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FastForward program puts mom of two on the fast track to success

With two small children to support, Melissa Mason knew any job wouldn’t cut it.

Mason, 30, always longed to be a nurse and even started a program only to abandon it twice due to her mother’s death followed by a high risk pregnancy.

Melissa, what are you going to do? she asked herself.

That’s no longer a question. Mason is a clinical medical assistant at Bayview Physicians Group. She is gearing up for a promotion that will involve training her peers in cardiovascular care.

Mason credits the FastForward grant program, which allowed her to complete Tidewater Community College’s clinical medical assistant program (CMA), for launching the future she dreamed about. She paid just $120 to become a CMA, the most versatile member of a healthcare team.

“I am so grateful,” she said. “That $120 put me and my children in a position where I don’t have to lean on government assistance to help me. I’m working every day. I have benefits. I have paid time off.”

FastForward is a short-term workforce program to train Virginians for industry credentials and certifications for some of the most in-demand jobs across the Commonwealth. Credentials are earned in weeks or months not years. They’re affordable. It’s not a daunting process to apply.

Mason filled out the application for the program, faxed it to TCC, and within 10 minutes, received word back that she qualified for financial assistance that would pay 90% of the cost of the credential.

“So easy,” she said.

It was a six-month program, but Mason was relieved she didn’t have to take out a student loan. “I don’t care what happens,” she told herself. “You can do six months. You can commit to six months.”

Mason completed classes on the Virginia Beach Campus three nights per week from 5:30-9:30 p.m. The pace made it manageable for her to hold down a job during the day, study at night and still have time for both children.

Melissa Mason with her daughter, Kennedy, who is 3.

Mason enjoyed the way instructor Kimberly Geib presented the material by using real-world examples. Study groups helped Mason form supportive relationships.

“Once you have the mindset you want to do this, the curriculum sets you up for success,” Mason said. “If you fail, it’s only because you’re in your own way.”

Mason passed the Certified Medical Assistant exam on April 30. She got a job on May 7 and started on May 20. She worked with a team of visiting physicians traveling to homes to provide care prior to accepting her current role at Bayview Physicians.

Mason returned to TCC again for another FastForward program in phlebotomy. She finished the three-week course last Saturday and is preparing for the Sept. 10 certification exam.

Suddenly, nursing school doesn’t seem so out of reach. She’ll get there in time, she said, but for now, she feels secure in her future and is able to provide for son Josiah, 4, and daughter Kennedy, 3.

“I don’t have a job; I have a career,” she said. “And I love it.”

The FastForward program helps students pay for short-term programs that can lead to high-paying jobs with industry recognized certifications or licenses. Domiciled Virginia residents can earn an industry credential at one-third the cost of tuition for short-term training programs. Income eligible students can qualify for additional financial assistance that pays up to 90% of the cost of your training in high-demand programs in fields like IT, health care and the skilled trades. Email or call 757-822-1234 for information.

“I owe my success to TCC”

With no background in health care, Navy veteran Oliver Grant turned to Tidewater Community College in hopes of training for a career. “I knew I wanted to go to school in the medical field and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do,” he said. “From everything I heard, TCC was the best.”

After starting classes in October, Grant already has a credential and is preparing to start a job next week at Beach Eye Care. Grant completed the five classes required for Certified Medical Billing & Coding, among the fastest growing professions in health care. In the evening program, now being offered 100% online, students learn diagnostic and procedural coding necessary for insurance form processing.

Grant, 27, paid nothing, as his GI Bill benefits picked up all costs. Many students are also eligible for FastForward grants that provide financial assistance up to 90% of the total cost of training. In addition to health care, FastForward programs include welding, logistics and transportation, IT and cyber security, and skilled and maritime trades.

Grant picked up the billing and coding material easily, he said, thanks to the patience and thoroughness of the instructors.  “Prior to the program I was in the Navy and before that, I drove trucks,” he said. “I had zero experience in this, and all I heard was how difficult billing and coding was.”

Initially he planned to go to school for radiology but was deterred by the two years necessary for an associate degree. Instead, the billing and coding program allowed him to earn his credential in months, and he was able to balance two jobs with classes.

“We started at the very bottom and slowly they taught us,” he said. “Before long, we were coding ourselves.”

Due to COVID-19, classes shifted online in March.

“I had never used Zoom before, but we didn’t skip a beat,” Grant said. “It was a seamless transition to online.”

Grant aced the credentialing exam and credits the instructors for offering detailed review and test preparation. He is also grateful for their help with resume building. In addition to offering interviewing tips, he learned phrases to make his resume stand out. He wrote a thank you note after his initial interview at Beach Eye Care on advice he learned at TCC.

“When I got the job, my employer told me how much he appreciated that,” Grant said.

“Getting a job is a huge relief. I’m excited to start work in a field I went to school for. I owe my success to TCC.”

Interested in one of TCC’s short-term workforce programs? For information, email or call (757) 822-1234.

Short-term workforce program gave career-switcher a fresh start

With two children at home, Courtney Aristy didn’t want to work weekends anymore. She wasn’t about to go back to retail. She had limited experience in medical billing but no certification.

Today she holds a management position at Optima Health and she spends Saturdays and Sundays with the kids. Aristy credits a three-month workforce training program at Tidewater Community College for advancing her career. Thanks to a FastForward credential grant, costs were minimal.

In addition to receiving a certificate of completion from TCC, Artisty earned certification as a medical billing and coding specialist after acing the national exam.

 “Some people don’t think certificates will get you anywhere; everybody talks about getting a four-year degree or a master’s,” said the Virginia Beach resident and former manager of city’s convention center. “The certifications are so helpful and great for your resume. If you come into a company with these certifications, you will make money.”

Here’s how FastForward works. Domiciled Virginia residents can earn an industry credential at one-third the cost of tuition for short-term training programs. Income eligible students can qualify for additional financial assistance that pays up to 90% of the cost of training in high-demand programs in fields that include IT, health care and the skilled trades!

“It was so easy,” Artisty said. “I had to have a bank statement and filled out an applications. You need all the stuff that in the scope of applying for financial aid. Everybody was super friendly.”

She attended evening classes from 5:30-9 p.m. three days per week for three months, an accelerated pace she was grateful for. The material tested her analytical and critical thinking skills. Having something of a medical background helped her, but she saw peers without also succeeding by putting in a little extra time.

Aristy began a job as a claims processor shortly after completing the program. “My credentials helped me get my foot in the door at Optima,” she said.

Job applicants with credentials are twice as likely to be hired than applicants without credentials, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

After five months, Aristy transitioned into a leadership role. Today she’s a team coordinator for Optima’s Business Systems operation.

During the pandemic, Aristy has worked remotely and is grateful for an understanding employer offering flexibility. Through Optima, she is working on an advanced degree in health care management.

“I would say at that time in my life, the TCC program was a saving grace for me,” Aristy said. “If anyone has an opportunity to do any of the workforce programs, it’s completely worth it.”

Interested in kickstarting your career with one of TCC’s workforce programs and a FastForward grant? Reach out to career coach Alejandra Diaz-Rangel at or 757-822-1559. Or contact TCC at 757-822-1111.

TCC’s Skilled Trades Academy to host open house on Saturday, April 27

Imagine training for a new career and being hired in just six weeks.

Tour Tidewater Community College’s Skilled Trades Academy on Saturday, April 27, for a firsthand look at available programs and specialized opportunities for in-demand construction and maritime trades that can lead to immediate employment.

TCC’s new Skilled Trades Academy at 3303 Airline Blvd., will host its inaugural open house and career fair from 9 a.m. to noon.

Meet our highly trained and qualified faculty, learn more about program and career options and talk with potential employers throughout that morning. Hampton Roads industry professionals will also have the opportunity to network with other business owners and apply for jobs.

The Skilled Trades Academy opened last December, coinciding with a critical workforce shortage in Hampton Roads, which anticipates 68 percent more job openings in skilled trades over the next five years than workers trained to fill them. Nationwide, 31 million skilled trade jobs will be vacated by baby boomers by 2020.

TCC offers a wide range of high-demand skilled trades training in marine coating, pipefitting, pipe laying, welding, framing, electrical, HVAC, roofing and sheet metal.

In some cases, participants can launch a new career with just six weeks of training.

“We can take people with zero background in skilled trades, put them through a three-week, pre-apprenticeship program and have them employed at a major shipyard making $18 an hour directly after,” President Gregory T. DeCinque said.

Thanks to funding through the FastForward Grant, many of the programs are available at little or no tuition cost. FastForward grants offset tuition costs so eligible students can earn an industry credential at one-third of the cost of tuition. In many cases, the student pays nothing.

“Many programs in these high-demand fields like welding, machine tool and HVAC are eligible for FastForward grant funding,” said Corey McCray, vice president for Workforce Solutions and interim executive vice president for Academic and Student Affairs. “That covers the vast majority of your tuition costs, so students would only have to pay about a third of the cost of their education.”

Reservations are recommended, but not required. RSVP at the Skilled Trades Academy open house page.

For more information, email or call 757-822-1234. For information on FastForward funding, contact career coach Alejandra Diaz-Rangel at

Want to FastForward your career? Talk with career coach Alejandra Diaz-Rangel

Alejandra Diaz-Rangel planned to be a Spanish teacher but after attending community college discovered something she enjoyed even more: helping others succeed.

As the FastForward career coach at Tidewater Community College, she’s doing just that.

“My job is to be with you from the moment you show interest until you gain employment or move up in the employment ranks,” she said.

FastForward is a short-term workforce credential program to train Virginians for in-demand jobs in fields that include medical billing and coding, clinical medical assisting, welding and multiple CompTIA certifications. FastForward grants offset tuition costs so eligible students can earn an industry credential at one-third of the cost of tuition.

“It’s affordable and it’s fast,” Diaz-Rangel said. “We’re talking about months not years.”

In some cases, FastForward can be nearly free.

“We’ve had students pay under $100 for an entire course,” she said. “That includes tuition, books, certification exams and study materials. You have to meet certain criteria.”

Diaz-Rangel knows how daunting any application process can be to some prospective students, so she makes it easy. She works one on one with interested students to find the proper fit given their goals and current skill set.  She’ll do this over the phone or in person.

Once a student is in a program, Diaz-Rangel remains in touch. She holds students accountable for attending open houses, orientations and classes.

Diaz-Rangel realized the importance of student support while attending Eastern Shore Community College, where she received her associate in general studies in just one year. Navigating everything from Blackboard to financial aid to a syllabus can be barriers; she makes sure they’re not for TCC students.

“If you have a support system, you can do anything,” she said. “I want to be that support system for someone else.”

Diaz-Rangel worked as a student success assistant at her alma mater before her transfer to Old Dominion University. At ODU she earned her bachelor’s in Spanish education and was hired as interim assistant director for international initiatives. Diaz-Rangel, who also holds a master’s in college counseling from ODU, started at TCC working with a pilot program that offers nutrition assistance to low-income individuals. In March she moved to her current role with FastForward.

Diaz-Rangel works largely with students who are either unemployed or underemployed. Many haven’t had jobs in years; others are seeking a promotion. One of the questions she routinely answers, “If I do this, what are my chances of getting a job?”

“There are plenty of resources out there,” she said. “We will help you with that.” She’s formed a partnership with the Career Services Center on the Virginia Beach Campus to provide job search assistance and soft skills training.

Her own mother has recently started taking classes in the program, which makes FastForward all the more personal to Diaz-Rangel.

“I treat students the way I would like someone to treat my family,” she says. “I understand with everyone I work with that they are people. Everyone is part of someone’s family.”

Interested in applying for a FastForward grant? Email Diaz-Rangel at or 757-822-1559.