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Knowing this code can get you a job – fast. Meet the TCC instructor who teaches it

If learning building codes sounds dry, you’ve never taken Christina Jackson’s class at Tidewater Community College.

The code team leader for the City of Norfolk uses real-world examples to make the International Residential Code come alive to a classroom of contractors, veterans, future engineers and recent high school graduates. Better yet, her class prepares students for a certification exam that, upon passage, makes them eligible to be a building code inspector or plan reviewer of I and II family homes. Salaries start in the $40,000 range.

“One certification and you can have a job,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of opportunity out there. It can become a career. It’s easy to be cherry picked if you’re good.”

Complete TCC’s Career Studies Certificate in Construction Project Management or Associate of Applied Science in Civil Engineering Technology, and you could go even further.

“TCC’s programs are a doorway to get people to where they’re going to be needed in the future,” Jackson said.

The Dayton, Ohio, native fell into the field after starting as an accountant. She began her code inspection career with a national corporation that did building code enforcement for different localities in the greater Cincinnati and Dayton areas. Jackson transitioned into an inspection role and found a career path that appealed to her “community first” attitude.

“If you’ve ever seen the show ‘Hoarders,’ I was the one from the city telling you to clean up your house,” she said with a laugh.

The 30-chapter textbook for the BLD 115 class on the Virginia Beach Campus rivals the thickness of the dictionary, but it’s a good investment for anyone planning to make a career in the field. “I cover the first 10 chapters in my class,” she said. “Once you buy the book, you’ll refer to it for all the codes for building a house inside and out – electrical, mechanical, plumbing. It’s all in there.”

Most of us don’t think about codes until disaster strikes, she said. When a tsunami or hurricane impacts a home, an investigation can reveal that a structure wasn’t up to code leading to liability issues. “By knowing the code before you build, you’re thinking about it on the front end, not the back and you can prevent problems,” she said. “If you’re in construction or drawing up plans, you have to know the code.”

The most tedious detail is relevant.

“Let’s say you’re building a roof,” she said. “There’s even a code for the type of fasteners to use.”

Jackson incorporates a virtual inspection into the class so students can decide if a building passes or fails.

Learning building code is a portable skill; Jackson is the wife of a Navy chief stationed at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. She was able to easily transition to an inspection job in Newport News after working in Ohio and ultimately landed at the City of Norfolk in 2011. It’s not unusual for her to manage 20 inspections in one day.

As one of the region chairs for the Virginia Building and Code Officials Association, she has an eye out for jobs for qualified students. Jackson is also a founding board member of Women in Code Enforcement and Development; she currently serves as the vice president of the Virginia chapter. She aspires to be a chief building official and enjoys introducing the field to self-motivated students.

“There’s a need for code inspectors right here,” she said. “One of the best parts of being an inspector is seeing the transformation of your neighborhood, your corner of the city. It’s just an awesome job.”

Reach out to Jackson with questions at

“A civil engineering degree is a game changer,” says TCC alumna from VDOT’s Richmond Division

Karen Kee had a slate of marketable skills. She just needed the college degree to go with them.

So she turned to Tidewater Community College, earning her Associate of Applied Science in Civil Engineering Technology.

Today the construction program analyst for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) in Richmond teleworks from home one to three days a week.

“A civil engineering degree is a game changer,” she said.

After graduating from Greenville County High, the Emporia native skipped from job to job, including a stint in consumer collections. She signed on with VDOT Hampton Roads initially as a fiscal assistant, where her duties ranged from processing financial transactions to monitoring budgets to coordinating emergency response teams when appropriate.

After more than four years, she longed for another challenge and applied for a contract administration position at VDOT. She got rejected three times.

Kee moved into a fiscal technician position but wasn’t satisfied.

“I was stuck,” she said. “I felt like I had bottomed out.”

For Kee to advance, she realized she needed the credibility a degree offered.

Husband Jerry encouraged her to attend TCC, pushing its business program. But he had earned the civil engineering associate, and given her background with VDOT, Kee considered that associate a better fit.

“It’s not going to be easy,” warned Jerry, an assistant residency administrator, who will mark his 40th year with VDOT this year.

I don’t expect it to be,” Kee said, who continued to work full time while taking evening classes. That meant driving twice a week from her Franklin home to the Virginia Beach Campus for her civil engineering coursework.

The 64-credit associate, taught by civil engineering professionals who incorporate real-world experience into instruction, teaches the fundamentals of surveying, construction materials and testing and computer-aided drafting and design.

Kee had never taken calculus, but given her aptitude for math, she enjoyed the challenge, using apps and books from Barnes & Noble to help with formulas.

The hydraulics component of the program was her favorite. “It’s amazing, the power of water,” she said. “I probably would have pursued that part of civil engineering more in depth had I been younger.”

She chipped away at the degree, graduating in 2012. Kee, 51, intended to transfer into the bachelor’s program at Old Dominion University, but raising two children and managing a multitude of projects consumed the bulk of her time.

With her degree and numerous certifications, Kee became a more attractive job candidate and left VDOT to work in consulting as a management analyst in construction services, a position that doubled her salary. She also was given a vehicle to help with the commute from Franklin to Richmond.

“The degree was the icing on the cake to help with the skill set I had,” Kee said. “It made me a lot more valuable.”

She returned to VDOT four years ago, this time working in the Richmond District Construction office, though she only makes the long drive a few times a week given how computerized her work has become.

Kee, who is president of the board of directors of Cypress Cove Country Club in Franklin, is an avid crafter, passionate golfer, wife and mother of two daughters.  She encourages others to consider the civil engineering field given its versatility.

“There are so many different avenues,” she said. “You can go survey; you can go geotechnical. You can do drafting or hydraulics engineering. There aren’t many women in the civil engineering field because it’s been deemed a man’s world. I had to fight to earn the respect from co-workers and peers.”

“Now I can sit around the table and be part of the conversation with engineers alike.”