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TCC grads make strides in careers

Meet Nina Vahadi and Delaney Theilman. They are both Tidewater Community College graduates who earned Engineering degrees in May.

During summers both grads are making strides in their careers.

They are now encouraging others to follow their lead. “If I can do this, so can anyone. Take your time and don’t burn out,” Delaney said. Nina added, “Stick to your guns, and don’t let doubt take over. Just keep going!”

Nina and Delaney on TCC’s Norfolk Campus.

Nina, who landed an engineering aide position at Lockheed Martin, is spending this summer as a NASA intern and is working on the Lucy mission. During its 12-year primary mission, Lucy will explore a record-breaking number of asteroids, flying by one main-belt asteroid, and seven Trojans.

“This is really exciting because the mission is focused on the Trojan asteroids to interpret how our solar system started,” Nina said. “I’m going to be working on the hardware for a test flight simulator and can’t wait to get started!”

Last summer Delaney was the leader of TCC’s team for the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Model Design Competition held in June. She led her team to take third place. “Practice makes perfect, and we did plenty of that preparing for this competition,” she said. “We had to come up with our own ideas and not use any kits.”

This ASEE competition is open to students at both 2-year and 4-year colleges. All of the TCC’s participants were members of the Engineering Club and the STEM Club.

Both women say they received phenomenal support from the college. They credit their professors for providing quality education. And also, for supporting them in outside projects.

“When I wanted to bring a wind project to the school, they backed me up and helped me write the grant proposal for the Repowering Schools Small Wind Turbine Research,” Delaney said. “That project is continuing even after I graduate from TCC.”

Nina added, “And when I wanted to bring NASA’s RockOn! program to the school they helped me get the funding.” The RockOn! program enabled students to learn and apply skills in building experiments for suborbital space flight. Student teams from across the nation participated in the program.

Looking back Nina says it’s amazing to see her forward progress. “I started studying biology and was thinking about the healthcare field. And then I realized that I wanted to build things and I found engineering,” she said.

Delaney never thought college was for her until the pandemic hit. “I found myself needing to retrain,” Delaney said. “I’ve been obsessed with Legos forever and spent hours watching TED Talks with women engineers. I was really inspired by their stories and decided to give engineering and TCC a try. I’m so glad I did!”

Both women are proud to represent women in the STEM fields. “There are many women in history who inspire us and have left big footprints for us to follow,” Delaney said. “But you still feel accomplished each step of the way and that in turn helps you keep going.”

Looking ahead, Nina is pursuing an engineering bachelor’s degree at Old Dominion University and will be working full-time at Lockheed Martin. Delany will continue her education at Virginia Tech and is studying computer and systems engineering.

Delaney is a proud Navy wife who has two dogs named Luna and Nova. Nina and her boyfriend also have two dogs they call Rocky and Billy.

TCC grad finds meaningful work in area shipyard

Tidewater Community College alum Phillip Le’s morning commute to Newport News Shipbuilding includes stunning sunrises over the HRBT.

“Seeing the sun come up over the water never fails to make me shed a tear of happiness,” he said. “I wake up every day knowing I worked hard to be doing something greater than I ever imagined.”

Phillip earned an Associate of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology in December 2022 and is now completing a paid cooperative education program at the shipyard. He is also working on a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering technology at Old Dominion University.

Phillip learned about the shipbuilder’s cooperative education program from TCC Professor Kenny Grimes.

“Because TCC has small classes, you get to know your professors and they get to know you,” he added. “They know your strengths and weaknesses and can recommend positions suited for you.”

At just 21, Phillip is working as a nuclear engineer servicing America’s nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. “This is bigger than any job I thought I’d be doing. I’m honored to contribute to keeping our nation secure,” he said. “It’s also really enjoyable seeing what I learned at TCC getting applied to real projects,  in this case America’s finest vessels.”

Phillip started at TCC just before the pandemic and he notes that virtual learning took a toll on his mental health. “I really missed the interactions with classmates and working in the labs,” he said. “But I’m so glad I stuck it out.”

Phillip Le (top right) with the Rock On team.

While at TCC, Phillip was involved with the Engineering Club and the STEM Club. He also volunteered for two engineering projects, one for NASA called “Rock On” and the other for an American Society for Engineering Education Model Design Competition

“I’m prepared for my higher-level classes at ODU and that’s because of the extra hands-on projects and fully supplied labs available at TCC,” he said.

Phillip also learned about trial and error at the college. “Engineering is all about trying and trying again,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to fail, just get up and start again.”

Phillip wants to thank all his engineering and math professors who helped guide the way. “I want to thank all of my teachers and especially Mr. Grimes who taught me how to think and communicate like an engineer and connected me with my first job,” Phillip said.

“Working and going to school is tough some days,” Phillip added. “But I’m humbled and grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.”

STEM Promise Scholar sets her sights on NASA career

Mya Day loves science and has always wanted to work at NASA.

As a Tidewater Community College STEM Promise Scholar, she is on her way to making this dream come true.

“I feel so fortunate to be part of STEM Promise. It’s pretty great having tuition covered, but it doesn’t end there,” Mya said. “The connections, internships and volunteer opportunities are also a big plus.”

Mya, 18, chose TCC because the Virginia Beach Campus is close to home, allowing her to ease into the college experience. “It’s been the perfect challenge and I’m getting a good education,” she said.

Mya is working toward an Associate of Science in Engineering and enjoying a full slate of science and math classes. She especially enjoys chemistry class with her now favorite instructor, Casey Clements. “She’s this high-energy teacher who doesn’t make you feel stupid for asking a question. I really appreciate that.”

Taking classes both in-person and online, Mya says it’s the best of both worlds. “I really enjoy being on campus for labs and making connections with classmates,” she added.

Mya was also selected to be part of the CIVIC Scholars Program, a collaborative initiative between the CIVIC Leadership Institute, Old Dominion University and TCC that fosters a spirit of civic engagement, professionalism and leadership in college students in Hampton Roads.

Mya plans to transfer to Old Dominion University for her bachelor’s in engineering.

“College is not easy,” Mya added. “But with persistence and work, I know it’s going to be so worth it in the end.”

TCC’s STEM Promise Scholarship program is accepting applications now through April 1. STEM Promise covers all tuition and fees for four semesters at TCC. Students who complete their degrees transfer to their selected universities as juniors. To learn more about the program visit here.

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.

The bzzzzzz on the fun of engineering from one of TCC’s own

In case you haven’t heard the buzz, it’s National Engineers Week, a seven-day celebration of all that engineers do to make our world a better place.

Take Tidewater Community College student Daniel Howard, for example, who not only wants to make his career in engineering, but has an innovative idea that could improve environmental sustainability.

The Ocean Lakes High School graduate, working toward his Associate of Science in Engineering at TCC, is also a beekeeper.

Daniel Howard and neighbor Clinton Noble capture a swarm of bees in Norfolk.

Howard’s interest in honeybees dates back to his family starting a farm in Appomattox, where his dad continues to grow hundreds of fruits and vegetables. The more plants you grow, the more that require pollination, which honeybees provide.

“If you have more pollinators, the hopes are that you’ll have more food for your crops,” he said. “Quicker pollination also helps the fruit grow faster.”

It’s estimated that in North America roughly 30 percent of the food humans consume is produce from bee-pollinated plant life.

In addition to maintaining a hive on the farm, Howard keeps 11 hives in the backyard of his Norfolk home. Here’s where the engineering part fits in.

With the help of TCC Professor Kenneth Grimes, Howard is working to design a more efficient foundation, the part of the frame on each individual hive where the queen lays her eggs and the bees build their comb.

The typical foundation sold by retailers contains hundreds of hexagon cells, 5.2 millimeters each. Using Inventor software and a 3-D printer, Howard’s prototype foundation contains even smaller cells, 4.6 millimeters to be exact, which, he said, are closest to the natural size and possibly more efficient.

It’s a trial-and-error, time-consuming process that puts his critical thinking skills to the test.

Close-up of Howard’s prototype foundation. 

“I don’t think there’d be any opportunity to do this at a bigger university, to foster this type of creativity,” Howard said. “I had this idea and Professor Grimes has worked with me.  It’s been a giant challenge.”

But the problem-solving aspect of engineering is why Howard went into engineering in the first place. After he earns his associate degree, he will go for his bachelor’s in civil engineering at Old Dominion University.

Bees, he hopes, will continue to be a hobby. Not surprisingly, he’s been stung, more times than he can count.

“Pretty much any time I go around the bees, I get stung, whether I’m suited up or not,” he said. “But it’s no big deal.”