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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.