy and physiology and microbiology, is TCC’s Professor of the Year, an award established by the Faculty Senate to recognize excellence.

The Virginia Beach resident got her start doing research and development in the biotechnology industry but found herself training colleagues and hosting workshops. When her company left the area, she changed course and began teaching at TCC’s Norfolk Campus.

“I’m very proud to be working in a place that allows me to be creative and nurturing of my students,” Trivedi said. “My greatest joy is seeing the ‘lightbulb’ moments when students grasp difficult concepts.”

Trivedi often holds weekend office hours and meets with students before lectures and labs.

Student Olivia Brichter credits Trivedi for helping her succeed in college.

“After multiple attempts to pass anatomy and physiology, Professor Trivedi offered to spend one hour with me every morning before class reviewing class lectures and breaking down the information for me,” she said.

Trivedi is co-founder of the Senior Citizen Club for Asian Indians of Tidewater and volunteers annually at the International Children’s Festival in Hampton. She is a faculty mentor and serves on TCC’s Global & Intercultural Learning Committee.

She holds master’s degrees in life science from Gujarat State University and in biotechnology from Old Dominion University.  She earned a bachelor’s in biochemistry from St. Xavier’s College. She also completed a course in recombinant DNA methodology at The Catholic University of America.

Trivedi and husband Nikunj have two adult sons. The younger, Ajay, is an adjunct science instructor at the Norfolk Campus.

Faculty Special Achievement

For the second time since starting at TCC in 1989, Jacque Dessino is the recipient of the Faculty Special Achievement Award.

As the college-wide electronic services librarian, Dessino contributes to every aspect of library services to benefit users onsite and online. Dubbed “the rock of the libraries” by a colleague who nominated her for this award, Dessino, as TCC’s library system liaison with Virginia’s Community Colleges, is transitioning TCC’s libraries to an integrated management system that will replace multiple software products. It’s an enormous undertaking.

“But it’s what I love about my job,” said Dessino, also recognized by the college in 2005. “My job is never boring, never static.”

Dessino leads a team of four staffers who provide support to library patrons. While she works largely behind the scenes, she covers several online reference service shifts, providing on-demand assistance to students.

“I enjoy the idea of serving a group of people who might not necessarily have the opportunity to use the resources TCC has if the college weren’t here,” she said.

Dessino holds master’s degrees in library science from Louisiana State University and in humanities with a certificate in women’s studies from Old Dominion. She earned her bachelor’s in computer science from Nicholls State University and in English from Shippensburg University.

Dessino and husband Eric Matherne reside in Portsmouth and enjoy boating and motorcycle sidecar trips.

Outstanding Adjunct Faculty

Nancy Pettigrew, who has taught art history at TCC since 2010, is the Outstanding Adjunct Professor. The Long Island, N.Y., native embraces discussion-centered classes that connect her students to artists from the past and present. She has appreciated art since visiting her first museum as a 5-year-old.

“There are so many things I love about TCC students,” she said. “You get this incredible melting pot of people. If you listen to them, you learn so much about them and the world and other people’s points of view.”

Pettigrew holds a discussion series monthly open to all students and faculty at the Visual Arts Center that tackles topics ranging from censorship to copyright. An active supporter of the Student Art League, she touts the dedication of her students, many of whom makes great sacrifices to be in class.

“I’m always amazed by students I talk to who take public transportation for two hours to take my class,” she said. “Their level of commitment is extraordinary.”

Pettigrew received master’s and bachelor’s degrees, both in art history and archaeology, from the University of Maryland.

She and husband Neil have two adult children, Emily and Laura. The couple resides in Chesapeake.

Administrator of the Year

Diane Ryan is the Administrator of the Year selected for her leadership and efforts to advance TCC’s mission and goals.

Ryan initially joined the college in 1991 as an adjunct instructor in public speaking and transitioned into a professor of communications and English. She became dean of Humanities and Social Sciences on the Chesapeake Campus in 2015.

Ryan considers herself a connector, helping students solve problems by directing them to the correct resource or staff member. She has been involved in the college’s textbook-free Z-Degree initiative, recruiting 18 faculty to adopt Open Educational Resources in their curriculums, thereby saving students thousands of dollars.

“I love the amount of resources we’re able to offer students, companies and the general public,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m proud to work at TCC.”

Ryan volunteers and raises funds for Pennies for Prescriptions, Go Rescue Pet Adoption and Judeo-Christian Outreach Center.

She holds a master’s in speech communications and a bachelor’s in mass communications from Western Illinois University. She is currently working toward a doctorate in community college leadership at Old Dominion.

Ryan and husband, Sean, reside in Virginia Beach and have three adult children.

Classified Employee of the Year

Alumna Rhonda D’Amore is the Classified Employee of the Year. She initially began working at the college in 1998 and graduated from TCC with an Associate of Science in Science. In 2005, she earned a full-time position as an academic support specialist.

D’Amore enjoys working with campus contacts to keep curriculum content current.

“If you request Rhonda’s assistance, you can be assured the task will get done correctly and in a timely manner,” said Bill Clement, Pathway Dean for Computer Science and Information Technology.

D’Amore is responsible for building the base for classes, so that campuses can schedule them. She also enters all of the program data in i-INCURR. Moreover, she works closely with Visual Communications to produce the college catalog.

D’Amore said her favorite part of the job is assisting students. “I love being there to help them solve problems,” she said.

D’Amore and husband Lee have two adult children. In her free time, she enjoys gardening at her Chesapeake home and spending time with her cats, Floyd and Ziggy.

Wage Employee of the Year

TCC student Steffan Watts, an operations support specialist for student activities on the Virginia Beach Campus, is the Wage Employee of the Year.

The 2015 graduate of Kellam High School is humble about his contributions, but supervisor Bobby Bennett touts Watts’ accomplishments that ensure any event inside the Virginia Beach Student Center runs smoothly.

“Steff, as we call him, really is the heartbeat of our team and he always goes over and beyond what is asked of him,” said Bennett, coordinator of events and special projects for student activities at the student center. “When he is not in class, he is working in the student center, engaging with students or assisting a community partner.”

Watts is pursuing his Associate of Science in Science with a Specialization in Computer Science. He anticipates graduating in May 2019 with plans to transfer to either Old Dominion or Norfolk State University. He hopes to make a career in video game design or software development.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself working here,” he said. “I’m a quiet person. This job really gets me out of my comfort zone.”

TCC announces class of 19 for its second STEM Promise Program scholarship

Sumner Darling mapped out the entire Earth in elementary school. Jena Essary taught herself coding shortly after her 10th birthday. Breiten Liebell constructed a fully functional replica of a Ferris Wheel by memory as a 5-year-old.

The high school students are among Tidewater Community College’s second class of STEM Promise Program scholars. Nineteen students will pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related disciplines at TCC and complete two-year associate degrees at no cost for tuition and fees under the Women’s Center STEM Promise Program.

“Through the generosity of our donors, the Women’s Center STEM Promise Program is contributing to the diversity of the Hampton Roads workforce by creating a pipeline of women and minority students into the STEM disciplines,” said Jeanne Natali, director of TCC’s Intercultural Learning Center. “Our STEM Promise scholars will get a solid academic foundation at TCC, graduate with no student debt and be set to transfer to any number of public or private universities.”

Last fall TCC welcomed the inaugural class of STEM Promise scholars who will graduate in spring 2019. Elizabeth River Crossings fully funded all 10 of those scholarships with a donation of $120,000.

In addition to TCC’s smaller class sizes and interaction with professors invested in student success, STEM scholars receive specialized support from dedicated advisors and mentoring and career exploration from the Women’s Center.

TCC’s 2018 Women’s Center STEM Promise Scholars and their programs are:

Associate of Science in Engineering

  • Taylor Bowers, Chesapeake
  • Emma DeLosReyes, Virginia Beach
  • Erin Fitzpatrick, Virginia Beach
  • Zachary Fuge, Virginia Beach
  • Christian McClenney, Virginia Beach
  • Matthew Rathbun, Zuni
  • Deven Singleton, Chesapeake
  • Isaac Vanderley, Virginia Beach

Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology

  • Kalen Anderson, Portsmouth
  • Breiten Liebell, Virginia Beach

Associate of Science in Science with a Specialization in Computer Science

  • Courtney Carr, Virginia Beach
  • Rhys Dailey, Virginia Beach
  • Jena Essary, Chesapeake
  • Caroline Jacobs, Chesapeake
  • Maurice Price, Chesapeake

Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology

  • Kiana Brown, Chesapeake
  • Sumner Darling, Virginia Beach
  • Seth Greiling, Chesapeake
  • Shannon O’Hara Wiora, Virginia Beach

Anyone with an interest in applying to TCC’s STEM Promise Program should contact theEnrollment Team at 757-822-1111. Interested donors can contact the TCC Educational Foundation at