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In crafting her own obit, alumna found her purpose

Bianca Wilson got stumped writing her own obituary. What sounds like an awkward college assignment turned into an enlightening moment for the woman who would one day become the first African-American female train conductor at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY).

Wilson with Ertha Barnes, Christina Kurtz and Taariq Brown at the Norfolk Campus Student Center.

The Tidewater Community College alumna and Navy wife shared her story with students during a keynote address for Women’s History Month on March 7 at the Norfolk Campus Student Center.

During her student development class, the instructor assigned students to write their own obituary as homework. Wilson jotted down being a stay-at-home wife and mother but yearned for some professional accomplishments.

“This was my aha moment. It changed my whole perspective,” she said. “I was unhappy as to how my children would view me as a mother and a woman and the legacy I would leave them.”

So she enrolled in TCC’s administrative support technology program and balanced motherhood with being a student.

“I checked into labor and delivery at Chesapeake General and still had to complete a writing assignment for a class. I brought my laptop and books and completed the work while in active labor,” she said.

Wilson was a student ambassador at Portsmouth Campus and a regional honors chair for Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools. While she took all but two of her classes online, she felt part of the college because of professors who invested in her success.

“The teachers made it easy for me and provided one-on-one help, often over the phone,” Wilson said. “We were a community of learners, even if we were doing it remotely.”

Business instructor Peggy Scott impressed her with her kindness. “She sent a letter to my home telling me that she was amazed at my work and the fortitude I’d shown, and offered to write me a letter of reference,” Wilson said. “She encouraged me when I wanted to give up. Even though I’ve never laid eyes on her, I feel as though I know her for years.”

While taking classes at TCC, Wilson went to work at NNSY, following the path of her great grandfather, grandfather and dad. Today she transports heavy equipment across the yard.

Bianca Wilson on the train at Norfolk Naval Shipyard
Wilson at work on the train at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

“A lot of what we move are the anchors, shafts for the carriers, and fuel,” she told the monthly newsletter for NNSY. “This is one of the most dangerous jobs – you’re dealing with tonnage. It’s heavy. We have to be very careful. We’re always making sure we’re safe. There’s a lot of traffic here, and people will walk right in front of the train. And we don’t have lights and bells ringing when we cross streets, so we have to be hype-aware.”

Wilson graduated from TCC in 2018 with an Associate of Applied Science in Administrative Support Technology. She would like to parlay her experience into a management position at the shipyard. She plans to attend Old Dominion University for business management.

Wilson also owns a photography business, Everlasting Pictures and Photobooth, LLC. She and husband Stanley have three daughters.

“Never give up, no matter how hard it gets, or how slow you have to go,” Wilson advises. “The only thing that beats a failure is not trying at all.”

Trailblazing train conductor from NNSY is the headliner for TCC’s Women’s History Month celebration

Tidewater Community College will recognize Women’s History Month with a keynote speech by the first African-American female train conductor at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, who is also an alumna of the college.

Bianca Wilson
Bianca Wilson

Bianca Wilson’s talk will encourage students to work hard and follow their dreams. She will speak on March 7 at noon at the Norfolk Campus Student Center, 5th floor.

Wilson earned an associate degree in administrative support technology from TCC. The mother of three owns her own photography business, Everlasting Pictures and Photobooth, LLC.

The talk is free and open to the public.

TCC Women’s History Month Events

Note: Three luncheons noted below focus on Returning Women. Many women take a break from formal education for one reason or many, including to raise a family, start a career or serve in the military. When they resume higher education, they are categorized as “Returning Women.”

The luncheons also provide opportunities to learn about the programs offered by TCC’s Women’s Center, and visit with representatives from admissions, financial aid and student support services.

March 5

International Women’s Day – “Women in War Zones: Stories of Peril & Persistence”
12:30 – 1:30 p.m., Virginia Beach Campus, Intercultural Learning Center, Room A-115

Join the conversation with two experts in the area of refugee resettlement. They will speak about the needs of women fleeing and surviving in conflict zones. Presented by the Intercultural Learning Center in observation of International Women’s Day.

Presenters are Suheir Diyab, refugee resettlement supervisor, and Soheila Alizadeh, refugee mental health specialist, both with Commonwealth Catholic Charities.

March 21

Returning Women’s Luncheon – Chesapeake Campus
12:30 – 2:30 p.m. – Chesapeake Campus Student Center, Chesapeake Bay Room

Benita Adams
Benita Adams

Speaker Benita Adams is a television and radio host, author and motivational speaker. She has worked in the media and communications field for more than 30 years, including Channel 13 News Now, an ABC affiliate, in Hampton Roads. She is currently the host and producer of the radio show “Hampton Roads Voices” on Norfolk State University’s WNSB 91.1.

Space is limited. To reserve a seat, contact the Intercultural Learning Center at or 757-822-7296

March 26

Returning Women’s Luncheon – Norfolk Campus
12:30 – 2:30 p.m., Norfolk Campus, Student Center, 5th Floor

Valerie Myers
Valerie Myers

Chesapeake native Valerie Myers, the media and communications coordinator with the City of Virginia Beach, is the speaker. She received her associate degree from TCC in 2005.  She went on to earn a bachelor’s in English and creative writing, with a minor in African American Studies, from Old Dominion University.

Space is limited. To reserve your seat, contact the Intercultural Learning Center at or 757-822-7296.

March 28

Returning Women’s Luncheon – Virginia Beach Campus
12:30 – 2:30 p.m., Virginia Beach Campus Student Center, Room K-320

Camilla Walck
Camilla Walck

Camilla Walck, a high school science teacher, STEM ambassador and adjunct professor at TCC and Virginia Wesleyan University, is the speaker. Walck received national recognition from the Chamber of Commerce as the 2012 National Life Science Teacher of the Year and was selected as a Claes Nobel Top Ten Teacher of the Year for 2013 by the National Society of High School Scholars. In 2016, she was a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in teaching math and science.

Space is limited. To reserve your seat, please contact the Intercultural Learning Center at or 757-822-7296.

TCC to pursue Domestic Maritime Center of Excellence designation

With support from its Congressional delegation, Tidewater Community College will pursue designation as a Domestic Maritime Center of Excellence, the college announced today.

The creation of these centers, which will help address the critical need for trained workers in the maritime industry, was approved as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2018.

Now, the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration must establish an application and selection process, which may take months. As one of a handful of colleges meeting the statutory qualifications for becoming a Center of Excellence, TCC has already been actively engaged, President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani said.

“We will be at the table as this process unfolds,” she said. “In the meanwhile, TCC will keep moving forward with expansion and promotion of maritime workforce education.”

The college offers education and skills training in pipefitting, inside machinist, marine welding, marine electrical, marine mechanical and maritime logistics.

Virginia’s two senators and representatives of Hampton Roads in Congress wrote to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Feb. 13 in support of TCC’s designation.

“Serving the fifth largest port in North American and the largest Naval Base in the world, TCC has a longstanding history of meeting the maritime workforce needs in the Hampton Roads region,” they wrote.

They also pointed to the Southeast Maritime and Transportation (SMART) Center, based at TCC, and the college’s partnerships with local, regional and national shipbuilding and ship repair companies, such as Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, AMSEC and BAE Systems.

“For these reasons, we request you give full and fair consideration to designate Tidewater Community College a Domestic Maritime Center of Excellence, as we believe it is uniquely capable of helping secure our nation’s talent pipeline for the domestic maritime industry,” the letter states.

It was signed by Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine, along with Rep. Rob Wittman (VA-01), one of the original patrons of the legislation, Rep. Scott Taylor (VA-02), Rep. Donald McEachin (VA-04), and Rep. Bobby Scott (VA-03).

“I am grateful for their support,” Kolovani said, noting that the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution during its current session recognizing TCC on its 50th anniversary and for its qualifications to become a Domestic Maritime Center of Excellence.

She said that Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth recently awarded the college a new three-year contract to continue providing the academic component of the shipyard’s apprenticeship program, again demonstrating that the maritime industry recognizes TCC’s expertise in maritime education.

TCC, Norfolk Naval Shipyard continue successful apprenticeship partnership

Tidewater Community College will continue providing the academic component of Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s apprenticeship program after being awarded a new three-year contract in February.

Apprentices accepted into the four-year program learn an in-demand maritime trade, earn college credit and receive a competitive salary, all while building a career with the federal government.

“Norfolk Naval Shipyard wants an educated workforce, which is why the TCC component is so critical,” said Michelle Woodhouse, provost of the Portsmouth Campus. “Apprentices in this program have earned the privilege of having this remarkable opportunity, which allows them to take advantage of the academic resources the college offers to further their career.”

“We are proud to continue our partnership with TCC,” said Colby Tynes, apprentice program director at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY).

Apprentices take classes during regular working hours on weekdays at TCC’s Portsmouth Campus in two nine-week sessions, and upon completion, receive a Career Studies Certificate: Trades Technician. In the last three years of the program, apprentices undergo trade theory training and on-the-job learning at NNSY in Portsmouth, where they earn a wage ranging from $14.03 to $15.46 per hour. Apprentices are eligible for promotions after successful completion of program requirements.

Other NNSY benefits include sick leave, annual leave, federal holidays, health insurance, life insurance and a retirement plan.

Upon graduation, apprentices are eligible to be converted to the journeyman level of their trade.

Apprentices who want to further their education may apply their credits toward TCC’s Associate of Applied Science in Maritime Technologies. Graduates may transfer to Old Dominion University’s Occupational & Technical Studies program.

TCC and NNSY have been partners for the current apprenticeship program since 1996.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens, have graduated with a high school diploma or GED equivalent, meet minimum requirements on the TCC placements tests, be able to obtain and maintain a security clearance and pass medical requirements.

Applications for the 2019 apprentice class will be accepted beginning in November 2018.

For information about the program, email Professor David Steinhauer at or call 757-822-2424.