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Horticulture students grow a greenhouse full of vegetables for families in need

There’s an old saying that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That applies to vegetables, too.

With that concept in mind, and facing the COVID-19 crisis, Tidewater Community College and its Horticulture program donated a greenhouse full of vegetables and herbs to eventually provide salads and healthy sides for families in need.

TCC Horticulture students grew a healthy selection of vegetables and herbs in the new greenhouse at Chesapeake Campus.

“When our spring plant sale was cancelled because of the worldwide pandemic, we knew we had to do something to help people in need,” said Andrea Tomlin, assistant professor and program head for Horticulture.

Tomlin contacted the Virginia Cooperative Extension, which connected her with Healthy Chesapeake and the 13 community gardens it supports.

Tomlin’s Crop Production students worked all semester growing plants and herbs, including heirloom tomatoes, peppers, oregano, parsley, sage and even insect-pollinating plants that will help the gardens remain strong.

“My students were so happy to be able to contribute and give back during this time,” Tomlin said. “Taking some positive action and coming together to serve our community has been very rewarding.”

Picking up the donation from TCC’s Andrea Tomlin (left) are Chris Lessick, Calib Miller and Kimi Stevens with Healthy Chesapeake.

The Horticulture program donated five truckloads of plants to Healthy Chesapeake and its Food Connection program that exists to address food insecurity and promote healthy eating. The goal is to reduce chronic disease and improve the quality of life for families, at-risk youth and homebound seniors in need.

“It’s crazy to see how things work out because, with the closing of schools, we lost our crops in the community seed bank, where we raise seedlings for planting across the city. Now with this amazing, huge windfall, our gardens will be able to feed even more people,” said Calib Miller, food connection program manager with Healthy Chesapeake.

Miller called the donation “an incredible boon and bounty for us.”

Healthy Chesapeake supports community gardens that include Atlantic Shores Christian School, Historic South Norfolk Community Garden, Cambridge Square Apartments and Wildcat Garden at Great Bridge High.

Horticulture students also grew 25,000 annual bedding plants that would typically benefit the community. Now they will be planted on TCC’s four campuses. Tomlin added, “While we miss being on campus, we are happy that the fruits of our labor will be enjoyed by students and faculty when we return.”

To learn more about TCC’s Horticulture program, email Tomin at

From here, go to work in advanced manufacturing

If you look at the fronts of McDonalds or Starbucks or even the student centers on Tidewater Community College’s campuses, you’ll see Alpolic®, a composite material that adds color and dimension and, of course, coverage to each building.

TCC graduate Dylan Starowicz is at work on the lamination line for Alpolic®, manufactured by Mitsubishi Chemical Composites America in Chesapeake.

At 19 years old, he is earning a competitive full-time salary with benefits. Starowicz earned his Career Studies Certificate in Mechatronics at the same time as his diploma from Great Bridge High.

“It’s a good idea to give people different avenues to go down, not just traditional college,” Starowicz said. “It’s important to get students to think about technical careers and branch out to try different things.”

Chesapeake Public School (CPS) dual-enrolled mechatronics students started taking classes in their home high schools as sophomores and spent part of their junior and senior years on TCC’s Chesapeake Campus training in state-of-the-art labs.

“The old manufacturing jobs don’t exist anymore. Now it’s all computer-controlled, and we are looking for people who can use their minds, not their backs,” said Bill Yannetti, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Chemical. “Students who’ve gone through the TCC program bring a definite skill set, and they have value in our company right away.”

Thanks to partnerships with the City of Chesapeake Department of Economic Development and the advanced manufacturing sector, all of the CPS dual-enrolled students were awarded full scholarships by area firms. Donor companies include Mitsubishi Chemical, Sumitomo Machinery Corporation of America, USUI USA, Yupo Corporation America, GeoQuip Manufacturing Inc., Air Systems, Inc., Manufacturing and Design Technology, Inc., Nitto Inc., and TowneBank.

Mechatronic students also earned industry credentials and can apply all their credits to an Associate of Applied Science in Mechatronics, which they can complete in just one year.

“Dylan is a breath of fresh air,” said Tim Elixson, production manager at Mitsubishi Chemical. “You actually can hear the education speaking for itself. He asks a lot of forward-thinking questions.”

“This is what the program was created for and I wish I had more candidates just like him.”

Starowicz monitors machinery, troubleshoots problems and ensures quality control of products coming off the line.

“There was a little learning curve at the start, but I’ve settled in,” he said. “I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity and see it as a stepping stone for my career.

“I feel like I’ve come full circle. They helped me out and now I’m working for them.”

#NationalManufacturingWeek will celebrate partnership of TCC, CPS, City of Chesapeake and local manufacturing sector

Manufacturing finally has its own week in the City of Chesapeake in large part thanks to a partnership with Tidewater Community College, Chesapeake Public Schools (CPS), Chesapeake’s Department of Economic Development and its local manufacturing sector.

Earlier this week, Chesapeake City Council designated the second week in October “Manufacturing Week in Chesapeake” to celebrate a successful partnership that fills the skills gap for industry and provides quality career training for dozens of students.  This designated week follows the celebration of National Manufacturing Day which is held annually on the first Friday of October.

Chesapeake City Council designated the second week in October “Manufacturing Week in Chesapeake” to celebrate a successful partnership that fills the skills gap for industry and provides quality career training for dozens of students
Chesapeake City Council designated the second week in October “Manufacturing Week in Chesapeake” to celebrate a successful partnership that fills the skills gap for industry and provides quality career training for dozens of students.

“Manufacturing in Chesapeake is having a greater impact on our local economy with more spin-off jobs than any other industry,” said Steven Wright, director of Economic Development for the city.

What started as an idea three years ago morphed into a TCC and CPS partnership where high school students can earn their Career Studies Certificate in Mechatronics and an industry-recognized credential along with their diplomas.

Chesapeake is home to more than 40 manufacturing firms, employing more than 3,200 skilled technicians.

“Several years ago we held a summit and learned of the need for qualified technicians to fill high-demand and high-paying jobs,” said Lisa Rhine, provost of the Chesapeake Campus. “In May, we will graduate our first cohort of students in mechatronics, and two other cohorts will follow in 2020 and 2021.”

After graduation, students may complete their Associate of Applied Science in Mechatronics in just one year.

Western Branch’s Alex Kincaid is a junior in the program.

“I’ve always enjoyed electrical work, more than just plugging the X-Box into the TV,” he said. “This program has inspired me to be an electrical engineer. I enjoy the hands-on training and know that it will benefit me in the long-run.”

The program is supported by local manufacturing businesses and includes plant tours and mentoring for students.

The program is supported by scholarships from area manufacturers, bringing in $29,000 to help students pay for college courses while still in high school. Participating organizations are Air Systems International, GeoQuip Manufacturing, Manufacturing and Design Tech, Mitsubishi Chemical Composites America Inc., Towne Bank, Nitto Inc., Sumitomo Drive Technologies, USUI International, and Yupo Corporation.