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Navy center partners with TCC to provide STEM camp for youth

Tidewater Community College worked with community partner Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) to host a weeklong summer camp for youth, ages 11-15, from high schools across Hampton Roads.

Held July 17-21, the purpose of the camp was to foster a passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in students and to showcase careers in these fields. Students also learned important lessons from guest speakers and completed hands-on activities throughout the week.

TCC Dean Nancy Prather-Johnson welcomed students and shared about her journey. “As I was growing up, I was considered part of the underrepresented population and underprivileged community. It was summer programs like this one that exposed me to STEM careers at a young age,” she said.

She continued, “I attended a math and science-specific high school for students who were high achievers in the subjects. Although I didn’t continue my pursuit of becoming a computer science engineer, I am now the dean of Computer Science and Business at a community college and that gives me the opportunity to pay it forward and expose kids like me to these growing fields.”

NIWC STEM Lead, Shawn Frazier, believes the partnership with TCC will greatly benefit the youth attending camp. He enjoys hosting it on campus in order to help the students visualize their futures in college and see themselves pursuing their dream careers. He says, “I want to help students to see themselves as that scientist, engineer, mathematician, or whatever it is they want to do. TCC has been a great partner to help me do that.”

This camp provides students the opportunity to participate in interactive projects such as creating and launching their own rockets, as well as coding on a Raspberry Pi computer, which is the technology that is used on the International Space Station.

The program allows campers to experience STEM in a way that differs from what they learn in school. In addition to the opportunity to grow their STEM knowledge, this camp creates a sense of community for STEM students in the Hampton Roads area. Jorden, a camp student, said, “One of my favorite things about camp has been making friends that have the same interests as me.”

Camp instructor, Daron Moore, has been with the NIWC STEM Camp program since it started 12 years ago. He says, “It’s incredibly fulfilling to be able to plant the STEM seeds in children’s minds and see where it takes them. You get to see them years later achieving their childhood dreams that began at camp.”

For more information regarding future summer camps, contact Prather-Johnson at

Grad finds path to new career in genetic counseling

Brook Ogden says the TCC tagline, ‘From here, go anywhere,’ rings true. “I was in a job I didn’t enjoy. Now I’m on a path for a career I’m excited about,” she said.

Brook spent her 20s working for a real estate company. She considered becoming a broker and even passed the state licensing exam. “That small accomplishment gave me the courage to believe in myself and propelled me forward,” Brook said.

Today, Odgen, 30, has clear career goals and a passion for serving others.

She will walk across the stage during Tidewater Community College’s 74th Commencement at Chartway Arena and earn an Associate of Science in Science.

Brook has her sights set on the emerging field of genetic counseling, where she will help people live healthier lives by checking genetic markers. ““I’ll be starting in a relatively new field of science and be able to help people invest in their health and future,” she said.

Brook encourages other women to consider the STEM fields. “I had four different science labs and I learned so much in each one. That knowledge will be foundational for my future learning,” she added.

Brook started at TCC’s Chesapeake Campus because it was right down the street from her home and the campus was small enough to not feel overwhelming. “I’d been out of high school for so long, and something about the small classes and being able to talk with professors was really appealing,” she said.

And while Brook didn’t apply herself in high school, she was a top performer at TCC, earning a 3.9 GPA.

A work-study student in the Chesapeake Campus Student Center, Brook says she gained a lot of leadership experience and new skills. She said, “It was challenging and like no job I’d had before. But the best part was the people who became like family.”

Brook sends a shout-out to history Professor Kevin Brady. “He was my favorite teacher ever. His storytelling abilities are legendary and he cares about his students, and it shows,” she said.

This summer Brook is putting her biology degree to work and interning with Chesapeake Mosquito Control Commission. She will be working alongside biologists to study local mosquito populations and monitor mosquito-borne diseases.

A native of Blacksburg, Virginia, Brook is continuing her studies at James Madison University where she will earn a bachelor of science in biology. She also hopes to continue for a master’s degree.

“My professors captivated me and instilled a love of learning and I’m really grateful to TCC for all they’ve done for me,” Brook said.

Brook and her husband, Mike, have two pups – a Great Dane, named Iris, and a toy Poodle, called Pooh. They are excited to return to the mountains of Virginia and look forward to hiking and spending time with family.

“I like everything at TCC and tell everyone I know to start here.” – David Hopkins, TCC STEM Promise Scholar

Meet David Hopkins, a Tidewater Community College STEM Promise Scholar.

David is following in his dad’s footsteps and preparing for a career in cyber security.

A Suffolk resident, David has adjusted well to college life after years of homeschooling.

“My favorite thing about TCC is the opportunities,” David said. “I especially like working with classmates on projects, going to the campus gym and just hanging out with people after class.”

As a STEM Promise Scholar, David pays no tuition or fees as he earns an Associate of Applied Science in Cyber Security in two years.

David was invited to participate in Innovate Cyber at Old Dominion University, a program designed to help students develop the skills necessary to succeed in the cyber security and information technology fields.

Through the program, he is working on a design project that mirrors work in the real world. “We’re creating a cyber hygiene company that helps organizations assess risks for cyber-attacks,” he said. “It’s been really eye-opening as my career goal is to find a position that combines cyber defense and offense.”

David is completing his first year at TCC and is confident that he made the right choice starting at a community college. “TCC costs less and was a good way to get my feet wet in college. I know better what to expect when I transfer to a university,” he said.

David has three favorite professors so far: Thomas Geary who teaches English and Christopher Boyle and Gary Noah who teach computer science. “I like everything about TCC and tell everyone I know to start here,” he said.

In his free time, David enjoys walking his dog, Presley, going to the gym and playing video games.

David hopes to one day work in cyber security for the FBI or the National Security Agency.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at TCC. My professors have been flexible and available to answer questions,” David said. “And It was definitely easier than I thought to get going on my degree.”

TCC STEM Promise Program receives fifth annual gift from Elizabeth River Crossings

Elizabeth River Crossings continues to invest in STEM education by supporting Tidewater Community College’s STEM Promise Scholarship Program.

The college named its fifth class of STEM Promise scholars in June. These 19 students are awarded full tuition and fees for two years of study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related disciplines at TCC.

Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC) donated $60,000 in support of the newest cohort, increasing its total investment in the STEM Promise Scholarship Program to $300,000 in five years.

“We deeply appreciate the continued generosity of Elizabeth River Crossings in support of TCC’s vision to diversify the Hampton Roads workforce,” said TCC President Marcia Conston. “Working with the staff of our new Student Resource and Empowerment Center, we are addressing the persistent challenge of creating a larger and more diverse STEM workforce pipeline. Our longtime partnership with Elizabeth River Crossings ensures we can continue training students for careers in those in-demand areas.”

“We are proud to provide the gift of education to the outstanding students in TCC’s STEM Promise Program,” said David Sullivan, chief executive officer of ERC. “As we invest in their education, we also invest in the future vibrancy of the Hampton Roads workforce.”

STEM Promise scholar Deloren Perry went on to earn her bachelor’s in cybersecurity from Old Dominion University.

A total of 89 students have had their education funded through the STEM Promise Program. TCC’s most recent class of students was selected from a competitive pool of more than 100 applicants.

Recipient Catherine Hubbard is pursuing an Associate of Science in Science. She participated in the NASA Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholar program and learned about the Mars mission and the Artemis 2024 mission for return to the moon. “There is clearly a need for women in STEM to support and join these critical missions,” Hubbard said.

STEM Scholar Katherine “Katie” Synowiec is now a branch engineer for a local firm.

TCC’s STEM Promise graduate Katherine “Katie” Synowiec earned an Associate of Science in Engineering in 2018 and is a branch engineer at Barnhart Crane and Rigging. Her fiancé, Logan Hofer also earned an engineering degree and is now a drafter at Chugach Government Solutions.

The TCC Educational Foundation started the STEM Promise Scholarship Program in 2017 to create a larger, more diverse STEM pipeline in Hampton Roads. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply for the scholarships, which are open to all. Applications for the 2022-23 class of STEM scholars will be open from Dec. 20 until April 1, 2022.

Xiaomin Chen earned her engineering degree through the STEM Promise Program.

For more information about the program, contact Jaedda Hall, TCC’s STEM Promise Program coordinator, at To support the STEM Promise Program, contact the TCC Educational Foundation at

Visit here to learn more about the TCC’s Student Resource and Empowerment Center that connects students with a variety of free and comprehensive social services and financial resources to help them stay focused on their academic goals.

Elizabeth River Crossing logo

TCC alums become friends and valentines

It took more than two years for Cupid’s arrow to hit Deven Singleton and Jena Essary.

But this year the two Tidewater Community College alums are finally celebrating their first Valentine’s Day together.

The pair met in 2019 when they were STEM Promise scholars. Singleton was studying engineering and Essary computer science.

Caroline Jacobs, Kiana Brown, Seth Grieling, Jena Essary, Valerie Randall and Deven Singleton are all part of the TCC six pack.

To keep up with their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) studies they formed a study group with four other students including Caroline Jacobs, Valerie Randall, Kiana Brown and Seth Grieling.

“The program brought together a lot of like-minded students, so it was easy to connect and lean on each other when the going got tough,” Essary said.  

The group met weekly in the Chesapeake Campus Student Center.

“Being in a cohort, and doing our TCC degrees together, that was the best part,” Singleton said.

“The faculty support and small classes were also a plus. We were known to our teachers and each other, and that accountability kept me on track,” Essary added.

The group became the TCC six pack, doing life together, even after graduation.

“The connections we made at TCC have carried over to university and we see each other and text often,” Singleton said.

As for Singleton and Essary, friendship blossomed into a relationship in December 2020 and the pair is looking to the future together.

Both are completing their degrees at Old Dominion University and working in their fields as paid interns.

Singleton is an electrical engineer, in a salaried position with Naval Surface Warfare Center at Naval Air Station Oceana.

“It wasn’t easy to find an internship during the pandemic, so I’m super grateful for this opportunity,” Singleton said. “The exposure I’m getting doing research and development is a great way to enter the workforce.”

Essary is working in the office of public engagement at NASA Langley Research Center. She is the information technology technician for the office and working on mobile and web-based applications.

 The couple hopes to work in Hampton Roads for the next five years and then possibly move to Huntsville, Alabama, a growing area for the STEM fields.

In their free time, the couple enjoys working out and, of course, spending time with the six pack. Essary also started a side business, Jena’s Jewelry, to keep busy during the pandemic.

TCC grad has a message for women in STEM

“You have what it takes. You can do it. Start now.”

Gracey Motley offers those encouraging words for women considering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.

A Women’s Center STEM Promise Program Scholar, Motley will graduate from Tidewater Community College on December  21 with an Associate of Science in Computer Science.

“When I started in STEM Promise, I didn’t feel ready or even good enough to be in the program,” she said.

Motley, 20, considered herself more the artsy type at Deep Creek High. When her guidance counselor suggested she apply for the STEM Promise Program and she earned acceptance, her future changed directions.

TCC’s STEM scholars receive four semesters of tuition and fees paid in full. They graduate ready to enter a career or to transfer to a four-year college to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Motley notes that studying computer science has been unlike anything she’s done before.

“You have to think outside the box and figure out the puzzle, especially with coding,” she said. “I especially like getting a task in class and then finding the best way to get it done.”

Motley misses being on campus with her peers, having found a close-knit student body on the Chesapeake Campus pre-COVID-19.

“It was amazing being together for events in the Student Center, whether it was drawing and painting or a seminar on STEM. There was always a lot going on, and I made some great friends.”

Motley adjusted to the pandemic and shift to remote learning with the help of Jaedda Hall, the program coordinator for STEM Promise.

“Ms. Jaedda helped build my confidence and kept me on track with my classes,” Motley said. “She was encouraging and always available to talk when I needed her.”

Motley liked remaining close to home so she could stay involved in family life. She has no student debt.

“At first, I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do, so TCC was a good choice,” Motley said. “Being able to focus on school and not worry about paying off my tuition — that was great too.”

Motley will transfer to Old Dominion University for a bachelor’s in computer science. She plans to work in cyber security and has her sights set on the FBI.

“For those who’ve never considered STEM fields, have an open mind,” she said. “While these careers aren’t for everyone, try different things to find your perfect fit.”

It’s never too late to be a STEM scholar

All Kellie Burchfield needed to do was enroll in one more class to complete her certificate in Geographic Information Systems.

Instead, information about Tidewater Community College’s STEM Promise Program caught her eye. The Women’s Center scholarship awards tuition and fees for four semesters to 20 students annually who choose degree paths in STEM fields.

It’s a competitive pool with as many as 100 applicants, many of them directly from STEM academies at the local high schools.

At 49 years old, “I didn’t think I would get it,” Burchfield admitted.

The senior engineering technician at the City of Suffolk’s Department of Public Utilities applied with the support of her colleagues, including the assistant director who wrote her recommendation letter.

“Shocked,” was her reaction when she was among the students selected. “I mean, it was really wonderful,” she said.

These days, Burchfield balances her full-time job with five classes, some online and evening. She’s also a regular at her daughter’s cheerleading events and the only parent home during the week as her husband, Tony, holds a job based in Fredericksburg.

“He’s home every other weekend, and that really helps,” Burchfield said. “That’s when I bury myself in my room to study.”

Traditional college wasn’t an option for Burchfield right after high school; instead, she went to work. She started in an administrative role in land surveying and learned that business from the ground up. Earning her associate in computer science at TCC helped her move into a better opportunity with the City of Suffolk.

That’s where’s she’s been for the last seven years, moving from asset management to engineering technician to her current role, a mobile one that allows her to travel all over Virginia’s largest geographic city.

Working directly with the engineers in her department made her eager to learn more about the profession herself, prompting her to apply to the STEM Promise Scholarship Program. She is working toward an Associate of Science in Civil Engineering Technology.

So far, she ranks pre-calculus as her toughest obstacle; online tutorials help.

“I’m learning everything all over again,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder, ‘What was I thinking?’ Most of the time though, I’m OK.”

When she graduates from TCC in December 2021, Burchfield will consider transferring to Old Dominion University for her bachelor’s in civil engineering. She encourages anyone, especially women, to considering applying for TCC’s STEM Scholarship.

She stresses it’s never too late to learn something new.

“We really need more women in the field,” she said. “This is a great first step.”

For information about applying to the Women’s Center STEM Promise Scholarship Program, email coordinator Jaedda Hall at

From TCC to cyber crime fighter

At 10 years old, Jena Essary taught herself coding. No surprise then that at 19, she’s one of Tidewater Community College’s STEM Promise scholars.

Essary is completing her Associate of Science in Computer Science. The scholarship covers the cost of tuition and fees for four semesters. By taking textbook-free classes, she spent zero on textbooks, using open educational resources instead.

“This is a win-win for me, and definitely my passion,” said Essary who wants to make her future in the growing field of cyber security.

Essary could have gone almost anywhere after graduating from the STEM Academy at Grassfield High with a 4.6 GPA.

Jena Essary in a chemistry lab on the Chesapeake Campus.

“My dad was really pro-TCC, even though I wanted to start at Virginia Tech. But now, I’m really amazed at the academic quality and the friends I’ve made,” she said. “TCC isn’t what you would expect it to be. It offers more than you think.”

While here, Essary served in student government, helped plan the launch of a food pantry to serve needy students on campus and joined Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

“My favorite thing about TCC is the community feel, especially at the Chesapeake Campus,” she said. “We all know each other, and with the smaller class sizes, we get to interact with our professors.”

Essary recently received the Virginia Space Grant Consortium Community College STEM scholarship. She is using the $2,000 scholarship to help pay for higher-level math classes, outside of her degree track.

 “There’s a lot of pressure in high school to go to those big-name schools,” Essary said. “But do your own research. Figure out your own path. And if you choose TCC, get involved and build connections that will benefit you as you journey from here to the next place.”

TCC introduces class of 20 for its third STEM Promise Program scholarship

Tidewater Community College’s third class of Women’s Center STEM Promise Program scholars aspire to be engineers, cyber security specialists, entrepreneurs and software developers.

The TCC Educational Foundation introduced the new class of 20 scholarship recipients on May 19 in a ceremony at the Virginia Beach Campus. Doug Wilson, chief executive officer of Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC), presented a check for $60,000 of continued support for the program. That brings ERC’s total investment in the STEM Promise Program to $180,000 over three years.

“We are honored to be a part of this excellent and important program,” Wilson said. “We know firsthand the impact that STEM education has on the transportation industry, and how the demand for employees with STEM backgrounds continues to rise.  For TCC to sponsor this homegrown source of talent for Hampton Roads speaks volumes for their commitment and vision.  We’re proud to do our part by supporting these deserving students who are going to accomplish amazing things here at TCC and beyond.”

Sophia Delos Santos
STEM scholar Sophia Delos Santos wants to transfer to the University of Virginia for computer engineering after earning her TCC associate degree.

The recipients will pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related disciplines at TCC and receive two years of free tuition and fees under the Women’s Center STEM Promise Program.

“We appreciate the continued generosity of ERC to help fund this program,” said Jeanne Natali, director of the Intercultural Learning and Women’s Center at TCC. “The STEM Promise scholars are the embodiment of TCC’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by identifying underrepresented students and supporting them as they prepare to enter the workforce in the STEM  disciplines.”

Jaiden Williams
STEM scholar Jaiden Williams envisions opening her own company that specializes in STEM exploration programs. She will pursue an associate in information systems technology at TCC.

The newest class, with members from all over Hampton Roads, was selected from a competitive pool of more than 100 applicants. Recipient Whitney Bivins recently completed a civil engineering internship in Germany. Sophia Delos Santos is a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines who graduated high school at age 15. Kyla Stewart was the first freshman to be admitted to an introductory engineering class at Tallwood High School. TCC alumna Kellie Burchfield, a senior engineering technician for the City of Suffolk, is returning to college to pursue her own engineering degree.

Ramona Chambers
STEM scholar Ramona Chambers is a math whiz with a love for technical drawing. She plans to pursue an associate degree in civil engineering technology.

The TCC Educational Foundation started the TCC Women’s Center STEM Promise Program three years ago to boost the number of degrees in the STEM fields and to create a larger, more diverse STEM pipeline in Hampton Roads. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply for the scholarship, which is open to all.

Applicants must meet requirements that include a high school GPA of 3.5 or higher, eligibility for in-state tuition and immediate placement into College Composition and College Algebra. Recipients must  enroll as full-time students in  the following associate degree programs: engineering, computer science, civil engineering technology, electronics technology, information systems technology or mechanical engineering technology.

STEM scholars benefit from smaller class sizes and specialized support, including mentoring from the Women’s Center. Earlier this month, five graduates from the inaugural cohort of 10 students graduated with associate degrees. Four will transfer to Old Dominion University and the other is bound for Virginia Tech. Another from that class will graduate this summer and transfer to ODU’s honors college.

For more information about the STEM Promise Program, contact Jaedda Hall, program coordinator, at or 757-822-7324.

To learn how you can support the STEM Promise Program, call the TCC Educational Foundation at 757-822-1080 or email