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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.

Scholarship recipient set to launch a future that includes tuition at NSU, a stipend and a job waiting

Kayla Dio Robinson’s future is taking off, thanks to earning a scholarship opportunity that pays for her bachelor’s degree, provides a healthy stipend, and guarantees her a job afterward.

Robinson will receive her Associate of Science in Science with a Specialization in Computer Science at Tidewater Community College’s 67th Fall Commencement Exercises on Dec. 17 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Next, she heads to Norfolk State University to work for her bachelor’s in computer science with a specialty in information assurance. A government job will be waiting when she graduates.

Robinson’s TCC professors tipped her off to the National Science Foundation CyberCorps Scholarship for Service, which pays tuition and fees for the final three years of study for a bachelor’s degree, provides book and health insurance allowances, and gives the recipient a $22,500 living expense stipend.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Robinson said.

TCC and NSU partnered in the initiative, which addresses the need for a diverse group of qualified computer, network security and cybersecurity professionals. It requires the student to serve in a branch of the government for three years after graduation.

Robinson, 22, completed a rigorous application process and interviewed with Jonathan Graham, professor and director of NSU’s Information Assurance Research and Development Education Institute.

After Robinson met with Graham to tour the NSU Institute, which has been designated as a center of excellence by the National Science Foundation, he offered her the scholarship.

“It was just amazing to hear about,” she said.

The Salem High School graduate wasn’t a confident student when she entered TCC and was undecided on which career path to follow. Because she wasn’t set on a major, she liked the idea of exploring possibilities at TCC without accruing significant student debt.

“I figured it out here,” said Robinson, who started with interior design classes before moving into engineering.

That was a giant leap, but she’s always loved space, admiring what NASA represents. While at TCC, she participated in a NASA program that allowed her to attend a social at Kennedy Space Center for a rocket launch. Later, she took part in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars summer program, which included a four-day engineering workshop at NASA Langley.

Robinson realized she favored the programming aspect of her engineering classes at TCC, and she switched her path to computer science. Admittedly, she hopes that government job ends up being at NASA.

“I’m open to anything; it all sounds interesting,” she said. “I would love to work for NASA, though. That’s the dream job.”

As for that stipend, Robinson, of course, has plans for that.

“I’m finally going to buy a car,” said Robinson, as her 1994 Jeep can no longer get her to class. She made a computer program to help her choose the most fuel-efficient model.

Robinson will graduate alongside her boyfriend, Jared Austin, earning his Associate of Science in General Studies. Her mother, sisters and grandparents will attend the ceremony, and her father will also be making the trip from Illinois.