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A Top 10 look at a year to remember at TCC

A new president, a professor gone viral and a celebration of generous donors and collaborative partnerships are among a year of highlights for Tidewater Community College in 2019.

Check out our TCC Top 10 list of storylines that made a mark.

10. The college’s Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses celebrated their first-generation students, faculty and administrators in events held in early November. The days were selected to coincide with the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Celebrating first-generation college students.

9. Thanks to a partnership between TCC and Chesapeake Public Schools, 52 high school graduates earned career and technical training credentials during May commencement in areas that range from mechatronics to pharmacy technology to welding.

8. TCC received a fifth federal grant to help train military veterans and their spouses for careers in trucking. The grant, administered by the college’s Center for Military and Veterans Education, allows veterans to train for in-demand careers at no cost to them.

7. A partnership among TCC, Hampton Roads Transit and Norfolk Now to prepare Hampton Roads residents for careers as bus operators launched in May and graduated its inaugural class in the fall. A second cohort is under way.

The first cohort of HRT graduates

6. Mayor Rick West joined the Nov. 18 celebration for the opening of the new robotics lab on the Chesapeake Campus. The lab contains six state-of-the-art Fuji Automatic Numerical Control robots and training stations.

5. TCC will continue to grow in the next decade thanks to several generous donors. The TCC Perry Center for Visual & Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management received a major gift from philanthropist Jim Hixon. A $500,000 grant from TowneBank will also benefit the TCC Perry Center and help expand the Regional Automotive Center. The Hampton Roads Community Foundation gave the TCC Perry Center a $500,000 grant spread over five years. Stanley Black & Decker earned the Chancellor’s Award for Leadership in Philanthropy for its support of the Skilled Trades Academy. Black & Decker donated $275,000 in new industry tools and equipment, the biggest in-kind investment by the company ever in the commonwealth. The SunTrust Foundation’s $75,000 grant will support the Skilled Trades Academy. Builders & Contractors Exchange funded $5,000 in scholarships for the academy. The Don Carey REECH Foundation also gifted TCC’s Women’s Center STEM Promise Program with $2,500.

Jim Hixon provided a generous gift for the TCC Perry Center.

4. It’s never been easier to transfer from TCC to Old Dominion University or Virginia Wesleyan University. The Guaranteed Transfer Partnership Agreement, signed in September, ensures a seamless transfer to ODU for TCC graduates. The Fair Transfer Guarantee Agreement between VWU and TCC allows graduates who earn arts or science associate degrees to enter VWU as juniors.

3. TCC put into action plans to eliminate food insecurity among its students. The college and the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore are new partners in a five-year initiative to eliminate the food insecurity that impedes many TCC students from completing their higher education. TowneBank’s $250,000 donation will go toward the food. A Campus-Based Pantry and Food Scholarship Program are in the works and a mobile pantry on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses started in the fall. In addition, a partnership between the Virginia Beach Campus and the city’s Department of Human Services gives TCC counselors and advisers a streamlined way to refer Virginia Beach students to the resources they need. Students can receive food, mental health counseling and housing support.

Physics Professor David Wright went viral.

2. Student Erica Church’s tweet on the animated teaching style of Professor David Wright made a big bang. The viral post, viewed by more than 30 million people, created headlines around the world and led to the beloved physics professor granting interviews to Yahoo, the BBC, NPR and Good Morning America. He and students Church and Kierra Brothers will appear on “The Kelly Clarkson Show” on Jan. 26.

1. Welcome, President Conston! The college’s sixth permanent president, hired Oct. 15, assumed the role on Jan. 6, 2020.

TCC celebrates first-generation college students & graduates

First-generation college students often have no one in their household to help them overcome the educational challenges they face.

“I almost quit,” said Shannon O’Conner, a first-generation success story who started by earning her associate at Tidewater Community college before moving to Old Dominion University for her bachelor’s and Norfolk State University for a master’s in criminal justice. “We’ve all gone through the same story. Hard times. Not sure what we’re going to do.”

TCC makes sure first-generation college students – or those whose parents or legal guardians did not complete a bachelor’s degree – don’t travel the road alone. The college’s Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses celebrated their first-generation students, faculty and administrators in events held in early November. The days were selected to coincide with the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Dymend Woodley, De’Jonae Hayes and Courtney Brown are first-generation students at the Portsmouth Campus.

The cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth each issued special proclamations recognizing first-generation college students. Along with popcorn, cotton candy and hot dogs, each event included inspiring speeches, banners for students to sign and “first gen” buttons. Students received free books titled “Every Student Has a Story.”

TCC’s Open Door Project received grant money earlier this year toward helping raise awareness of the accomplishments of first-generation students and staff. The federally funded program helps low income, first-generation students by providing free academic, career and cultural counseling.

“If you don’t have the support at home, remember you have it here,” said Dana Hathorn, dean of student services at the Portsmouth Campus and a first-generation college graduate.

On the Portsmouth Campus, 53 percent of graduates are first-generation; Jeanine Anderson was one of them when she graduated last year.

“It’s never too late to start,” said Anderson, 45, who earned two associate degrees from TCC and works part time at the Open Door Project office in Portsmouth. “It’s never too dark. You can always come here and find the light and be the light.”

Like Anderson, alumna Cynthia Felton had to overcome homelessness to start college at the Norfolk Campus.  “Thanks to Open Door, I’m a success,” she said. “There’s no words when you actually succeed.”

At TCC Norfolk, 51 percent of graduates are first-generation.

Willette Hackney-Davis walked in the doors at TCC, working three jobs and relying on food stamps. The tools she learned through Open Door, where she now works as an academic advisor, helped her graduate from TCC and complete an advanced degree. “You have to find your open doors and then walk through them.”

Eligible students for Open Door receive free tutoring, study skill workshops and specialized financial aid advising. They can qualify for a laptop loan program. The students also can participate in cultural trips; this weekend the group is traveling to Washington, D.C., to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

WTKR reporter Margaret Kavanagh talks with Norfolk students Nathan Quarles and Cynthia Felton.

Portsmouth student Shanice Mills is among those planning to go. “It’s hard being a first-generation student; you don’t have the support system at home,” she said. “Being part of the Open Door Project, everybody’s helped me find support no matter what I do.”

For more information about the Open Door Project, contacts its director, Kay Williams, at

First generation alumna overcomes the odds to earn a second degree

A visit from a Tidewater Community College career coach resonated with Granby High student Alexis Knight.

Growing up in low-income housing, Knight didn’t plan on going to college. No one from her family ever had.

Today the 22-year-old is a TCC graduate working toward her bachelor’s in human services at Old Dominion University. She takes pride in that accomplishment, which included persevering after she became a mother during her time at TCC.

“I thought that would be the end of my education, but the people at TCC rallied around me, helped me make a plan to take a semester off, and then got me back on track with my degree,” said Knight, whose son, Kevin Jr., is 3. “My time at the college was transformative, and I grew so much. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without TCC.”

Alexis Knight
Knight enjoys helping people with her work at Sentara.

Knight’s family provided support and cared for the baby so she could continue her education. “My family rallied around me, they believed in me and encouraged me to do my very best,” she said.

Knight connected with Kia Hardy, interim dean of student services, who ensured she was on track to graduate in two years. Hardy directed Knight with support services from the Women’s Center and Learning Assistance Center.

“Ms. Hardy was pregnant at the time and seeing her working and getting ready for her child, well, that motivated me to do the same thing,” Knight said. “I’m extremely thankful to TCC for helping me grow and giving me the foundation to be successful.”

Knight, who earned her Associate of Science in Social Sciences in 2017, will graduate again in May from ODU. A social work intern for a Sentara rehabilitation center, Knight is hopeful that she will transition into a full-time patient advocate upon graduation.

Knight also works part-time at Walmart, where she promotes TCC to others. “I used to think less of myself until I found out that I could do this. No matter where you come from, or even if you have a child, you can do this.

“I feel like I’m paving the way for my son and nieces. I may have been the first in college, but I know I won’t be the last.”

Honoring the life of King every day on the job at TCC

Thomas Chatman remembers a time when college was not in his future. Now Tidewater Community College’s coordinator for First Year Success is at work on a doctorate while making sure others understand the value of higher education.

Chatman is the recipient of TCC’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award, given annually to honor the life achievements of King.

“Each of us has a duty to serve and not for our own needs, but for the greater good,” he said. “My mission in life is to help others live the best life possible.”

His life easily could have gone in a different direction. He was not college bound until he joined COYS, a leadership development program at Currituck County High School in North Carolina.

With the support of two mentors, Chatman made the grades and scored well on the SAT – and found friends for life.

Chatman, 46, now spends his days helping students discover their roads to success, including first-generation students like himself. He knows the transition to college can be difficult, so he works to make sure small bumps don’t become major obstacles for students.

“Mr. Chatman is very deserving of this recognition,” said Emanuel Chestnut, dean of student services on the Norfolk Campus. “A true servant leader, his character is unimpeachable, and his work ethic and compassion is unparalleled.”

Chatman coordinates student orientation, academic alert programs and student development course offerings for his campus. He also serves as the acting dean of student services on the Norfolk Campus when needed.

Recent accomplishments include spearheading mobile advising at TCC, which enables academic advisors to set up stations around campus and visit students on the go.

He also launched computer training workshops for new students, providing them with the necessary skills to be successful in school. He partnered with faculty, staff and Barnes & Noble representatives to collect supplies for new students including flash drives, notebooks, pens, paper and even backpacks.

Chatman is currently working on an initiative called the Power of 2, a mentoring program that matches students with professionals in their area of study.

A motivational speaker, Chatman delivers talks on leadership on TCC’s campuses and in area churches and high schools. The Moyock, N.C., resident is a member of Weeping Mary Church of Christ and active with his three teenage children, Brianna, Thomas and Brennan.

“I’m humbled by this award and see it as a mandate to continue my work,” Chatman said. “Also, my oldest is about to go to college and I want her to know the importance of doing more than what is required.”

Chatman holds a master’s in counseling from the University of Minnesota, a bachelor’s in elementary education and psychology from Elizabeth City State University and a certificate in public management from Virginia Commonwealth University. His doctorate will be in community care and counseling from Liberty University.