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Memorial Day Closure

TCC will be closed Monday, May 27, in observance of the Memorial Day holiday.

Priority partnership with TCC offers nonviolent offenders a second chance

Two years ago, TJ Sexton and Ahmad Bilal lived in jail. Today, both are employed full time making more than $50,000 annually.

They are two of the inaugural graduates from the Priority Technical Training Center (PTTC), a program launched in 2018 by Tidewater Community College, Priority Automotive and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office to give nonviolent offenders a new lease on life.

“Teaching nonviolent offenders to make a good, honest living and put their past in the rearview mirror is good for our communities, good for our law enforcement agencies, and good for Priority,” said Dennis Ellmer, chief executive officer and president of Priority Automotive. “This may seem like an unlikely partnership, but it just makes perfect sense.”

Built and funded entirely by Priority, the state-of-the-art automotive training center opened with dealerships across the country scrambling to find highly skilled auto technicians to service vehicles that grow more technologically advanced by the day.

Program participants were incarcerated at the Norfolk jail and bused to the facility five days a week for classroom instruction and on-the-job training. The year-long program boasts 27 graduates from the first two cohorts. Twenty four of those graduates, after their release from jail, are employed full-time at Priority dealerships.

Ray Mattox, the fixed operations director at Priority Chevrolet in Chesapeake, recalls a time when the PTTC grads working there now couldn’t turn a wrench.

“When they started, I paired them with a mentor technician to be sure they were learning the skills correctly,” Mattox said. “Today, they are high performers in our service centers, and I absolutely don’t know what I would do without them.”

Program graduate Sexton notes that his living situation is 10 times better now, calling the program the biggest blessing of his life.

“This is my second chance,” he said. “I didn’t know how I was going to get to this place that I pretty much dreamed about. I live in a nice apartment. I’m building my credit and I have three cars. But the best part is that I have a job I enjoy and stability like never before.”

Troy Clifton, executive director of Priority Toyota Charity Bowl, is the program coordinator and unofficial cheerleader.

“Make no mistake, these are my guys. I may wear a suit, but they know they can trust me, and I’m going to go to bat for them,” Clifton said. “I’m gratified at how well the trainees bought into the program and how well the mentors and coworkers have supported them.”

“I didn’t think I’d have this life, and I have no idea where I’d be without the program,” added program grad Bilal. “Every day, I can take what I’ve learned and pay it forward. That means a lot to me.”

Upon completion of the program, PTTC graduates have the opportunity to continue their education, earn new certifications and an Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology from TCC.

A state Senate joint resolution recently commended Ellmer for initiation and execution of the PTTC. Ellmer and Priority Automotive invested more than $2 million to establish the inmate training program. The program is on hold due to COVID-19 but is expected to resume in the future.

Priority Automotive CEO Dennis Ellmer (center) was recognized with a Senate joint resolution for creating the Priority Technical Training Center.

TCC marks 68th Commencement Exercises with milestones, including huge numbers of dual enrollment grads

Tidewater Community College’s 68th Commencement Exercises celebrated several significant milestones on Monday evening at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. 

Among them:

Five students from the inaugural STEM Promise Program cohort graduated; each is planning to transfer. Four of them, Deloren Perry, Devon Singleton, Kasen Martel and Kathryn Synowiec are bound for Old Dominion University. Robert Sutton will transfer to Virginia Tech. All are juniors who earned four semesters of free tuition thanks to the Women’s Center STEM Promise Program launched in 2017.

President Greg DeCinque with the first group from the Priority Technical Training Center to earn career studies certificates in Automotive Chassis Systems.
President Greg DeCinque with the first group from the Priority Technical Training Center to earn career studies certificates in Automotive Chassis Systems.

Thanks to a new partnership with Priority Automotive and the Norfolk Sheriff’s office, TCC graduated its first class of nonviolent offenders from the Norfolk Jail. By learning at the PriorityTechnical Training Center in Chesapeake, 14 inmates were trained as automotive technicians, earning career studies certificate in Automotive Chassis Systems. All of them are eligible for full-time employment following their release.

Expanded partnerships with the Chesapeake and Portsmouth public schools led to TCC graduating its largest class of dual enrollment students. Fifteen earned career studies certificates in mechatronics, meaning they are one year away from completing associate degrees. Thirty-six other students earned career studies certificates in the fields of electrical wiring, welding and pharmacy technology. 

Portsmouth Public Schools dual enrollment graduates.
Dual enrollment coordinator Katina Barnes with the Portsmouth cohort of dual enrollment graduates.

In addition, six teenagers from the Portsmouth Campus are Governor’s Medallion recipients as they completed associate degrees while still in high school. This is the largest number of Governor’s Medallion winners ever from TCC. All will enter four-year colleges as juniors.

Student speaker Charleston Yancey will also be a junior at his next stop, Virginia Wesleyan University. Yancey, who earned his Associate of Science in Social Sciences, encouraged the Class of 2019 to persist past the pressure, speaking with a passion that ignited his classmates.

The class of 2019!

“No matter what you have endured in life, on this day you are defined by three words: ‘You did it!’” he said, the culmination of a spirited speech that left many of his classmates on their feet. ‘When you face new obstacles and new challenges, remember, you did it!

“If you did it once, you can do it again,” he repeated to cheers; nearly 1,000 graduates were in attendance.

Ruth Jones Nichols, chief executive officer of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, followed Yancey and admitted she wept after being asked to be the college’s keynote speaker, calling it a humbling honor.

“You don’t have to be Danny Glover or Glenn Close to connect with each of you in this moment,” she said. “I’ve been where you are today. I’ve experienced the range of emotions that come with taking your next step.”

Grads move their tassels to the right to signify that they are now TCC grads.

Jones Nichols encouraged the graduates to think of their new education as a passport and look for real-world experience to complement their academic achievements. She advised them to be wary of falling into the trap of following someone else’s timetable as a measure for success.

“Don’t allow the movement of others toward a destination to define when, where and how you use your passport in life,” said the admitted late bloomer. “Trust the process and the place where you find yourself in any given time.”

She concluded by alluding to an upcoming partnership between the Foodbank and TCC, which will establish a food pantry to help college students deal with food insecurity.

Jones Nichols added, “Use your education at TCC to continue creating the best possible life for yourself. Never forget that you truly can go anywhere.”

Chesapeake Public Schools dual enrollment graduates.
Chesapeake Public Schools had its largest cohort of dual enrollment graduates.

“Are you ready?” TCC President Greg DeCinque then asked the jubilant graduates, each of whom joined TCC’s alumni network of 100,000 strong after making their celebratory walk across the stage.

TCC provides training for new automotive center aimed at improving lives of nonviolent offenders

Priority Automotive is joining Tidewater Community College and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office to give repeat, nonviolent offenders a new lease on life.

Gov. Ralph Northam at the Priority Technical Training Center in Chesapeake.
Gov. Ralph Northam at the Priority Technical Training Center in Chesapeake.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam joined Priority Automotive, TCC and the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 27 to unveil the automobile dealer’s new Priority Technical Training Center in Chesapeake, where 16 nonviolent offenders from the Norfolk Jail have already begun training for jobs as auto technicians.

“Teaching nonviolent offenders to make a good, honest living and put their past in the rearview mirror is good for our communities, good for our law enforcement agencies, and good for Priority,” said Dennis Ellmer, chief executive officer and president of Priority Automotive. “This may seem like an unlikely
partnership, but it just makes perfect sense.”

Built and funded entirely by Priority, the state-of-the-art automotive training center opens as dealerships across the country scramble to find highly skilled auto technicians to service vehicles that grow more technologically advanced by the day.

TCC President Gregory DeCinque sees the program as a valuable resource for Hampton Roads. “The Priority program is the latest example of TCC focusing on access to educational opportunities and responding to the needs of the automotive industry to train additional technicians,” he said. “Ultimately, this will not only improve people’s lives but also our regional economy.”

Located just behind the Priority Infiniti dealership in Chesapeake, the center has been two years in the making. The center includes 12 repair bays and will train 16 nonviolent offenders for careers in automotive repair through a two-year certified program offered by TCC.

Instructor Horace Linton with the first class of students at the Priority Technical Training Center.
Instructor Horace Linton with the first class of students at the training center.

Classes started in September and will end in May. Trainees will attend class full time two days a week and work at Priority dealerships three days a week. After successfully completing their second semester, trainees will be offered full-time jobs at one of 14 Priority dealerships across Hampton Roads.

They will also have the opportunity to continue their education, earn new certifications and earn an Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology from TCC.

Ellmer said he got the idea during a trip to Fiji, where he met a tour guide who earned a tourism degree while incarcerated in a local jail.

“I thought, ‘Wow, we have to do something like this back home,’” Ellmer said.

Not long after his return, Ellmer shared his idea with former TCC President Edna Baehre-Kolovani, who loved the idea. The pair approached the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office, where Lt. Col. Mike O’Toole helped bring the concept to life.

“We have people coming out of our jail with few opportunities for worthwhile employment because of their past,” O’Toole said. “And with no way to find a decent job and make an honest living, they sometimes resort to old habits and wind up right back here in jail. There’s both a
social and financial cost to that for taxpayers. It can be a revolving door that just keeps spinning. This program is designed to put an end to that.”

In fact, it costs Norfolk taxpayers an average of $26,000 to house a single offender for one year, said Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron.

“What we know is over 96 percent of our offenders are coming back to our community,” Baron said. “We also know former offenders are less likely to return to jail if they have gainful employment at the time of their release. By funding the cost to build the center and pay the trainees’ tuition, what Priority is doing here is nothing short of life changing for these inmates. And great for the community.”

Baron’s office has been instrumental in implementation of the program by evaluating and selecting participants, providing transportation to and from class and work, and providing tools and facilities for inmates to study and complete homework assignments. The Norfolk Sheriff’s Department has had a work-release program in place for more than 30 years, with inmates working at businesses in the community.

“This is a logical next step,” Baron said. “Combining our work-release program with an educational vocational program is a natural next step in promoting rehabilitation and saving tax dollars by reducing the number of people who return to jail.”

Ellmer noted this is not just about saving taxpayers money or filling jobs at his dealership. “This is about giving these people a sense of worth, a second chance and an opportunity to live the right way and do the right thing,” he said. “We think that’s good for everyone.”

Honda PACT student’s memory lives on with completed project car and scholarship fund

Jordan McNair

Jordan McNair is fondly remembered as the “little brother” by his classmates in the Honda Professional Automotive Career Training (PACT) program at Tidewater Community College’s Regional Automotive Center.

McNair received his Career Studies Certificate in Automotive Chassis Systems posthumously after a fatal automobile accident ended his life in August 2017.

His parents, Dexter McNair and Paula Borchert, accepted his certificate following a standing ovation from his classmates.

Jordan McNair’s parents, Dexter McNair and Paula Borchert (center) , accept his certificate during a standing ovation from classmates.

Before his death, McNair and his classmates were working to restore his project car, a 2000 Honda Civic, which was flooded during Hurricane Matthew. The group worked nights and weekends, gaining hands-on skills as they fixed the car.

They started by swapping the engine and turning the car from an automatic transmission to a manual one. From there, they worked on systems including the brakes, air bags, fuel lines, the suspension and some wiring issues related to the flood damage.

“Jordan found his passion when he enrolled at TCC. It was the happiest and most focused I’d ever seen him,” Borchert said. “He and his classmates were full speed ahead working diligently at our home – rain – cold – it didn’t matter. They were determined to get his car going.”

After McNair’s passing, his classmates continued to restore the project car, spending their own time and money to buy parts and complete the project.

“This car represents his evolution – like Jordan it was a diamond in the rough,” said classmate Dominique Martin.

“We decided to finish the car for his family, as a reminder of his life’s passion. It was a little rough to keep going in the beginning, but doing this was a help, too,” added classmate Demetrio Gallegos.

The restored Honda is unveiled to family and friends at the college's Regional Automotive Center.
The restored Honda is unveiled to family and friends at the college’s Regional Automotive Center.

“For me working on the car was a learning experience. Jordan and I were teammates, doing the lab work together in class. It felt right for me to be there to help see this project through,” added Damien Rose.

The car looks new with lustrous black paint and orange accents.

Honda PACT instructor David Lee has been part of the project, providing his time and expertise to the work. “This was Jordan’s calling,” he said. “You could really see his focus intensify once he started working at Priority Honda. I’m really proud of how we all came together for this family.”

TCC Collision Repair students also worked on Jordan’s Honda.

Priority Automotive’s announcement of the Jordan McNair Memorial Honda PACT scholarship through the TCC Educational Foundation was a surprise at commencement. The $12,000 scholarship will cover half the cost of tuition for two students in the Honda PACT program for two years.

 “Jordan would be doing backflips if he could see the car now,” Borchert said. “Our family will be eternally grateful for the sacrifice and love shown by his classmates and instructors.”

Dexter McNair added, “One of his favorite sayings was ‘run it.’ And I know with this car, he would be saying it’s time; let’s ‘run it.’”

A celebration of multiple firsts and a memorial for a special grad part of TCC’s spring commencement

During a Saturday afternoon of milestones and remembrances, Tidewater Community College celebrated the spring class of 2018 at its 66th Commencement Exercises.

In addition to more than 700 graduates walking in the ceremony at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani recognized the following milestones:

  • Four graduates, Brandi Porter, Gabrielle Hutchings, Jaylyn Richard and Jay Sellers, received the Governor’s Medallion, given to four teenagers who completed associate degrees while still in high school.
  • Alexis Spangler and Xiaomin Chen, are the inaugural students to graduate through the Women’s Center’s STEM Promise Program, which provides full scholarships to students pursuing STEM degrees at TCC. Each earned an Associate of Science of Engineering.
  • Another first: Christopher Newbill and Alyssa Shepherd, both Wilson High School seniors, became the first high school students to earn Career Studies Certificates in Maritime Welding.
  • Emma Tracy became the first recipient of the Associate of Fine Arts in Music.
  • Finally, five students from Chesapeake Public high schools, Zachary Booker, Hunter Edward, Brandon Halloran, Christian Keifer and Jalem Wilson, became the first recipients of the Career Studies Certificate in Electrical Wiring for Technicians.
Student speaker Tony Sawyer and President Kolovani at TCC's 66th Commencement Exercises.
Student speaker Tony Sawyer and President Kolovani at Commencement.

Keynote speaker Cheryl Turpin, an educator elected last fall to Virginia’s House of Delegates, encouraged the students to keep learning regardless of age.

“No matter your age, I see nothing but young minds when I look out to this crowd,” said the longtime science teacher.

Turpin’s journey has taken her from science teacher at Cox High School to the cover of Time magazine the week after she was elected to the House of Delegates. “If you follow your passions, you can achieve what you dream,” she said.

Student speaker Tony Sawyer, previously a high school dropout, talked about finding the desire to succeed at TCC thanks to the support he received. He graduated with an Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

“Education required a lot of sacrifices, but the lessons learned have been worth it,” said Sawyer, on the President’s List every semester at TCC and bound for Old Dominion University. “Today’s success is not an ending point. Let us apply the knowledge we’ve learned to make a difference.

Jordan McNair's classmates and President Kolovani on stage at Commencement.
Jordan McNair’s classmates at Commencement.

“As a former 16-year-old dropout, who is now a 49-year-old TCC graduate and attending the ODU honors college in the fall, I currently experience a new freedom from this education I no longer thought was possible,” he said.

During the conferring of degrees, Jordan McNair was awarded a posthumous Career Studies Certificate in Automotive Chassis Systems. McNair, a student at TCC’s Regional Automotive Center, died in a car accident last August. He was 20 years old.

Jordan McNair's parents, (center) Dexter McNair and Paula Borchert, accept his certificate during a standing ovation from classmates.
Jordan McNair’s parents, (center) Dexter McNair and Paula Borchert, accept his certificate during a standing ovation from classmates.

McNair’s family received an inspiring standing ovation from the graduates. His classmates, who finished restoring his project car, a 2000 Honda Civic, presented his family with his certificate.

Priority Automotive’s Jim Rose, McNair’s employer, also announced a new $12,000 scholarship, the Jordan McNair Memorial Honda PACT Scholarship, sponsored by the dealership. The scholarship will assist second-year TCC students enrolled in the Honda PACT program.

TCC’s alumni base of more than 100,000 continues to grow with the addition of the 1,500 graduates who are part of the class of 2018.