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TCC alumna earns summer internship at the National Institutes of Health

Tidewater Community College alumna Shannon O’Hara Wiora is getting an insider’s look at working for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

As a summer intern, O’Hara was selected for the 2021 Health Disparities in Tribal Communities summer internship program through the NIH branch that deals with neurological disorders and strokes.

“I’ll be learning about the nervous system, neurological processes, neurodegenerative diseases, movement disorders, brain cancer and stroke,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara is most excited about the research opportunities that will focus on computational methods for cell membranes.

“I love science and my TCC degree has definitely prepared me for the work ahead,” she said.

O’Hara has Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication.

Yet she started taking classes at TCC at 16. Today, the 20-year-old is set to graduate in December 2021 with a computer science associate degree to go with a business degree.

O’Hara is engaging and forthcoming about how she learned to overcome both a disability and difficult circumstances that might have defeated others. 

“Autistic people know how to get through challenges more than most people because we face them every day,” she said.

O’Hara’s world opened on the Virginia Beach Campus. The word she uses again and again to describe TCC is “opportunity.”

Accepted into the STEM Promise Scholarship Program in 2018, she was part of a cohort that receives paid tuition and fees for two years while completing a degree in a STEM field.

O’Hara would like to use her computer science background in an innovative way. “You can build your own creation in computer science,” she said. “I’d like to see what I can do to help people like me succeed.”

She recently became a board advisor for the nonprofit Family Voices. That allows her to promote acceptance of young adults and children with disabilities and weigh in on decisions with policymakers. She hopes to enhance acceptance of people with disabilities while encouraging others to succeed and accomplish their goals.    

O’Hara uses words including strong, stubborn and willful when talking about herself. Her TCC experiences allow her to offer one more – “confident.”