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TCC alum expands successful business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Simmons with Virginia Beach Police Mounted Patrol.

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

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

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

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

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

TCC biz whiz captures second place in global competition

Tidewater Community College Funeral Services student Jaden Fowlkes took second place in an entrepreneur competition held at the Virginia Beach Campus on Jan. 21.

He was one of six Virginia student entrepreneurs who presented their businesses in a shark-tank style competition for the ultimate prize of up to $50,000.

All six students started a business while in college and competed in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. They pitched ideas to a panel of judges, with ideas ranging technology, board games and real-estate.

Jaden with his parents Jeff and Tonya McDowell.

“The event was amazing, even life-changing,” Jaden said. “It made it easier to see the value of my business and boosted my resolve of helping funeral homes better serve their families with technology.”

Jaden, 19, learned the ropes of the funeral services business as a teenager working for Fitchett-Mann Funeral Services in South Norfolk.

Today, he has his own business, J. Fowlkes Consulting, and provides branding, marketing and access to needed technology for funeral homes.

“I’m working to pull funeral homes into the 21st Century by connecting them with live streaming; cyber security and database management; funeral home administration; and website and social media support,” Jaden said. “I want them to have access to the best technology at a fair price so they can meet the needs of their clients.”

The Grassfield High graduate plans a career in the field and is pursuing an Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Services which he will complete in 2024.

Jaden credits Dean Nancy Prather-Johnson with helping him on his journey and being a mentor and one of his biggest supporters. “She has been a lifesaver and connected me with so many opportunities, including this one!”

Two other TCC students were recognized during the competition including Maria Arely Jimenez who earned 4th place and Lexus Ashley Lee for 6th place.

Winners received certificates, mentorship and investment opportunities. Virginia Commonwealth University student Jack Phillip Oppenheim was the 1st place winner. He will compete in the final competition that will be held in Africa.

For more information about TCC business programs and opportunities, contact Prather-Johnson at

From TCC to Regent Law School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From TCC to the Ellen Show to serving women and families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From here, they didn’t just get degrees. They also got married


What started as a chance meeting at a bench on the Virginia Beach Campus blossomed into a May wedding for two Tidewater Community College graduates now living happily ever after in Australia.

Logan Meredith and Brody Jose are spending their first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife five years after chatting outside the Blackwater Building prior to their shared class with Professor Christy Hewett.

“Aren’t you in my pre-calculus class?” are the first words Meredith asked somewhat awkwardly of her future hubby.

When Brody confirmed he was, Meredith recognized his Australian accent immediately. That impressed him and set off a conversation. Soon enough, Cupid struck.

“There’s not a passing day that I don’t think about that moment,” Meredith said from her new home in Wollongong, a coastal city just south of Sydney. “We both felt the same about each other every step of the way.”

The 2012 Salem High School grad decided on TCC to allow herself to complete her general education requirements while figuring out a career path. With an eye on transferring to VCU, Meredith earned her Associate of Science in Business Administration in May 2015.

“What I love about TCC is that for me it was a graceful transition in college, and I was able to take classes without having to worry about what I wanted to do in life,” said Meredith, who finished her bachelor’s in international management at VCU last May. “By the time I went to VCU, I was older and more mature and could carefully pick my concentration. With the partnerships that TCC has with other universities, I’m surprised more students don’t choose TCC.”


The Navy brought Jose’s family to Norfolk and he enrolled in TCC to prepare for a future in law enforcement. While he credits Meredith the most for making his time at the college so special, he also fell in love with the college’s criminal justice program.

“The thing I was most impressed with and still talk about now was the quality of the professors,” said Jose, who graduated with an Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice. “I had Professor Noor Razzaq for a couple of classes, and it became abundantly clear that he has a passion for teaching. I have never taken so much away from a class before.”

Jose is preparing to join the New South Wales Police Force. Meredith, adjusting to the transition of living 10,000 miles away from home, hopes to eventually own a nail salon.

The couple, who also share a commitment to the beach, swing dancing and walks together, married May 27, 2017 in Richmond.

“TCC is the place where I met my wife,” Jose said. “So it will always hold a special place in my heart.”

As for Valentine’s Day, “No special plans,” Meredith said. “We celebrate our love all year long.”