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From TCC to the mission field in Romania

Hannah Căldăraru found her “anywhere” at Tidewater Community College.

She got her start on TCC’s Chesapeake Campus in 2014 and earned a social sciences degree three years later. She also jumped into student life and was part of the Breakaway Bible Club, serving as president for a year.

In that role, she helped lead weekly bible studies and even hosted an event to bring awareness of human trafficking in South Hampton Roads.

Hannah and Tavi Căldăraru.

Fast forward nine years and Hannah is a missionary in Romania. She and her husband, Tavi, serve children and teens in the villages there.

“My three years at TCC were foundational and I grew in my faith through Breakaway. It was also there that I felt called to be a missionary overseas,” she said. “I just wanted to say thank you to TCC for helping open so many doors of opportunity, both educationally and spiritually.”

Tavi and boys from the village.

Hannah went on to earn a bachelor’s in psychology at Regent University in 2019.

“I would encourage students not to count out community college. It creates a great foundation for your higher education and allows you more time to explore interests if you still aren’t sure about your major,” Hannah said.

She continued, “My credits transferred flawlessly to Regent, and I was even awarded some financial help for high grades at TCC. And even though it is a commuter setting at TCC you can truly create a wonderful community if you are intentional about being involved with on-campus activities. I am living proof that from TCC you can go anywhere.”

TCC alum lands dream job at NASA

Kyle Epperly is a Tidewater Community College alum twice over. He earned his first associate degree in Automotive Technology in 2006. For the last 12 years, he worked at Hall Automotive as a master technician.

Kyle came to TCC once again looking for a new career. He wanted work that was less physically demanding, more challenging and on the cutting-edge of technology.

He found TCC’s Mechatronics degree online and started a new journey.

While at TCC, Kyle learned about an internship opportunity at NASA Langley. He applied and began working there in January of 2023. He is now an engineering technician apprentice and working on testing structures for spacecraft.

Mechatronics is suited for students like Kyle with a passion for technology who enjoy hands-on work. He said, “The transition from being an automotive technician to working in mechatronics has been easy. I’m still doing what I’ve always loved which is working with my hands and technology.”

Mechatronics students spend about half the time in classroom instruction and the rest in state-of-the-art laboratories. Kyle said, “What I liked most about TCC is that it gave me the skills that I actually use in my job now. Every class was hands-on which really helped me understand the material. You don’t just learn theory but get to see how the systems really work.”

The Associate of Applied Science in Mechatronics covers motor controls, hydraulics, computer programming, pneumatics, programmable logic controllers and more. The broad industry allows students to use the degree to specialize in something they love or do something different each day.

Kyle is part of the Materials and Structures Experiment branch where he performs tests to ensure that materials measure up to NASA’s durability expectations.

The mechatronics industry is constantly growing and expanding which provides people the opportunity to continually increase their knowledge in the field. There are plenty of advanced manufacturing firms in Hampton Roads that provide graduates with ample job prospects. According to the Department of Labor Job Outlook, mechatronics technicians earn a median salary of $60,360 per year or about $29 per hour.

Kyle is confident he made the right decision to return to school and pursue this career. He said, “I am grateful that my family was so supportive and pushed me to find the time to pursue this degree while still working a full-time job. It was worth all the hard work.”

For more information regarding Mechatronics at TCC, contact Thomas Stout at or call TCC’s Virtual Student Support Team at 757-822-1111.

TCC alums pay it forward

Tidewater Community College alum, Tony Lankford, is passionate about giving back to the community that has always supported him. Tony received his Associate of Science in Social Sciences from TCC before following in his family’s footsteps as a third-generation barber. He is hard at work and owns Tony’s Unisex Salon in Norfolk.

Tony credits TCC with playing a large part in his success by introducing him to like-minded and hardworking people. He employs two barbers who are also TCC alumni. They are Kevin Whitlow and Christopher Wood, who earned Human Service degrees from the college.

The barber trio believes it’s their responsibility to help students who are following in their footsteps.

In the spirit of giving back, all three barbers provided free haircuts as part of TCC’s Suit Up program. The program, hosted by the Student Resource and Empowerment Center, is designed to help students prepare to have professional headshots which will assist in their job searches.

Tony says, “It is incredibly special to see TCC students interacting with alumni at the shop and watching them learn to carry themselves with professionalism. It’s very fulfilling to be able to give back to the community this way.”

Throughout his career, Tony has seen the importance of being a role model to the younger generation in the community and showing them that they can achieve anything. He says, “It’s very important to keep the conversations with the youth in the neighborhood full of purpose. They are learning from us, and I want them to see the importance of giving back.”

Internship leads to full-time work for TCC student

Ben White began losing his sight when he was 27. He is now totally blind and pursuing an associate degree in Human Services at Tidewater Community College.

He found a passion to serve others with disabilities when he was struggling to find work during the pandemic. “Once I realized that many jobs were not accessible and doors were not opening for me, I took a leap of faith and went back to school,” he said.

Ben began attending workshops through the state and local Offices of Visual Impairment. That’s when he saw others in need and wanted to help. “There were so many people like me, who wanted to be productive, but were unsure about how to make their way in life,” he said.

Ben chose Human Services because it prepares him for a career serving those in need. He is learning basic counseling skills, various functions of crisis intervention, the management principles of human and social service, and developing the skills needed to address the needs of clients.

“I never thought I’d go to college as I was a high school dropout and got my GED,” Ben said. “Training to help the underserved, abused, those dealing with childhood trauma, the visually impaired and so many others, makes me excited to get up and start each day.”

Ben is now in his third semester at TCC and has a 3.5 GPA. He is on the Dean’s List and a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

While at TCC, Ben received support from the college’s Open Door Project which provides support for first-generation college students. “The faculty and staff of Open Door have been so much a part of my success,” he said. “They became my village and made me feel comfortable where I was, motivated me to move forward and picked me up when I’m down.”

Ben also received support from the college’s Office of Educational Accessibility. Because of his visual impairment, he was given extra time on exams and a screen reader for use in class and for assignments.

Part of Ben’s program at TCC included an internship in a local nonprofit. That experience turned into full-time work and now Ben is an independent living coordinator at the Independence Center. “My work helps me bridge the gap and teach people the skills they need to live independently. It is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done,” he said.

Ben remembers growing up in one of the poorest, most violent neighborhoods in New York City. “I was always told that I wasn’t going to make it past age 18. For me to reinvent myself at 49, well that’s a success story and TCC has a lot to do with it.”

The father of two children, Ben, says he is proud to set an example for them. “TCC gave me the foundation and the tools to be where I am today. At first, I didn’t think I was going to make it. Thankfully, my Open Door advisors taught me how to balance everything and kept me going.”

In his free time, Ben likes to cook up a storm. His favorite food is spicy with a Caribbean flair.

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.

“I definitely got my money’s worth at TCC.” – Student Speaker Jacob Ramirez

Jacob Ramirez found his career path in computer engineering at Tidewater Community College.

A 2021 graduate of Salem High School, Jacob wanted to stay close to home for college. He enrolled at TCC’s Virginia Beach Campus to study engineering. While there, he took computer engineering classes and found his purpose.

“I thought I was going to be a music person. That changed when I was able to fix a hinge on a shower door at my house. That’s what got me thinking about engineering and then it all came together at TCC,” he said.

This May, Jacob, 21, is earning an Associate of Science in Engineering. Jacob is the Speaker for the Graduates and will share his story during the 76th Commencement Exercises on May 8.

While at TCC Jacob participated in the STEM and Engineering Clubs. He also competed in the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Robotics competition with a team from TCC that took third place nationwide. Those experiences helped him learn to work on a team and offered hands-on training for his chosen career field.

“I gained experience in designing and problem-solving and learned how to actually build something,” he said. “We do this in class, but the clubs and activities take it to a whole other level.”

Jacob expanded his learning at the college by including musical studies. He was part of TCC’s Jazz band and took several music classes. An experienced band member from Salem High, Jacob is proud to become a member of the Virginia Tech marching band next fall.

“There’s a lot of learning to be done at TCC,” Jacob said. “I had the chance to interact with a diverse student body, making me more well-rounded as a student and a future computer engineer.”

A member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools, Jacob holds a perfect 4.0 GPA at TCC. “I enjoyed the people at TCC, the professors, the community. It was better than I could have imagined,” he said.

Jacob will transfer to Virginia Tech in the fall of 2023. He will be a junior in the computer engineering baccalaureate program.

A Virginia Beach native, Jacob gained lifelong friends at TCC, and three of them will attend Virginia Tech alongside him.

“I definitely got my money’s worth at TCC. But the best part is that I’m ready for the next steps,” Jacob said. “And I have a group of friends that are joining me on the journey. What could be better than that!”

From Russia to a good life in America

Katerina Diatlova came to the United States from Russia with a passport, suitcase and $80 in her pocket.

All of her life she was desperate for the American dream, watching endless episodes of “Hannah Montana” and “Gossip Girl.”

She was part of the International Exchange Visitors Program initially, but the dream faded when the opportunities were out of reach.

“My family was 10,000 miles away. I had no friends, no car, no prospects of a good job,” she said. “I tried to fill the loneliness by partying, going hard and staying up all night. When I was making poor life choices there were people all around me. But I still felt lonely and worse about myself because of my choices.”

In addition, Katerina, 28, was in a dead-end service job and saw no way to a better life. Looking back, she says that she lost her sense of purpose. And she’d almost lost all hope.

But that all changed the day she walked into the admissions office at Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk Campus and a kind staffer helped her fill out an application and enroll in classes.

“That was the day that my whole life turned around. I don’t remember that woman’s name, but she believed in me, making it possible for me to go in a new direction. I know she was just doing her job, but I’m very grateful.”

Katerina started studying Business Administration but switched gears and pursued a degree in web development. This May she is one of the thousands of TCC graduates earning degrees and certificates during Commencement on May 8.

“While taking classes at TCC, the professors showed me the way to live. They were good examples and gave me direction without really knowing it. I just emulated their lives,” Katerina said.

Katerina earned a perfect 4.0 GPA at TCC and was part of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

“Years ago, I was not a good student and now I understand why. I wasn’t drawn to any subject. But when I found web development and coding, it was like learning a new, fascinating language and I was hooked.”

Katerina says she owes much of her success to her professors. “All of my teachers were willing to go out of their way to help. They made sure I was keeping up with the concepts. My interactions with them was my favorite part of the journey,” she said.

Katerina sends a shout-out to Professors Cesar Barbieri, Christopher Boyle, Gary Noah and Jared Oliverio for their patience, kindness and for sharing their passion for the subjects they teach.

While at TCC, Katerina was a volunteer for Computers for Student Success. She learned how to build computers and salvage parts. “This program is a win-win for students. Nothing is wasted. Those who need computers get them, and computer students learn and advance their skills.”

Katerina plans to be a software developer and would like to create and maintain websites. She is currently building her portfolio.

She is newly married to Matthew Thompson and has a community of friends that have become like family.

“People underestimate community college, but I know it’s a place to make your dreams happen,” Katerina said. “Words can’t really describe what TCC has provided. For me it was absolutely life changing.”

TCC grad earns degree one year after diploma

Rachael Kay Fitzgerald has big plans for a future in politics.

“I’ve always loved reading and writing. But when I learned about our government, I was hooked and knew I’d one day work in politics,” she said.

Rachael Kay was an early 2022 graduate of Nansemond River High School. At 17, she started at Tidewater Community College in the Accelerated Degree Program (ADP).

“The last few years of high school were tough with the pandemic and virtual learning,” Rachael Kay said. “I came to TCC to knock out a degree. But what I found was a new excitement for learning.”

Rachael Kay will earn an Associate of Science in Social Sciences in June 2023, just one year after earning a high school diploma.

“I’ve loved my time at TCC. The faculty, staff and advisors are so friendly, and they really push you to more opportunities to help you get where you want to be in life,” she said. “I’ve made so many connections with people. I’m beyond grateful I started here.”

The ADP gives students the opportunity to earn a degree in one year, saving thousands by completing the first two years of college at TCC. ADP students receive personalized attention with low student-to-faculty ratios and regular academic advising.

 “When I started at TCC, I was overwhelmed and a little sad. All of my friends were still in high school, so it was a lonely time,” Rachael Kay said. “I started praying to God and asking for help and that’s what kept me. He opened doors and made a way for me to do this.”

While at TCC, Rachael Kay’s favorite professor was Lara Tedrow, who teaches psychology. “Dr. Tedrow was so amazing, and we had some really good conversations. She made me love psychology even more,” she said.

Rachael Kay plans to transfer to Christopher Newport University to study psychology and political science. From there, she has her sights set on William and Mary Law School and a career in criminal defense or corporate law before jumping into politics. She hopes to make a difference for many.

“Whenever you feel like quitting, don’t do it. Just remember what you are fighting for. For me, I’m fighting for a law degree and a future political career,” she said. “Even though it’s years down the line, that keeps me going.”

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.”

Learn about everything TCC offers at two open houses, April 27 and June 3

Find your future at Tidewater Community College.

Learn about TCC’s programs, including information technology, engineering, culinary arts, health sciences, maritime technologies and the many other potential career paths and transfer opportunities the college offers.

Take the next step by visiting one of TCC’s open houses on April 27 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and June 3 and from 9 a.m. to noon.

On April 27, visit TCC’s Virginia Beach or Portsmouth Campuses.

On June 3, visit the Norfolk Campus or Chesapeake Campuses.

Registration is not required, but recommended and can be done by visiting here.

Visit our website for a complete listing of programs. There is plenty of time to enroll for fall classes, which begin on Aug. 21.

All are invited, especially:

  • 2023 high school graduates and their families;
  • adults who want to start or finish a degree, learn a new field, or advance in their careers;
  • active-duty military and veterans, their spouses and dependents.

You will be able to apply to TCC; learn about financial aid, grants and scholarships; explore academic options; tour campuses; and learn about campus life at all locations.

If you have an eye on a four-year college, TCC can help get you there, too. Transfer agreements allow a student to complete the first two years of a bachelor’s degree at TCC and gain guaranteed admission to most Virginia colleges and universities.

Locations for TCC’s open houses are:

  • Chesapeake Campus: Student Center
  • Norfolk Campus: Student Center
  • Portsmouth Campus: Building A
  • Virginia Beach Campus: Bayside Building

Accommodation requests related to a disability should be made to the Office of Educational Accessibility by emailing or calling 757-822-7751.

For more information, call 757-822-1111 or email or visit this site.

STEM scholar overcomes many obstacles to earn degree

Tidewater Community College STEM Promise scholar Rachel Roszko never thought she’d go to college. But when she took her son to tour Old Dominion University, she was inspired to pursue higher education as well.

“Going to school tuition-free made my dream possible. TCC would not have been an option for my family even if we ate PB and J sandwiches every day,” Rachel said. “Earning a full scholarship also gave me the boost and confidence to conquer college.”

The Air Force veteran will earn an Associate of Science in Science this May. The journey has been fruitful, but not easy.

Rachel, 43, has faced serious health concerns including a cancer scare, a heart arrhythmia requiring surgery, and a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In addition, as a stay-at-home mom of three, including a special needs child, the demands on her time are also very real.

“Having so many medical issues and caring for my daughter can make it difficult to get out of the house,” she said. “But after enrolling at TCC, I had a full day of school in real time and that was a huge help to my mental health.”

Rachel is thankful that she could complete the bulk of her degree online. “Caring for my daughter and dealing with PTSD made it difficult to be in a traditional classroom program,” she said. “But with my online classes and teachers using document cameras and technology, it was like having a front-row seat in every class.”

She added, “My professors were supportive and worked with me through every situation. If I had a panic attack and had to leave class, my teachers were there making sure I was okay,” she said. “They are very human and understanding.”

With a passion for animals and conservation, Rachel hopes to parlay her degree into a career teaching biology. She will continue working on a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology at Oregon State University online.

Rachel’s latest rescue transport was a cormorant.

In her free hours, Rachel volunteers with local rescue agencies including Evelyn’s Wildlife Refuge and Tidewater Wildlife Rescue. She picks up animals in trouble and transports them to local rescue centers or veterinarians. She has recently helped an opossum, a pelican, a baby cooper’s hawk and a cormorant find safe havens.

“I’ve always been an animal person but growing up I didn’t think I was smart enough for college,” Rachel said. “When I started homeschooling my kids, I fell in love with science. Once I took my first biology class at TCC, I was totally hooked.”

Rachel’s family is proud of her success. Her husband Bernie and children Rosie, Anthony, and Eden are her biggest cheerleaders. “I wanted my kids to see that there’s not ever a completely closed door and paths have forks in the road,” she said. “It’s never too late to do something you love.”

TCC’s STEM Promise Scholarship program is accepting applications now through March 31. 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.

Student Speaker has sights set on the U.S. Senate

Harvey Miller III found success at Tidewater Community College after failing at higher education the first time around. He calls himself the “Comeback Kid” and says that his initial failure was the catalyst for his success today.

“I needed to fail so I had a reason to change,” Harvey said. “I started working at a 7-Eleven, relishing the hard work and taquitos, and saving money so I could realize my dream of returning to school.”

Harvey, 22, is the Speaker for the Graduates for Tidewater Community College’s December Commencement. He is earning an Associate of Science in Liberal Arts with a 3.9 GPA.

“TCC made it easy to start again,” Harvey added. “I was living at home and had my family around me. It definitely helped not being isolated.”

While at TCC, Harvey learned study skills and also how to communicate effectively with his professors. He also found a community and says TCC may be the most diverse college in America with its military-related students and classrooms filled with students of all ages.

“I had a 76-year-old woman in my French class, as well as military veterans sharing their knowledge,” Harvey said. “When you combine all of these different perspectives, you realize that you really are getting a broad education.”

He added, “I came in thinking community college was basic and not a real college. I found out I was wrong. TCC gives you a great education and also so many ways to dive into college life with plays, festivals and clubs.”

Harvey at his office at the City of Chesapeake Department of Elections.

Harvey, a Chesapeake resident, is a member of the Student Government Association and Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools. He also holds a full-time job as the assistant registrar for the City of Chesapeake’s Department of Elections, obtained while a student at TCC.

“Working full-time and being a student was challenging, but my professors were committed to my success. If I had to leave class early for work, I could watch the lecture online and keep going. It was those things that made this degree possible.”

Harvey plans to continue his education with a double major in political science and English and creative writing at Old Dominion University or William and Mary. He is also considering law school.

Harvey dreams about one day making a difference as a United States Senator. He says he may never have had the chance without the fresh start he got at TCC. “People thinking about starting at TCC

Army veteran gets fresh start at TCC

Arlethia White-Farris does not like to talk about her military service. She will tell you that she’s a proud Army veteran who saw combat in Afghanistan and Kuwait. She was given an honorable discharge after two years of service and returned to her home in Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Back in the states, she dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as the negative influences of her surroundings. The family struggled and was often without power and used the gas oven to heat their home. 

“There was a lot of gang activity, and I was getting drawn back in. I was also selling drugs to help pay mom’s medical bills and keep the lights on,” she said. 

Seeking a fresh start, Arlethia, 28, moved to Hampton Roads to live with her aunt near Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth Campus. She got a job, but realized she wasn’t getting ahead. Then the bottom fell out. 

“I hit rock bottom when I lost my job, and my car broke down. That’s when I decided to try college. TCC was within walking distance of where I was staying and it was time,” she said.

That was the start of an academic journey that has had many challenges. But through it all, Arlethia has persevered. She will earn an Associate of Applied Science in Graphic Design this month.

“I started at TCC to better myself and I’m an entirely different person now. The student center staff allowed me to open up, explore my poetry and just grow,” she said.

Arlethia was also supported by the staff of the Open Door Project, a program designed to help first-time college students succeed in school.

“I definitely gained a community at TCC. I belonged and the people make sure everyone who walks through the doors feels welcome, seen and heard,” she said.

While at TCC, Arlethia was president of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter on the Portsmouth Campus. She says that her mental health has steadily improved thanks to the work of the group.

She hopes to use the experience and her degree to open Art Release 360, an organization for people who need support with their mental health. “It will be a place where people can use art to heal their traumas,” Arlethia said. “I want to help people express their thoughts without judgment and provide therapy to those in need.”

A year after starting at TCC, Arlethia became financially stable when she landed a job as a recreation aide with Norfolk Naval Station. She learned about the job through an on-campus job fair in the student center. She now works doing security for a state agency, and also does freelance graphic design work to build her portfolio. 

Arlethia sends a shout-out to TCC staffers Alicia Peoples, Charlene Taylor, Jeanine Anderson and Zebeth Newton for looking out for her and going the extra mile.

“This degree has taken blood, sweat and tears, but it’s also given me my purpose,” she added. 

She hopes to one day work in film, telling Black stories that can be overlooked or untold. She has even written a play that she is reworking into a movie script.

 She is planning to attend film school next year to hone her craft. “I want to tell authentic stories as raw and real as I can,” she added.

“Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that being an artist and telling stories is not a real job,” Arlethia said. “But I found a new path that will allow me to do what I love. What could be better than that?”

TCC grad overcomes great obstacles to earn degree

Sylvester Wilkins says his son Zione provided the inspiration for his return to school.

“He told me to just do it,” Sylvester said. “It was the little nudge I needed, and every success was because I didn’t want to disappoint him.”

Wilkins, 39, will walk across the stage during Tidewater Community College’s 75th Commencement Exercises earning an Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

For Sylvester, it’s been a long road to his associate degree.

He’s overcome alcoholism, homelessness and an epilepsy diagnosis that resulted in the loss of his driver’s license for 14 years.

“I ended up living with family and depending on them to get around,” Sylvester said. “From there, I lived place to place until I was homeless. I then lived in bus and train stations and washed up there so no one would know I was homeless.”

In 2018, Sylvester had corrective brain surgery to help alleviate his frequent epileptic seizures. The surgery was a success although the recovery was difficult, and Sylvester spent three months learning to walk again.

Soon after, Sylvester enrolled at Tidewater Community College with encouragement from his family.

“I noticed right away that I was not the same cognitively. It was sometimes hard to find words and I struggled to stay focused and seated in class,” he said. “And using technology for virtual learning added an additional strain.”

Sylvester persevered with the help of Gabrielle Pennington, an educational accessibility counselor with the college. “I can’t say enough about Ms. Pennington. She really cared about my success and is one of the reasons I kept pushing.”

He also found a family at TCC’s Portsmouth Campus. Sylvester sends a special shout out to the Open Door program staff who taught him how to balance life, work and school. Open Door offers free academic, career and cultural counseling to low-income, first-time college students on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses.

He also recognizes the impact of Dean Dana Hathorn and Lynette Hauser, a favorite professor. “Both of them were caring and helpful. I never had an email or phone call go unnoticed. They were always very responsive,” he said.

Growing up in the projects in Atlantic City, Sylvester says he never thought a college degree was in his future. Now he sees things differently and hopes to make a difference for young men ages 13-45.

“My sister Syliesha Scott was my biggest supporter and she believed in me,” Sylvester said. “You have to have that one person in your corner to help through the rough times. I want to be that person for someone else now.”

Sylvester’s career goal is to work in a service organization that focuses on mental health and to launch his own non-profit one day. To get started, he plans to join Peace of Mind Therapy as a life coach after graduation.

“Some in my situation just didn’t know a better way,” he said. “My motto now is ‘when you know better, you do better.’ A lot of the decisions you think you need to make are not the only option.”

He adds, “You are never too old to get a degree and start a new life. If I can do it, so can the next person. Surround yourself with the right people and make it happen.”

Gingerbread wow!

Culinary Arts students created a gingerbread village made with frosting flowers, candy rooftops, and a variety of sweet treats. Each gingerbread masterpiece started with an idea and blossomed into a culinary delight too sweet to eat.

The houses are the final exam for the Introduction to Baking class taught by Chef Carolyn Blackmon “My students prepared some beautiful gingerbread houses, all while cooking up the sweet and savory dishes for their final banquet,” Blackmon said. “I could not be prouder of every student involved.”

TCC’s Culinary Arts program has been donating gingerbread houses during the holidays to support Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters for more than a decade.

Baking students created a tasty array of sweet and savory treats for their final banquet.

Blackmon added, “All of the Culinary Arts instructors pitched in to help and really supported us. It was a great team effort.”

Collision Repair grant to help prepare industry-ready grads

Tidewater Community College’s Collision Repair program received a $5,000 grant from Caliber Collision through the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF). The grant was part of the Benchmark grant funding through CREF.

TCC is one of three schools to receive grants from Caliber to help elevate the skills of graduates. The funds will be used to purchase new tools, ensuring that students are training using the same state-of-the-art equipment that is used in industry.

TCC’s Collision Repair program prepares students for entry-level positions in non-structural repair and refinishing. Coursework covers panel replacement and alignment, glass replacement, dent repair, plastic and composite repair, vehicle preparation and paint defect diagnosis.

Upon completion of the program, Students earn their Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) certifications for Pro Level 1 and 2 in Non-Structural Repair and Pro Level 1 and 2 in Refinishing.

TCC’s program is supported by the Hampton Roads Autobody Association. For more information, visit here.

“It’s been an amazing transformation and so fast.” – Jasmine Quinones, TCC student

Jasmine Quinones gave herself a life-changing career for her 37th birthday.

“I had a cleaning business before COVID. After the pandemic hit, I found myself out of work because many of my clients didn’t want me coming to their homes,” Jasmine said. “I decided I had to find something that would never leave me in that place again.”

Fast forward six months and Jasmine has a new career and for the first time, she and her three children are financially stable.

“Before I was working three jobs and barely making ends meet. We didn’t have extra money even for something from the Dollar Store,” Jasmine said.

Jasmine found support through the college’s Job Skills Training Program, where she learned soft skills, time management and was connected with TCC’s Skilled Trades Academy and short-term programs.

She started taking the Carpentry course in May 2022 and will complete the program this October.

Amazingly, Jasmine was recruited by Precon Marine, Inc, for a paid position during her second month in class. A representative came to the Skilled Trades Academy to speak to students about available positions.

“It was the biggest blessing of my life to start at Precon. I’m still in training there, but I’ll soon be using my carpentry skills in shipyards,” she said.

It’s long days for Jasmine with work, school and family responsibilities. She’s on the job by 7 a.m. And two days a week she heads to class after an 8-hour workday. On those days, she returns home both tired and energized by what she is learning. “It’s a struggle on those days, but 100 percent worth it,” she said.

Additionally, Jasmine earned her OSHA 10 safety certification through the Carpentry program. She has also learned how to read blueprints, install wall systems, floor systems, and use all the tools of the trade. At the end of the course, she will be a certified, entry-level carpenter.

“It’s been an amazing transformation and so fast. After six weeks on the job, I was able to pay all my bills and still have money left,” Jasmine said.

“It is night and day. We don’t have to have those conversations about money like we used to,” she added. “My kids have been humbled by the lack of things I was able to give them and I’m grateful to no longer be in that lifestyle.”

Jasmine’s skills and success have made her a standout in class, according to Michael Vander Werf, the Skilled Trades Program Manager for TCC. “Jasmine has demonstrated leadership abilities and is thriving in class and at her place of employment,” he said.

Jasmine hopes to inspire other women to give the skilled trades a try. “There are some amazing opportunities for young women who enjoy working with their hands and building things. I’m making it my mission to encourage women to get out there and just do it,” she said.

Jasmine is considering taking a heavy equipment operator class next. She’d like to operate a crane and work in the air conditioning!

Long term, Jasmine hopes to someday own her own business making custom furniture and housewares.

“Right now, I just want to get some extra sleep and enjoy time with my sons,” Jasmine said with a laugh. “But it’s wonderful to see the opportunities ahead.”

Student chefs show off their skills

Culinary Arts students were all smiles as they displayed their skills during the first “Grand Buffet” since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Family and friends gathered to taste savory sandwiches, spicy soups and a variety of cold foods during the Garde Manger (HRI 145) final cooking lab on Oct. 12.

“We are so excited to be here today, demonstrating our skills and gathering as a team,” said Takao Sheridan, TCC student chef. “This class has been a nice mix of difficulty, but more fun in general, especially with the companionship we develop in the kitchens.”

Garde Manger, meaning “keeping to eat” in French, originally referred to a pantry or food storage area. In modern culinary arts, the term refers to the chef who oversees cold food production, including salads and salad dressings, smoked and cured foods, and cold sauces or soups.

“This is the most advanced lab in the Culinary Arts program. This is where students apply the techniques and knowledge they’ve learned, demonstrating artistry and different flavor profiles,” said Chef Deanne Freridge, interim program head and instructor of Culinary Arts.

TCC Culinary Arts students planned, prepared, garnished and presented a variety of cold foods for sampling including sausages, pates, canapes and gourmet sandwiches.

For retired educator Tracey Moore, the class rounds out her catering certificate. Moore, who owns a home-based bakery, chose TCC so she could add catering and savory foods to her menu.

“I love cooking and chose TCC because I knew there were things I could learn here,” she said. “Also, as a breast cancer survivor, I dedicated my food today to honor other survivors and those still affected by the disease.”

Takao added, “This program has given me a great start and prepared me for additional education. I even hope to apprentice in Louisana where they offer Cajun cooking, a favorite Southern style.”

TCC’s Culinary Arts program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Accrediting Commission. It is an affordable option for students with classes during the days and evenings. For more information, email or contact the Virtual Student Support Team at or by calling 757-822-1111.

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.

From TCC to Regent Law School

Tanya Mills remembers how her mom struggled when she emigrated to the United States from Cuba.

“The process was brutal and time-consuming,” Tanya said. “But we were committed to making a fresh start in America.”

Mills was 10 years old then. Now at 44, she is a Tidewater Community College alum who recently earned a master’s in law from Regent University School of Law.

Tanya Mills in the mock courtroom at Regent Univesity Law School.

Tanya hopes to work in immigration law, helping to pave the way for other families coming to America.

“I never thought I’d earn an associate degree. I didn’t think education was for me. But then I saw I needed higher education to do what I’m called to do,” she said.

A single mother of two sons, Tanya studied business administration at TCC and took all of her classes on campus. She says that her professors were knowledgeable and hands-on. And they instilled in her a passion for learning which she has passed on to her sons.

Now grown, they’ve both taken classes at TCC. Her oldest son, Paris Blount, 22, recently earned a cyber security degree from Old Dominion University. Her youngest, Cairon Sanders, 18, started at TCC this summer and is working toward an Associate of Science in General Studies.

“When my sons wanted to quit college, I reminded them that once you have your education, it can’t be taken from you,” Tanya said.

The first-generation college student is grateful for her start at TCC because she had the freedom to learn but was also held accountable for her studies by the faculty and academic advisors. “I didn’t do well in high school and found community college to be a buffer for university,” Tanya said. “TCC has courses that can help you figure out your future and the environment is super supportive.”

Tanya in front of a replica of the US Declaration of Independence in the lobby of Regent Law School.

Tanya continued and earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Regent University. In 2022, she added a master’s in law to her accomplishments. She plans to use her law degree to argue cases in the U.S. Immigration Court and offer mediation and provide legal advocacy for families and individuals battling the U.S. immigration system.

“I was once told I wouldn’t amount to anything. But I pushed through all of that and I’m really proud of where I am today.”