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What started with a single TCC class grew into a cyber-security career for Air Force veteran

One-third of TCC’s students are military-related. This week we highlight some of them in honor of Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Air Force veteran Kendall Shook spent her career serving her country and community.

She started as a Russian cryptologic linguist in the service and later worked as an emergency dispatcher for the Department of Defense and City of Chesapeake, where she was also on the SWAT team.

Today, she is a cyber security specialist with an industry credential who protects data and computer networks.

Shook originally came to Tidewater Community College to take one computer class.

That sparked her interest in one of the most in-demand fields in the nation given the relentless security breaches that continue to threaten data.

 “Once I came here, I decided to keep going and it’s all because of Professor Guess’ passion for cyber and the way he engages with his students,” Shook said.

Kendall Shook

Taking online classes at TCC enabled Shook to continue working full time while pursuing her degree.

 “My professors are standouts in the field,” Shook said. “I really enjoyed the mix of ages and backgrounds of my classmates. It pushed all of us to view things from different perspectives.”

Shook found her current career opportunity at a “Lunch and Learn” event held on the Chesapeake Campus. Today, she is employed at a busy network operation center, using her TCC degree and CompTIA Security+ certification.

Shook worked with TCC’s Center for Military and Veterans Education (CMVE) to use her GI Bill benefits to pay her tuition. She learned about the CMVE while visiting a TCC transfer event with her son, Ethan, who was also studying cyber security at the college.

After earning an Associate of Applied Science in Cyber Security, the Chesapeake native transferred to Old Dominion University to complete a bachelor’s in cyber security.

“I can tell you TCC was a good value and prepared me for work in the field,” Shook said. “I’m also just as confident in my studies at Old Dominion as those who started at the university.”

Shook plans a future as a malware analyst or reverse computer engineer. She encourages her classmates to take those entry level help desk positions, as they often lead to other possibilities in the field.

“It’s all about networking and getting involved in the industry as soon as possible,” she said. “Your TCC degree is proof to everyone of what you are capable of learning. And it all starts with a single class!”

For special support services for military-related students, visit the CMVE or call 757-822-7645. You can also email

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.”


In her own words

Melissa Strong, 28, came to Tidewater Community College to train for a career. Two years later, she is a systems and network engineer with General Dynamics Information Technology earning three times more than before college.

Before TCC

“I was working as a receptionist in a salon and spa, and I was always hunting for things to fix on the computer. I’ve always enjoyed technology, but it was not something I was encouraged to pursue.

“One of my coworkers encouraged me to go to TCC and take core IT classes until I figured out what I wanted to do.”

Why TCC?

“I really had no expectations going in. I took a virtualization course, and that led me to the cyber security program and Professor Rob Guess. After my first class, I was hooked. What I like best about cyber is that there are many different ways to apply what you are learning. It’s constantly changing and you have to keep learning and apply yourself.”

What are you doing with you Associate of Applied Science in Information Systems Technology

“My degree was IT and I also have a certificate in cyber security. I now work as a systems and network engineer with General Dynamics Information Technology. My education at TCC prepared me to pass the exams necessary to get my job, including the A+ and Security+ certifications. I absolutely love the work I’m doing and the traveling that goes with the position.

“I’m earning three times what I made at the salon. I bought a little place in Norfolk with three bedrooms and a bath and a half. I love living on my own and enjoy cooking when I’m at home. I’m also driving a new-to-me car, a 2016 Toyota Corolla.”

Favorite professors?

“I connected with Professor Guess. He helped me get my job and was a knowledgeable and helpful teacher. Another favorite was Joel Kirch, the faculty advisor for the cyber club. He helped our group do a national cyber league competition.”

While at TCC?

“I volunteered with Computers for Student Success, where we fixed computers and then gave them to students who needed them. I absolutely loved the hands-on work combined with helping others.”

What’s next?

“I’m working on my bachelor’s in information technology from Western Governors University. I’d ultimately like to develop secure applications. What I love about this field is that there are many different ways to apply what you are learning. If you are working in one area, you can change directions easily.”

Best advice for students

“Definitely take advantage of the teachers and use them as resources. They have invaluable life and work experience and are willing to share that knowledge with students.”


Perseverance pays off for TCC scholarship recipient

Dakota Bernacki always knew he would be paying his own way through college.

So when the time came for him to consider his educational options, Tidewater Community College’s affordability made it the clear choice.

“I didn’t want to wing it and hope I got the financial aid I needed at a four-year school,” Bernacki said. “And I also wasn’t 100 percent sure what I was going to study. I wanted some flexibility in my first year of college to explore my options within the electrical and computer engineering fields before committing to a particular degree track.”

The engineering program’s reputation, hands-on skills training and guaranteed transfer agreements sealed the deal.

Bernacki knew the proceeds from his small business, an on-call tech company that specializes in home networking, tech setup and virus/malware removal, would cover the cost of his textbooks. But he wanted to explore all of his funding options.

In his research, he stumbled across TCC’s scholarship website. He applied for a variety of awards but the system was difficult to navigate. Last year’s upgrades made all the difference.

“The new system recommended a variety of scholarships for me, including quite a few that I would not have known about before,” Bernacki said. That includes the Chesapeake Campus General Scholarship, which he received this year.

The Chesapeake Campus General Scholarship was established through donations from a diverse group of donors. The funds are intended to help high-performing students pursue higher education at TCC. Recipients are selected based on financial need, academic standing and personal qualities.

David Kiracofe, professor of history on the Chesapeake Campus, is a faculty member who has contributed to the Chesapeake Campus General Scholarship fund.

“I donate to scholarships because from my experience at TCC, it’s the point at which students struggle the most. For some of them, one good semester can keep them going – without help, their momentum can just evaporate.”

Kiracofe was a scholarship recipient himself in college – “for mathematics, which is really unsuitable because I’m terrible at math” – and he understands how the rising cost of education can complicate a student’s dreams of a degree.

“Community college students often don’t have the luxury of a four-year student,” he said. “They have responsibilities weighing on them like jobs, family obligations and personal issues. My hope is that scholarships like this one can help them complete their educations.”

For Bernacki, the scholarship has helped relieve the financial pressure of student loan debt.

“Knowing I don’t have to repay my scholarship money means one less thing for me to worry about,” he said. “When less debt hangs over your head, it becomes quite a bit easier to focus on learning new things. Paying less out of pocket also gives me more flexibility to transfer immediately to a four-year school instead of taking a few years to work full time and save up.”

Bernacki will finish his Associate of Science in Engineering this fall and hopes to transfer to a four-year school after that to pursue a bachelor’s in computer engineering.

“My education is my responsibility,” he said. “This is my future and there are more resources here at TCC to help me succeed than I could’ve known existed.”

For more information about available scholarships at TCC, visit To learn more about establishing a scholarship at TCC, contact the TCC Educational Foundation at or 757-822-1080.