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TCC grad earns degree one year after diploma

Rachael Kay Fitzgerald has big plans for a future in politics.

“I’ve always loved reading and writing. But when I learned about our government, I was hooked and knew I’d one day work in politics,” she said.

Rachael Kay was an early 2022 graduate of Nansemond River High School. At 17, she started at Tidewater Community College in the Accelerated Degree Program (ADP).

“The last few years of high school were tough with the pandemic and virtual learning,” Rachael Kay said. “I came to TCC to knock out a degree. But what I found was a new excitement for learning.”

Rachael Kay will earn an Associate of Science in Social Sciences in June 2023, just one year after earning a high school diploma.

“I’ve loved my time at TCC. The faculty, staff and advisors are so friendly, and they really push you to more opportunities to help you get where you want to be in life,” she said. “I’ve made so many connections with people. I’m beyond grateful I started here.”

The ADP gives students the opportunity to earn a degree in one year, saving thousands by completing the first two years of college at TCC. ADP students receive personalized attention with low student-to-faculty ratios and regular academic advising.

 “When I started at TCC, I was overwhelmed and a little sad. All of my friends were still in high school, so it was a lonely time,” Rachael Kay said. “I started praying to God and asking for help and that’s what kept me. He opened doors and made a way for me to do this.”

While at TCC, Rachael Kay’s favorite professor was Lara Tedrow, who teaches psychology. “Dr. Tedrow was so amazing, and we had some really good conversations. She made me love psychology even more,” she said.

Rachael Kay plans to transfer to Christopher Newport University to study psychology and political science. From there, she has her sights set on William and Mary Law School and a career in criminal defense or corporate law before jumping into politics. She hopes to make a difference for many.

“Whenever you feel like quitting, don’t do it. Just remember what you are fighting for. For me, I’m fighting for a law degree and a future political career,” she said. “Even though it’s years down the line, that keeps me going.”

TCC celebrates 74th Commencement Exercises with largest number of dual enrollment grads

It was a full house for Tidewater Community College’s 74th Commencement exercise held in-person for the second time since the start of the pandemic.

Family and friends gathered to celebrate more than 1,500 graduates at Chartway Arena on the campus of Old Dominion University.

Graduates were all smiles as they entered the arena to the resounding cheers of their loved ones.

The evening graduation on May 9 was presided over by President Marcia Conston.

President Marcia Conston with Allison Wilson, speaker for the graduates.

The speaker for the graduates, Allison Wilson, 17, who completed an Associate of Science in Social Sciences, is a dual enrollment student with her sights set on law school. She will continue at William and Mary to study English on a pre-law track.

“We decided to attend TCC to better ourselves and we’ve worked incredibly hard to be here today,” Wilson said in her remarks. “One of the biggest challenges was the pandemic and the move to online learning where we dealt with barking dogs, crying babies and horrible internet.”

Wilson continued by saying, “We will take the lessons learned and apply them to our future experiences. We will remember the respect shown to us and replicate it. When things get hard, we will remember our accomplishments and push forward. Congratulations graduates!”

This year, TCC had more dual-enrollment students earning degrees and certificates than ever before. Wilson is one of the 45 students earning associate degrees before graduating from high school this summer. An additional 98 high schoolers earned TCC certificates this year.

TCC Board Chair Cindy Free gave the Commencement address. A Hampton Roads native, Free is a TCC alumna who began her academic journey at TCC earning an associate degree in Physical Therapy Assistant in 1986.

Free is a member of the Atlantic Orthopedic Specialists Physical Therapy team. She has actively served on the College Board’s Finance and Facilities Committee, the Executive Committee, chaired the Advocacy Committee and TCC Educational Foundation, as well as served as Board chair since 2019.

“You have now earned degrees and certificates and the support of a school that will stick with you throughout your career,” Free said to the graduates. “Each of you has found your own way to thrive and gained the gift of confidence.”

She added, “I invite you to consider the opportunities that lie ahead and the raw materials of which you will fashion your life’s journey. Wherever life takes you, come back and see us and bring your stories and remind us that from here you really can go anywhere.”

The ceremony continued as families and friends cheered and snapped photos. Graduates crossed the stage and joined a TCC alumni network of 100,000 and counting.

If you missed graduation, you can watch the TCC livestream.

Marvin Fletcher and SaNayah Hill, father and daughter graduates, shared their story with News 3.

Student Speaker earns associate degree at 17

Allison Wilson got her start at Tidewater Community College while still in high school.

She participated in Early College and was part of the cohort from Churchland High School. “Making connections with people I’ve been in class with since third grade was definitely a highlight,” Allison said.

Allison is one of the 45 dual-enrollment students earning associate degrees before graduating from high school this summer. In addition, 98 high schoolers are earning TCC certificates this year.

She credits her mom, Lisa Wilson, with encouraging her to get a head start on college.

 “I remember spending hours in the kitchen with my brother as we attended the Lisa Wilson ‘school of public speaking,’” Allison said with a laugh. “That was where we learned to organize our thoughts, project our voices and represent the family, whether it be at church or school.”

All those lessons paved the way for Allison to be selected as the Speaker for the Graduates for TCC’s 74th Commencement Exercises, to be held on May 9, 2022 at the Chartway Arena on the campus of Old Dominion University.

Allison is earning an Associate of Science in Social Sciences at just 17.

“I started classes at TCC with an aspiring funeral director and one of my mother’s coworkers. Even though I was considerably younger than the others, they treated me like every other student. We quickly became family and our differences didn’t matter,” Allison said.

Allison holds a 3.9 GPA and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

“Coming to TCC while still in high school was a great way to get started on college and save money. I had a great support system with my parents and grandparents,” she said. “I gained study skills that will take me through all of my years in college.”

Continuing to learn during the pandemic brought unique challenges. “Virtual learning forced us to deal with barking dogs, crying babies and spotty internet service,” Allison recalled. “But it also made time for different classes to fit into our schedules and provided unique ways to connect with classmates online.”

While at TCC, Allison remained active in her high school class serving as president of the National Honor Society, vice president of the Student Council, head delegate of the Model UN Team and a participant in the Scholastic Bowl. She also enjoyed spending time with friends and just being a teenager.

Allison Wilson at Portsmouth Campus.

In the fall, Allison is transferring to William and Mary where she will study English and pre-law. She hopes to attend law school on the grounds as well, and one day be a state prosecutor.

Allison’s mom, dad, brother and grandparents will gather to celebrate with her at TCC’s Commencement exercises as she shares a message of encouragement.

“My message for my classmates is simple,” Allison said. “As we go to our four-year schools or start careers, we will take the lessons learned and apply them to our daily lives. We will remember the respect shown to us and replicate it. When things get hard, we push forward. Congratulations graduates!”

TCC student is published in national literary journal

Tidewater Community College student Megan Pastore discovered her passion for writing in Rick Alley’s creative writing class. She enjoyed the writing prompts as they sparked her creativity and ultimately earned her national recognition.

“I feel a sense of joy and passion that I didn’t know I could feel,” Megan said. “I have a purpose outside of being a wife and mother. I don’t know where this is going to take me, but I know I want to teach creative writing workshops in the community and one day teach at the college level, hopefully at TCC.”

Megan was one of twenty-eight Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) members who had their writing published in the 2021 issue of PTK’s online literary journal, “Nota Bene.” PTK is the honor society for two-year schools.

“Nota Bene” showcases the outstanding writing of community college students. More than 440 entries were submitted to the 2021 competition, which is judged by current and retired college faculty and staff from across the country. The digital issue will be available on this winter.

Megan received “Nota Bene’s” highest honor, the Ewing Citation Award of $1,000, for her short story, “Brother Fox.” The award is named in honor of the late Nell Ewing, a long-time PTK staff member, and goes to the author of the competition’s most outstanding entry.

“TCC was a perfect place for me,” Megan said. “With young and older students, career changers, it was a beautiful place to find myself and the support of my professors was phenomenal.”

Megan earned her associate degree at TCC in May 2021 and is continuing her studies at Old Dominion University where she is pursuing a bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing. She hopes to also pursue a master’s in fine arts. She would one day like to be a published author.

“I know I’m meant to help other writers find their voice,” Megan added. “I wouldn’t be here today without the support of my TCC professors who encouraged me and told me that I had a voice. They planted those seeds and gave me the confidence to pursue this dream.”

From home care worker to federal lobbyist and now college grad

Athena Jones will share a message of hope and encouragement as a student speaker during Tidewater Community College’s Virtual Commencement to be held on May 10.

“You don’t have to be defined by who you were before TCC. It’s really that simple,” Jones said.

Jones had to leave a four-year college to care for a family member and was discouraged and unsure of her future.

“Leaving school left me with a load of student debt and I felt uncertain of my future. I didn’t know what God had in store for me,” Jones said.

Jones immersed herself in her new role as a home healthcare worker and became a social justice advocate. She quickly joined an advocacy group for home healthcare workers. It wasn’t long before Jones became a federal lobbyist advocating for other home healthcare workers as well as people with disabilities, immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, women’s rights and more.

Athena Jones on Capitol Hill.

“I never imagined that I’d be on Capitol Hill fighting for the rights of home healthcare workers and working people across the U.S. It was surreal,” she said.

Fast forward several years. Jones continues to work as a home healthcare worker and advocate, but she is now also a graduate of TCC, earning an Associate of Science in Social Sciences with a 4.0 GPA.

“In the midst of my advocacy work, I knew I needed to go back to school,” Jones said. “TCC was a perfect fit. I received needed support and my professors were deeply invested in my success.”

Jones joined Open Door Project while at TCC. This federally funded program gives students guidance, tutors and support for their educational journey.

Jones credits her friend Sam Foor with getting her involved in campus life by joining the Anime Club. As her campus life grew, she joined the Garden Club; Student Government Association; Mu Alpha Theta, the math honor society; the Inter-Club Council and Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

“TCC was a place where I found a community of amazing people and lifetime of friends.” Jones said.

Jones will continue her studies at Old Dominion University where she will pursue a bachelor’s in political science with a minor in psychology. She is also considering law school.

“Before TCC, I was a ‘C’ student and had college debt. Now, I have no college debt and I’m graduating from TCC with a perfect GPA,” Jones added.

“I want people to see you don’t have to be defined by your past; you can really make a difference and you absolutely need to be your own superhero.“

Kudos to TCC’s Fall Class of 2020

Four days before Christmas, Tidewater Community College celebrated its 71st Fall Commencement Exercises virtually.

The full stream of the ceremony is available here.

“This celebration demonstrates the tenacity and strength of our students and the TCC community,” said TCC President Marcia Conston, presiding over her second virtual commencement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Conston acknowledged the college’s military-related students, who make up one-third of enrollment and she commended the faculty and staff for their role in student success. Several faculty and staff members also recorded “shoutout” videos offering their congratulations to the 1,206 graduates.

Many applauded the resilience of the graduates to complete their journeys despite the pandemic.  Faculty members from the ESL Department congratulated the students in multiple languages.

The ceremony featured two student speakers — Grace Motley, a Women’s Center STEM Promise Program scholar, who received her Associate of Science in Computer Science and Joseph Baca, who earned his Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

“I cannot even begin to describe the many life lessons I have learned, and I am sure I am not alone,” said Motley, who thanked the professors and STEM Promise Program coordinator Jaedda Hall who helped her complete her degree.

Baca embraced the “community” part of being a TCC student, acknowledging his peers, professors and faculty members for helping him persevere. “Know there is no timetable on experience in life, but we must have the courage to face it,” he said.

Michelle Woodhouse, TCC’s vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer, presented the 1,026 graduates. President Conston conferred the degrees.

Prior to the ceremony concluding with a benediction, alumna Rickkita Taylor, recently a guest on “Ellen,” welcomed the college’s newest graduates to join an alumni network that is more than 100,000 strong.

“We are embedded in the fabric of Hampton Roads and are so proud of you for persevering and finishing strong,” she said. “I encourage you to take advantage of your achievement by attending networking events and embracing all the opportunities offered by TCC Alumni to “connect, contribute and celebrate!’ ”

All graduates had their names and corresponding degrees or certificates scroll on screen.

Navy veteran eager to be a doctor transitions to student life at TCC

Tidewater Community College made perfect sense for veteran Jacob Beagle.

After separating from the Navy in August 2019, the Michigan native who was stationed in Norfolk started college two weeks later at TCC determined to fulfill his lifelong ambition of becoming a doctor.

“It was just so convenient,” he said, noting the process of using his GI Bill benefits to cover his tuition was “quick and seamless” and “user friendly.”

Although fascinated by the sciences, Beagle, 26, admits to not being a strong high school student, though he certainly didn’t struggle with work ethic. At 14 years old, he was employed full time as a busboy, committed to contributing financially to his family.

“Honestly, I grew up in a low socioeconomic status household, and there weren’t a ton of opportunities to go to college,” he said. “I knew that’s essentially how you get out of poverty. I  always knew that I wanted to pursue medicine, and it would not have happened if I didn’t have some sort of catalyst, like, joining the military, where I could get some experience, and then get out and have the GI Bill. That’s essentially priceless for students like me.”

Ultimately, Beagle wants to work in an emergency room, a calling that goes back to his dedication to service. Right now, he balances 15 credits at TCC with full-time work as a clinical assistant.

It’s a heavy load, though manageable with online classes. He originally planned to transfer to Old Dominion University this fall, but after a late acceptance, Beagle found out all the classes he needed were full. That led to his current slate at TCC, where he will finish with 47 credits toward an Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

He’s grateful for the foundation he found at TCC. “Attending orientation and meeting with an advisor are critical for someone like me who hasn’t been to school in a while,” he said. “I was a little bit nervous about it at first.”

Quickly, he became acclimated; having peers like himself helped. One-third of TCC’s enrollment is military-related students.

“We relate to each other on a different level,” he said. “Most of us are older and have been through many of the same things.”

Classes in biology, sociology and anthropology became favorites. He’s gotten to know his professors. He’s used the Writing Center to help with essays and used the resources at the Center for Military and Veterans Education.

Once Beagle completes his bachelor’s in biology at ODU, he will apply to medical school. He hopes to attend EVMS.

“I realized at a young age that to get out of poverty, you couldn’t do a mundane job,” said Beagle, who will be the first in his family to graduate college. “I observed what I saw other people do and knew I needed to emulate that.”

Military-related students can contact the CMVE for help with their GI Bill benefits and other questions. Call (757) 822-1111.

Student veteran honored by national magazine

Tidewater Community College student Katherine Martinez is one of 48 veterans nationwide  selected to receive the inaugural 2020 Student Veteran Leadership Award presented by G.I. Jobs magazine.

This list, which honors student veterans who are making a positive impact at their school and in their communities, will be published in the August issue.

“It’s really exciting to be recognized. When you’re volunteering, you don’t think about how others perceive your efforts,” said Martinez, president of TCC’s chapter of Student Veterans of America. “I primarily focus on raising awareness on mental health and helping fellow veterans with the transition process of being active duty to veteran.”

The Navy veteran was nominated by Shelly Bearden, veterans resource liaison at the Center for Military and Veterans Education. Martinez traveled with Bearden to Los Angeles for the Student Veteran Association National Convention.

“She was in her element at the conference, going to seminars and networking with fellow veterans and employers, gathering new resources and contacts,” Bearden said. “She is a driven young woman committed to reaching out to and serving her fellow veterans who may be struggling in crisis to be there to lend a supportive ear.”

Martinez will complete her Associate of Science in Social Sciences this summer. She will transfer to Old Dominion University in the fall.

She aspires to work for the federal government as a criminologist.

“My overall goal is to gain knowledge to better advocate for communities that need resources and assistance with public policy,” she said.

GI Jobs is a national publication that has been connecting service members, veterans and their families to civilian career, education and business ownership opportunities since 2001.

Governor’s Medallion recipient en route to ODU for mechanical engineering

When Lauryn Thompson was in middle school, her load included introductory classes in Algebra and Spanish. So it was only natural that at Churchland High, she continued to accelerate by attending Tidewater Community College.

The 17-year-old will graduate from TCC in May with an Associate of Science in Social Sciences. Thompson will attend Old Dominion University this fall and study mechanical engineering.

Thompson is one of 13 students on the Portsmouth Campus who will receive the Governor’s Medallion, awarded to students who earn associate degrees or certificates while still in high school. TCC will award 30 Governor’s Medallions overall, the most in college history.

Thompson’s work ethic has carried her. In addition to her academic slate, Thompson logs as many as 50 hours a week in e-commerce at Kroger. Remote learning has been a challenge, but her work schedule forces her to organize her time wisely.

Thompson is used to juggling. Up until her junior year in high school, she competitively cheered at Churchland, so when she had practice and class back-to-back, she made the most of the time before and after.

“It takes discipline,” she said. “It might be easy to lay in bed all day, but I have to get up and get started.”

Mature even as a youngster, she persevered this last year while watching her father recover from a massive stroke. That left both parents not working, as her mother recently completed a master’s degree.

“There was a lot going on,” Thompson said. “Honestly, I had a very good childhood and I’ve been very privileged. I’ve never been through such a hard time. It was a lesson.”

Enjoying math, she chose mechanical engineering and was accepted into ODU’s honors program, which gave her a scholarship and stipend.

Thompson will be among the student speakers at TCC’s first-ever virtual commencement on May 11.

Her message? “You can do it.”

“When I tell people I’m graduating with my associate degree, they’ll say, ‘What? How?’ ‘When do you have time?’ ”

Thompson responds, “When you really want to do something, you do it. There were times where I wanted to give up, but then I realized that I’ve come too far. I realized that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I am nearing the end of this program, I realize that this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

2020 Governor’s Medallion recipients

Portsmouth Campus

Lauryn Thompson, Associate of Science in Social Sciences

Nichelle Ellis, Associate of Science in Social Sciences

Alyesia Watkins, Associate of Science in Science

Courtnie Bagby, Certificate of General Education

Rodney Barber, Certificate of General Education

Carter Canfield, Certificate of General Education

Ashley Hamlin, Certificate of General Education

Victoria Hayes, Certificate of General Education

Lily Madojemu, Certificate of General Education

Kayla Norman, Certificate of General Education

Jonathan Pierce, Certificate of General Education

Melanie Pineda, Certificate of General Education

Lisbeth Flores Aguilar, Certificate of General Education

Virginia Beach Campus (inaugural graduates of TCC’s  Entrepreneurship and Business Academy)

Claire Boyton, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Karmina Buensuceso, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Landon Elforsi, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Morgan Evans, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Leora Friedman, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Makayla Harvey, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Morgan Harwood, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Sam Kenslow, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Jane Ogenyi, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Sandra Onodu, Associate of Science in Business Administration

N’kosi-Sanai Poole, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Robert Smith, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Savannah Taylor, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Michelle Wilches, Associate of Science in Business Administration

Chesapeake Campus

Rocco Boyd, Certificate in General Education

Carly Pond, Certificate in General Education

Zoey England, Associate of Science in Social Sciences

Savoring milestones at the 69th Fall Commencement

The week before Christmas, Tidewater Community College celebrated its newest graduates at the 69th Fall Commencement Exercises at Chartway Arena inside Norfolk’s Ted Constant Convocation Center.

The evening graduation on Dec. 16 was the final one presided over by interim President Gregory T. DeCinque. Marcia Conston, sitting in the stands with her husband, Clidell and daughter Mahari, will assume the presidency on Jan. 6, 2020.

TCC President Gregory DeCinque with keynote speaker Scott Miller, president of Virginia Wesleyan University,

“We look forward to your leadership and dedication to TCC’s mission,” President DeCinque said.

In addition, President DeCinque asked for applause for physics Professor David Wright, a viral video sensation over the last few days thanks to a student tweet with 25 million views and counting.

“David, you clearly love what you do, and you convey that passion to your students. You are one of the many TCC faculty worth the price of admission,” DeCinque quipped.

The speaker for the graduates, Lauren Lewis, just 18, has already completed an Associate of Science in Social Sciences. Recipient of the Outstanding High School Graduate Award, she entered TCC with 16 credits thanks to taking dual enrollment classes while in high school.

“You can’t underestimate what you are capable of,” said Lewis, who graduated from Churchland High at age 16. “To me, TCC has contributed to that mindset, and I am sure that is true for most of us.

“With TCC as your foundation, you can go anywhere!”

Lewis’ “anywhere” is Norfolk State University. She plans to be a pediatric nurse.

Keynote speaker Scott Miller, the president of Virginia Wesleyan University, urged the graduates to savor the evening’s moment.

“The hours upon hours you pored over books and laptops after working all day or all night have all been worth it,” he said. “Take a deep breath and sigh of relief.”

Miller told the graduates “You’re highly motivated critical thinkers, leaders and learners. You’re generators of good ideas and perceptive insights. You love your 757 community and contribute to it in many ways. We’re inspired by your example of hard work and commitment to ambition and success.”

Miller echoed what Lewis said, “From here, you truly can go anywhere. It’s my sincere hope that I’ll see you there soon.”

As families and friends cheered and snapped photos, graduates crossed the stage and joined a TCC alumni network of 100,000 and counting.  

If you missed graduation, watch the TCC livestream here.

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.”

Ready, set, get your associate in just ONE year with Accelerated Degree option

While night class right before a holiday isn’t enticing for everyone, Taniea Walton, Robert Kinsman, Nelly Zabala and Austin Bartlett wouldn’t consider being absent, even if it is the 3rd of July and the parking lot at the Portsmouth Campus is nearly empty.

The four are on a fast track to their associate degrees thanks to Tidewater Community College’s accelerated option, which allows students to finish all their credits in 12 months.

TCC’s Accelerated Degree program offers students the chance to start their associate degrees and keep going. Classes are year round.

Applications are due July 26 for the next cohort of students. The accelerated program is offered on the Norfolk or Portsmouth campuses only. Some coursework can be completed online.

Walton, Kinsman, Zabala and Bartlett are the first Accelerated Degree graduates from the Portsmouth Campus. They survived the intensive class schedule that started last August thanks to leaning on each other, often through their four-way GroupMe.

“We’ve been helping each other all year,” said Kinsman, 26, in the Navy and on shore duty, who like the rest of his classmates, also holds a job. “I came in on a Tuesday and started classes that Friday. It worked with my Navy schedule.”

Kinsman wants to be an officer in the Navy or go into law. He finishes with an Associate of Science in General Studies.

Zabala, 33, is a Navy veteran who wants to finish school as quickly as possible, making the accelerated option perfect. She enjoyed one of the psychology classes she took so much that she is now planning a future in the field.

She finishes with her Associate of Science in Social Sciences, the same degree as Bartlett and Walton.

Bartlett, 25, juggles his full-time job working for a VDOT contractor with the program, noting that the evening classes make it all possible. “This is the only way I could go to school,” he said. “I knew education would put me further ahead.”

He finishes with his Associate of Science in Social Sciences with plans to eventually pursue a master’s in clinical psychology.

Portsmouth native Walton will transfer to Old Dominion University this fall. The traditional path to an associate didn’t appeal to her because she feared she would procrastinate and take even longer to finish.

“With my schedule – I work all day and I have a 2-year-old – this is very challenging,” she said. “I’ve learned to compartmentalize my life. When I’m in class, I’m all in.”

TCC’s Accelerated Degree is open to new high school graduates and adult learners, including military-related students. For more information, email

TCC marks 68th Commencement Exercises with milestones, including huge numbers of dual enrollment grads

Tidewater Community College’s 68th Commencement Exercises celebrated several significant milestones on Monday evening at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. 

Among them:

Five students from the inaugural STEM Promise Program cohort graduated; each is planning to transfer. Four of them, Deloren Perry, Devon Singleton, Kasen Martel and Kathryn Synowiec are bound for Old Dominion University. Robert Sutton will transfer to Virginia Tech. All are juniors who earned four semesters of free tuition thanks to the Women’s Center STEM Promise Program launched in 2017.

President Greg DeCinque with the first group from the Priority Technical Training Center to earn career studies certificates in Automotive Chassis Systems.
President Greg DeCinque with the first group from the Priority Technical Training Center to earn career studies certificates in Automotive Chassis Systems.

Thanks to a new partnership with Priority Automotive and the Norfolk Sheriff’s office, TCC graduated its first class of nonviolent offenders from the Norfolk Jail. By learning at the PriorityTechnical Training Center in Chesapeake, 14 inmates were trained as automotive technicians, earning career studies certificate in Automotive Chassis Systems. All of them are eligible for full-time employment following their release.

Expanded partnerships with the Chesapeake and Portsmouth public schools led to TCC graduating its largest class of dual enrollment students. Fifteen earned career studies certificates in mechatronics, meaning they are one year away from completing associate degrees. Thirty-six other students earned career studies certificates in the fields of electrical wiring, welding and pharmacy technology. 

Portsmouth Public Schools dual enrollment graduates.
Dual enrollment coordinator Katina Barnes with the Portsmouth cohort of dual enrollment graduates.

In addition, six teenagers from the Portsmouth Campus are Governor’s Medallion recipients as they completed associate degrees while still in high school. This is the largest number of Governor’s Medallion winners ever from TCC. All will enter four-year colleges as juniors.

Student speaker Charleston Yancey will also be a junior at his next stop, Virginia Wesleyan University. Yancey, who earned his Associate of Science in Social Sciences, encouraged the Class of 2019 to persist past the pressure, speaking with a passion that ignited his classmates.

The class of 2019!

“No matter what you have endured in life, on this day you are defined by three words: ‘You did it!’” he said, the culmination of a spirited speech that left many of his classmates on their feet. ‘When you face new obstacles and new challenges, remember, you did it!

“If you did it once, you can do it again,” he repeated to cheers; nearly 1,000 graduates were in attendance.

Ruth Jones Nichols, chief executive officer of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, followed Yancey and admitted she wept after being asked to be the college’s keynote speaker, calling it a humbling honor.

“You don’t have to be Danny Glover or Glenn Close to connect with each of you in this moment,” she said. “I’ve been where you are today. I’ve experienced the range of emotions that come with taking your next step.”

Grads move their tassels to the right to signify that they are now TCC grads.

Jones Nichols encouraged the graduates to think of their new education as a passport and look for real-world experience to complement their academic achievements. She advised them to be wary of falling into the trap of following someone else’s timetable as a measure for success.

“Don’t allow the movement of others toward a destination to define when, where and how you use your passport in life,” said the admitted late bloomer. “Trust the process and the place where you find yourself in any given time.”

She concluded by alluding to an upcoming partnership between the Foodbank and TCC, which will establish a food pantry to help college students deal with food insecurity.

Jones Nichols added, “Use your education at TCC to continue creating the best possible life for yourself. Never forget that you truly can go anywhere.”

Chesapeake Public Schools dual enrollment graduates.
Chesapeake Public Schools had its largest cohort of dual enrollment graduates.

“Are you ready?” TCC President Greg DeCinque then asked the jubilant graduates, each of whom joined TCC’s alumni network of 100,000 strong after making their celebratory walk across the stage.

From here, student speaker planning to aim high for next stop, Virginia Wesleyan

Charleston Yancey fell in love with Virginia Wesleyan University the first time he toured the campus. After graduating from Tidewater Community College on May 13, he will transfer there with junior class standing thanks to a new agreement.

Yancey, student speaker for TCC’s 68th Commencement at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, leaves with an Associate of Science in Social Sciences. The Norfolk native will be able to concentrate on coursework for his major, as all his general education requirements from TCC transfer due to the Fair Transfer Guarantee Agreement, signed in February.

Charleston Yancey at Virginia Wesleyan
Charleston Yancey at Virginia Wesleyan University.

“TCC is a transformative school,” he said. “I met so many people who come here and don’t know where to go. They leave here and become driving forces in the community.”

Yancey, who holds a 3.9 GPA and served in multiple leadership positions for the Norfolk Student Government Association, said he feels well prepared for what’s ahead. The 20-year-old benefitted from the Open Door Project, which provides support services for first generation college students.

“The staff there kept me motivated,” said Yancey, admittedly passionate about all things TCC. “From the teachers who work in the building to everyone at Open Door to the people involved in student life, it’s a beautiful thing.”

The skills he learned in his student development class, which focuses on creating good study habits, laid the foundation for an accolade-filled academic year.

Nominated to the 2019 Phi Theta Kappa All-Virginia Academic Team, Yancey finished in the top 10 for the state, earning him a $500 scholarship. He was also awarded the Barnes and Noble Textbook Scholarship for Norfolk Campus.

Yancey has never been shy talking in front of others. His father, Charles, is pastor at Love of Life Assembly Yahawah’s Temple of Praise, and Charleston has spoken from the pulpet since he was 10. He developed an even deeper love of public speaking at TCC under Professor Jaclyn Randle.

“She’s the greatest teacher I ever had,” he said.

Yancey also credits communications professor Mark Frederick with helping him develop different techniques to engage an audience.

From here, he plans to pursue a doctorate in psychology and work as a counselor and motivational speaker while remaining active in ministry.

“I have dedicated my life to being one who uplifts and inspires others,” he said.  “I have vowed to use my mouth as a tool that will speak life into all those that feel lifeless. My message has been and will always be that you are worth the success that you are fighting for. I may not know each graduate personally, but I do know that everyone has a story. I want to remind them that no matter how their story began, it is the conclusion of their story that matters the most.”

First generation alumna overcomes the odds to earn a second degree

A visit from a Tidewater Community College career coach resonated with Granby High student Alexis Knight.

Growing up in low-income housing, Knight didn’t plan on going to college. No one from her family ever had.

Today the 22-year-old is a TCC graduate working toward her bachelor’s in human services at Old Dominion University. She takes pride in that accomplishment, which included persevering after she became a mother during her time at TCC.

“I thought that would be the end of my education, but the people at TCC rallied around me, helped me make a plan to take a semester off, and then got me back on track with my degree,” said Knight, whose son, Kevin Jr., is 3. “My time at the college was transformative, and I grew so much. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without TCC.”

Alexis Knight
Knight enjoys helping people with her work at Sentara.

Knight’s family provided support and cared for the baby so she could continue her education. “My family rallied around me, they believed in me and encouraged me to do my very best,” she said.

Knight connected with Kia Hardy, interim dean of student services, who ensured she was on track to graduate in two years. Hardy directed Knight with support services from the Women’s Center and Learning Assistance Center.

“Ms. Hardy was pregnant at the time and seeing her working and getting ready for her child, well, that motivated me to do the same thing,” Knight said. “I’m extremely thankful to TCC for helping me grow and giving me the foundation to be successful.”

Knight, who earned her Associate of Science in Social Sciences in 2017, will graduate again in May from ODU. A social work intern for a Sentara rehabilitation center, Knight is hopeful that she will transition into a full-time patient advocate upon graduation.

Knight also works part-time at Walmart, where she promotes TCC to others. “I used to think less of myself until I found out that I could do this. No matter where you come from, or even if you have a child, you can do this.

“I feel like I’m paving the way for my son and nieces. I may have been the first in college, but I know I won’t be the last.”

Chesapeake Public Schools superintendent talks about purpose and passion at TCC’s 67th commencement

The newest Tidewater Community College graduates received warm congratulations and prudent advice from one of their own at the college’s 67th Commencement Exercises on Monday evening at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Keynote speaker Jared Cotton, who became superintendent of Chesapeake Public Schools over the summer, graduated from TCC in 1990 before going on to earn a master’s and doctorate from George Washington University.

Jared Cotton
Chesapeake Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton

“I was sitting where you sit today,” he told the class of 2018. “If there was a slogan for me regarding Tidewater Community College, it would be, ‘From here, find your purpose.’ ”

Encouraged by his mother and sister, both TCC alumni, the Great Bridge High School graduate attended the college with a plan to be a pharmacist. His time at TCC shaped a different future. While taking classes, he worked at the Pines Treatment Center, a rehabilitation home for troubled teens, as a substitute teacher. As a student teacher, he flourished and realized his passion was education.

“That’s where I found my purpose,” said Cotton, who also holds a bachelor’s from Old Dominion University.

Cotton highlighted the stories of previous TCC graduates who credit the college with helping them find their direction, including Shorntail Goodrich, working at the Norfolk Community Services Board; Michelle Wharton, a licensed geologist at one of the nation’s premier environmental planning and consulting firms; and Patrina Felts, graduating Monday with an Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Service. Felts recently started her career as a funeral director at Metropolitan Funeral Service in Norfolk.

“Today I hope you leave finding your purpose,” Cotton said.

Paul Cage spoke on behalf of the students, many of them military veterans like himself. Cage spent 21 years in the Navy and came to TCC to retrain for a new career He earned his Associate of Applied Science in Interior Design and a Certificate in Associate Designer; he previously was awarded a Career Studies Certificate in Truck Driving.graduation dec 2018

“Remember in the face of adversity, turn it into fuel to motivate you to come up with great ideas – become the best person you can be,”said Cage, planning to open his own business. “Our commencement marks the beginning of our new lives personally and professionally.”

Cage graduated with his wife, Sherrilyn Olds-Cage, who received her Associate of Science in Social Sciences. She is currently a student at Old Dominion.

President DeCinque presented a posthumous degree to the family of Belinda Drew. Drew was two classes shy of earning her Associate of Science in Social Sciences, when she died unexpectedly in July. Her sons Gevasico Gaskins and Wayne Vanderpool Jr., along with numerous family members were in attendance.

Nearly 2,000 comprise the newest class of TCC graduates, who join a network of more than 100,000 alumni. The college is also celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Gevasico Gaskins, President DeCinque, Wayne Vanderpool Jr., and Emanuel Chestnut, interim provost of the Norfolk Campus, honor Belinda Drew with a posthumous degree.

From around the world, across the states to TCC graduate

Veteran Paul Cage traveled the world during his 22-year Navy career and then transitioned to driving a tractor-trailer across all 50 states. Weary of the travel, he longed for a future where he would be at home more, and he found it by completing his associate degree at Tidewater Community College.

Now he plans to make your home more inviting as an interior designer. Cage, student speaker for the 67th Fall Commencement Exercises, graduates with an Associate of Applied Science in Interior Design and a Career Studies Certificate in Associate Designer.

“I was at a VA seminar and the rep suggested the TCC program, and at that time I thought it was just decorating,” said Cage, who also holds career studies certificates in associate designer and truck driving. “But it’s a totally different ball of wax. I was watching a lot of those house-flipping shows and they were making places functional. That’s a lot of what we do in interior design.”

Cage, who used his GI Bill® benefits for his education, plans to launch Stylyn Creative design in Chesapeake after graduation.

His degree included a seminar class that involved working with instructor Ron Austin to complete a whole house design. “That was a definite highlight for me,” he said. “I learned that it’s important to measure, measure, measure. If you’re off even an inch, that’s a big problem.”

Cage works with classmate Sheila Land on her final project..
Cage works with classmate Sheila Land on her final project.

“Paul fully engaged himself as a career-changer, and added to classroom discussions and provided assistance to classmates as needed,” said Jennifer Hopkins, program head for interior design. “His leadership and professionalism were always on display.”

Cage graduates with his wife, Sherrilyn Olds-Cage. She earned an Associate of Science in Social Sciences and plans a career in social work. She is already at Old Dominion University, studying toward her bachelor’s in psychology.

“I really surprised myself being able to complete this degree after being out of school for 20 years,” Olds-Cage said. “Initially I was really stressed, but once I got my rhythm, I found I was a better student now than as a young adult.”

Both graduates agree that TCC instructors are invested in their students. “Interior Design is one big family,” Cage said.

Paul and his wife, Sherrilyn Olds-Cage.
Paul and his wife, Sherrilyn Olds-Cage.

The couple has a blended family with four children: Dezmen Cage, 26; Dedra Olds, 17; Solé Cage, 17; and Paul Cage Jr., 16.

In his speech, Cage will encourage his classmates to face adversity and turn it into the fuel to motivate them. He said, “Don’t think you have to have it all figured out, but change course if need be. And always measure twice!”

Norfolk student remembered as “ray of sunshine” to receive posthumous degree at TCC graduation

Belinda Drew immersed herself in life at Tidewater Community College, where she was two classes shy of earning an associate degree.

Drew, 53, died unexpectedly on July 23.

The college will award the Norfolk resident a posthumous Associate of Science in Social Sciences at its 67th Commencement Exercises on Dec. 17 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Her sons, Wayne Vanderpool Jr., of Lindenwold, N.J., and Gevasico Gaskins of Norfolk, will be in attendance to receive it.

The Portsmouth native came to TCC in spring 2013 looking to overcome the depression that followed the passing of her husband and mother. Despite struggling with learning disabilities, she persevered with the help of tutoring from the Open Door Project (ODP), which assists first-generation college students, and the Learning Assistance Center.

“Math proved to be one of her biggest challenges, but she persevered,” said Willette Hackney-Davis, a counselor with ODP. “Her success at TCC changed her life and the life of her family. She was a ray of sunshine.”

“She loved the school and loved her counselor,” Vanderpool said.

While at TCC, Drew found a church home at Gethsemane Community Fellowship Baptist Church and went from living with a friend to securing her own apartment to purchasing her own home. She died before moving in.

Drew regularly participated in Norfolk Campus activities and took part in trips earlier this year with fellow ODP students to explore colleges and culture in Atlanta and the Triangle area in North Carolina.

Drew previously held jobs in nursing and at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

In addition to her sons, Drew is survived by four sisters and two brothers.

Navy veteran paying it forward

Coby Dillard stumbled into college one sunny afternoon while walking down Granby Street in Norfolk. The Navy veteran had just completed work with Gov. McDonnell’s campaign and was looking for a job to support his family.

He realized he was on Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk Campus.

“I stepped into the veterans services office and when I left, I had a full course load and a part-time job as a work-study student,” Dillard said.

Eight years later, Dillard is the coordinator of veterans and military services at University of California at Santa Barbara and working on his doctorate in higher education leadership and management through Regent University.

“This is my first time leading a program, and I’m excited to build relationships with veterans and military-related students,” Dillard said. “It’s my greatest joy to connect students with resources and help them find their own paths to success.”

Dillard earned his Associate of Science in Social Sciences from Tidewater Community College in 2012. He went on to earn his bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies at Norfolk State University and a master’s in human service counseling from Regent University.

While at TCC, Dillard held many positions from financial aid assistant to academic advisor in the college’s Center for Military and Veterans Education. He also worked briefly with military students at Regent University.

As a TCC student, Dillard was president of the Student Government Association on the Norfolk Campus from 2011-12.

Dillard credits several faculty and staff members with investing in his future, including Linda Jacobs, a veterans benefits advisor he met that first day on campus.

Now Dillard is paying it forward.

“Everyone is going to leave the military at some point. I’ve seen so many people come to me with three days left in the service and no idea of the next steps,” he said. “I help veterans, military spouses and active duty military navigate their benefits and plan for the future.

“I feel like this is a calling. I’ve changed from someone who hated school to a lifelong learner, and I know it’s going to impact my family.”

Dillard and wife Trieasha have a son, DJ, who is 11 and a daughter, Allie, 9.

For students coming after him, Dillard promises, “If I can do it, so can you. Find what you love and then do the work to get there.”


A celebration of multiple firsts and a memorial for a special grad part of TCC’s spring commencement

During a Saturday afternoon of milestones and remembrances, Tidewater Community College celebrated the spring class of 2018 at its 66th Commencement Exercises.

In addition to more than 700 graduates walking in the ceremony at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani recognized the following milestones:

  • Four graduates, Brandi Porter, Gabrielle Hutchings, Jaylyn Richard and Jay Sellers, received the Governor’s Medallion, given to four teenagers who completed associate degrees while still in high school.
  • Alexis Spangler and Xiaomin Chen, are the inaugural students to graduate through the Women’s Center’s STEM Promise Program, which provides full scholarships to students pursuing STEM degrees at TCC. Each earned an Associate of Science of Engineering.
  • Another first: Christopher Newbill and Alyssa Shepherd, both Wilson High School seniors, became the first high school students to earn Career Studies Certificates in Maritime Welding.
  • Emma Tracy became the first recipient of the Associate of Fine Arts in Music.
  • Finally, five students from Chesapeake Public high schools, Zachary Booker, Hunter Edward, Brandon Halloran, Christian Keifer and Jalem Wilson, became the first recipients of the Career Studies Certificate in Electrical Wiring for Technicians.
Student speaker Tony Sawyer and President Kolovani at TCC's 66th Commencement Exercises.
Student speaker Tony Sawyer and President Kolovani at Commencement.

Keynote speaker Cheryl Turpin, an educator elected last fall to Virginia’s House of Delegates, encouraged the students to keep learning regardless of age.

“No matter your age, I see nothing but young minds when I look out to this crowd,” said the longtime science teacher.

Turpin’s journey has taken her from science teacher at Cox High School to the cover of Time magazine the week after she was elected to the House of Delegates. “If you follow your passions, you can achieve what you dream,” she said.

Student speaker Tony Sawyer, previously a high school dropout, talked about finding the desire to succeed at TCC thanks to the support he received. He graduated with an Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

“Education required a lot of sacrifices, but the lessons learned have been worth it,” said Sawyer, on the President’s List every semester at TCC and bound for Old Dominion University. “Today’s success is not an ending point. Let us apply the knowledge we’ve learned to make a difference.

Jordan McNair's classmates and President Kolovani on stage at Commencement.
Jordan McNair’s classmates at Commencement.

“As a former 16-year-old dropout, who is now a 49-year-old TCC graduate and attending the ODU honors college in the fall, I currently experience a new freedom from this education I no longer thought was possible,” he said.

During the conferring of degrees, Jordan McNair was awarded a posthumous Career Studies Certificate in Automotive Chassis Systems. McNair, a student at TCC’s Regional Automotive Center, died in a car accident last August. He was 20 years old.

Jordan McNair's parents, (center) Dexter McNair and Paula Borchert, accept his certificate during a standing ovation from classmates.
Jordan McNair’s parents, (center) Dexter McNair and Paula Borchert, accept his certificate during a standing ovation from classmates.

McNair’s family received an inspiring standing ovation from the graduates. His classmates, who finished restoring his project car, a 2000 Honda Civic, presented his family with his certificate.

Priority Automotive’s Jim Rose, McNair’s employer, also announced a new $12,000 scholarship, the Jordan McNair Memorial Honda PACT Scholarship, sponsored by the dealership. The scholarship will assist second-year TCC students enrolled in the Honda PACT program.

TCC’s alumni base of more than 100,000 continues to grow with the addition of the 1,500 graduates who are part of the class of 2018.