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TCC alum builds career as journalist and publisher

Susan Smigielski Acker got her start at Tidewater Community College’s Virginia Beach Campus in 1985, back in the day when a single-lane road led to campus.

“TCC was my second chance after a failed attempt at ODU,” Susan said. “I thought I’d be at TCC for just a year, but I liked it so much I stayed for two.”

Susan completed all of her general education courses at TCC and went on to earn a bachelor’s in communications and English at Old Dominion University.

“I found my love for poetry at TCC when I took an English class with professor Ruth Mack,” Susan said. “She introduced me to Emily Dickinson and it is something I still read today. The rhythm of the words is something that draws me back time and again.”

After earning her degree, Susan spent more than 30 years as a journalist telling the stories of Hampton Roads by writing business news and feature stories. She wrote for Inside Business, the Daily Press and Senior Advocate to name a few. She also spent time in media sales.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Susan and her husband Scott launched their own media outlet, VA Peninsula Media, to provide a locally operated outlet to cover the events and stories that are meaningful to Peninsula residents.

The media includes “VA Peninsula Magazine,” a free bi-monthly print publication distributed at more than 90 high-traffic locations such as restaurants, medical offices, breweries and coffee shops.

They also provide an online newsletter under the same name that covers community and entertainment news. It started with 40 subscribers and now has over 2,000.

“It’s going really well, and we enjoy providing a voice for all things Peninsula. As for me, I’m combining my love of writing and experience in media sales and doing it all under one umbrella,” Susan said.

VA Peninsula Media plans to expand next month to cover city government and economic development.  

“It’s amazing we’ve been successful considering our launch was during a time when nobody was going out. We were emphasizing virtual events then, now our goal is to get people out and enjoying the community.”

Susan encourages college students today to consider journalism and communication as a career. “We need good writers who can check their bias at the door,” she said.

“TCC gave me the start that led to a fulfilling career and that’s something I’ve always been grateful for,” she added.

Susan and Scott reside on the Peninsula and have two college-aged daughters, Charlotte and Julia.

English professor awarded college’s MLK service award

Annette Mewborn is passionate about bringing people together and serving the community. She is the recipient of TCC’s 2022 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award, which will be presented during a virtual ceremony on Feb. 25.

“I’m overwhelmed by this award and know that my service to the community stems from a passion my mother had to serve those in need. She inspired me and my sister to get involved in the community and we’ve been helping ever since.”

The English professor, who began working at the Virginia Beach Campus admissions office, joined the college in 1989.

For close to a decade, Mewborn organized Black History Month events on the Virginia Beach Campus to celebrate African American history and culture. The events included programs like “From the Root of It,” a look at hairstyles through the ages, as well as a historical review of “Motown Music.”

Annette Mewborn is TCC's MLK service award winner.

Her long list of accomplishments includes starting a tutoring center for children at Rehoboth Baptist Church. She set up the center and recruited volunteers to teach English, writing, music and Spanish.

Mewborn was the advisor and mentor for the Student African American Brotherhood. She also produced an African American newsletter, Changes, to encourage students to publish their poetry, essays and articles.

Pre-pandemic, Mewborn presented 12 holiday concerts at TCC with Echoes of Excellence, a group of students with a love for music. Together they packed the Pungo Auditorium year after year. She also established High Class, an educational band that writes and performs songs for youth at community events.

Most recently, Mewborn organized a toy drive and holiday concert for abused children through her work with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). The outdoor event was held in Mewborn’s own backyard.

And during the pandemic, she started The Novel Kids, a reading program for children to keep them engaged and learning in the summer months.

Mewborn is the recipient of a Teaching in Excellence award for 2021.

She encourages her TCC students to focus on the positive with the “good news” section in her online classes. And while she never planned to teach, she found her calling while a student at the college. She now holds a master’s degree in English and loves to see those light bulb moments, when students grasp the concepts she is teaching.

“I believe in peace and unity, and the tenets Dr. King held dear,” Mewborn said. “If you look at some of his most influential quotes, you see one word that mirrors the Bible and that is love. That’s how I strive to live my life. By loving my neighbor, wherever I am.”

Mewborn is married to Larry Mewborn, Sr., and has two children, Larry Mewborn, Jr. and Katisa Mewborn-Smith. The couple has four grandchildren.

TCC faculty speaks his truth through poetry

Tidewater Community College English instructor Daniel “D.L.” Pearlman has a way with words.

In the last two years, his poetry has received five awards, including the 2019 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize for his book of poetry, “Normal They Napalm the Cottonfields.”  The prize was presented to Pearlman in December at the Dogfish Inn.

Pearlman also received the 2019 first-place award from the Poetry Society of Virginia (PSoV) for his poem “When Morning Comes After Noon.”

Founded in 1923 at William and Mary, the PSoV is the second oldest state poetry society in the nation, sponsoring contests annually for students and adults.

“My work evolves out of my passion for old and decaying things – including farmhouses and other structures,” Pearlman said. “I enjoy spending weekends traveling the back roads of Virginia and North Carolina to find hidden treasures. I see beauty in the decay and my writing can reflect that back and relate it to the human experience.”

On his travels, Pearlman takes photos of broken-down houses, cars and tractors to inspire his work.

“My approach can be brutal, intense and often surreal,” Pearlman said. “I’m not afraid to confront difficult things – even death. But my work is not dark; it’s hopeful.”

Pearlman teaches English composition courses at the college’s Chesapeake Campus. He is also on the planning team and will read his works during the college’s Literary Festival in April.

While Pearlman does not share his writing with students in class, he does talk about the process to aid in building critical thinking skills. “We often talk about how personal experiences and current events shape our thinking and beliefs,” he said. “We discuss issues like preservation of natural resources, the beauty of nature, importance of local history and the impact of industry, just to name a few. My travels certainly add to our discussions.”

Pearlman’s other recent awards include the Don Frew Contest, First Place; Ada Sanderson Contest, Second Place; and Emma Gray Gregg Contest, Second Place.

“When Morning Comes After Noon”
by D.L. Pearlman

Inside a barn with no roof,
inside a line of trees and a field

the sun and clouds still farm, I touch
a rusted revolver sleeping like a dead

kitten, its barrel pocked as if bitten
by fleas desperate for blood.

Under diagonal shafts of sun,
there’s nothing left in the stalls

except assumptions like
this farm does not deserve to be forgotten

or the messenger does not deserve
to be shot in the mouth.

In the barren center of the shadowed silo,
crossroads of fear and elation,

I find the absence of time

When evening lives at odds with
the concept of darkness during day,

where work made heat and where
no gravestones whisper, the long

dirt road gives its arms away
to what may come and what may remain.

What’s on your Kindle these days?

In celebration of World Book Day, a few of TCC’s English professors shared their favorite reads.


Monica McFerrin, assistant professor of English on the Virginia Beach Campus

Recommended read: “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein is a 2008 novel told from a dog’s point of view. The philosophizing dog, Enzo, realizes life, like racing, isn’t about going too fast.

“I love the point of view; it’s so unique,” said McFerrin, whose two German Shepherd mixes are Lulu and Koda. “We all hear our dogs talk in our mind. I love this book because it’s non-gender specific. This is a book for anyone – creative, touching, but not sappy.”

“My bookshelf is schizophrenic depending on the day. Right now I’m reading “Timequake” by Kurt Vonnegut. I like anything by Christopher Moore. I like reading the classics like “Murder on the Orient Express” – anything to tide me over between episodes of ‘Sherlock.’”


Josh Howell, assistant professor of English on the Norfolk Campus

Recommended reads: “They Say, I Say” by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein is a 2009 reference book that provides readers tips on presenting sources and ideas effectively in academic writing.

“Not only has this book become a staple for my grad classes, but also for some of my own lessons in the way that students approach academic writing. It brings undergraduate writing to the graduate level.”

“Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut is a 1963 sci-fi novel that explores topics of science, technology and religion, satirizing the arms race.

“I was not an English major as a kid. I hated reading and writing. Off of an undergraduate elective course, I came across Kurt Vonnegut and it changed my life. This book really set me on a path to where I am today as an English professor.”

“I pride myself on my shelves. It’s split pretty evenly among fiction, poetry and research. It’s the life of an English teacher – you get books all the time. I tend to really enjoy the classics. I find myself going back and reading books like ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ more than anything else.”


April Campbell, English instructor on the Portsmouth Campus

Recommended read: “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, the 1966 nonfiction novel that details the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family by two drifters in Holcomb, Kansas.

“I was assigned it in college English class and my son just read it for his English class at Florida State. It’s told from multiple perspectives – the minds of the killers, the families and the investigators.”

“My bookshelf is mostly nonfiction. I like biographies or any books about people overcoming something. I like Hemingway and Flannery O’Conner.”