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From TCC to Regent Law School

Tanya Mills remembers how her mom struggled when she emigrated to the United States from Cuba.

“The process was brutal and time-consuming,” Tanya said. “But we were committed to making a fresh start in America.”

Mills was 10 years old then. Now at 44, she is a Tidewater Community College alum who recently earned a master’s in law from Regent University School of Law.

Tanya Mills in the mock courtroom at Regent Univesity Law School.

Tanya hopes to work in immigration law, helping to pave the way for other families coming to America.

“I never thought I’d earn an associate degree. I didn’t think education was for me. But then I saw I needed higher education to do what I’m called to do,” she said.

A single mother of two sons, Tanya studied business administration at TCC and took all of her classes on campus. She says that her professors were knowledgeable and hands-on. And they instilled in her a passion for learning which she has passed on to her sons.

Now grown, they’ve both taken classes at TCC. Her oldest son, Paris Blount, 22, recently earned a cyber security degree from Old Dominion University. Her youngest, Cairon Sanders, 18, started at TCC this summer and is working toward an Associate of Science in General Studies.

“When my sons wanted to quit college, I reminded them that once you have your education, it can’t be taken from you,” Tanya said.

The first-generation college student is grateful for her start at TCC because she had the freedom to learn but was also held accountable for her studies by the faculty and academic advisors. “I didn’t do well in high school and found community college to be a buffer for university,” Tanya said. “TCC has courses that can help you figure out your future and the environment is super supportive.”

Tanya in front of a replica of the US Declaration of Independence in the lobby of Regent Law School.

Tanya continued and earned a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Regent University. In 2022, she added a master’s in law to her accomplishments. She plans to use her law degree to argue cases in the U.S. Immigration Court and offer mediation and provide legal advocacy for families and individuals battling the U.S. immigration system.

“I was once told I wouldn’t amount to anything. But I pushed through all of that and I’m really proud of where I am today.”

From TCC to the Ellen Show to serving women and families

In the early days of the pandemic in 2020, TCC alumna Rickkita Riddick flew to Hollywood to appear on the Ellen Show.

Not only did she get to meet Ellen DeGeneres, the star of the show, but she also received $10,000 for her family and another $10,000 for the charity she founded and now leads, Sisters Healing Sisters.

Rickkita Riddick on the Ellen Show.
Do you remember TCC alumna Rickkita Taylor? Well, she’s married now and has a new name, Rickkita Riddick.

“Meeting Ellen and being in the room with all of that energy was an amazing experience,” said Rickkita, who graduated with an Associate of Science in Business Administration in 2013.

After the Ellen Show, Rickkita returned to Hampton Roads and purchased food and other items that she freely distributed to many low-income residents during the holidays. She launched emergency shelters. She also enrolled at Norfolk State University and is scheduled to receive a bachelor’s degree in social work in the spring of 2023.

 “I’m so grateful for the many opportunities I’ve received, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without my start at TCC,” Rickkita said.

Rickkita was recently named the Student of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers, Virginia chapter. “I was nominated by my dean and just so surprised. It motivates me to continue serving women, children and families in need,” she said.

Taylor credits then TCC academic advisor Donna Richardson with motivating her to stay the course. “I almost dropped out of school in 2013 and she encouraged me to finish what I started. She told me that I could do it even with the odds stacked against me,” she added. “She inspired me throughout my three years at TCC and beyond. It was because of her that I came back to college in 2020 to pursue my degree at Norfolk State. She continues to push me to be great.”

Rickkita continues to serve women and families. She started a non-profit coalition with six charities called, “Feed the City.” The group finds food deserts throughout Hampton Roads and has fed thousands in the area since it launched in December 2020.

The mom of two hopes to open transitional homes for women and families after graduating from NSU.

“We’re going to start with one home that can house four families facing homelessness, domestic violence or job loss. It’s our goal to partner with women so they can turn their lives around,” she said.

The idea to launch Sisters Healing Sisters happened when Rickkita was a work-study student at TCC.

“I never would have imagined back then that I’d be here today, but I know I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do,” she said. “My work is very satisfying and it never ends. There are always going to be people in need and we’re going to be here to help.”

TCC alumna baking up sweet dreams in Virginia Beach

Walk into 17 Hands Coffee and you will be delighted by the smells and sights around you, from the glass cases filled with delicious baked goods, to the array of aromatic coffees and teas, to the warm décor.

17 Hands Coffee opened in 2019, the dream and inspiration of Tidewater Community College alumna Robin Simmons.

Robin and her staff serve freshly made quiches, scones, cakes, pies and a very long list of coffee and tea drinks that are sure to please.

“I love putting together beautiful, rustic, classic desserts. Our blueberry lemon scones are the most popular thing we bake. They sell out daily. Our shortbread coffee dipper is also a favorite,” she said.

It all began when Robin came to TCC to earn a business degree after graduating from Great Bridge High. “I had to take some pre-college classes and that was possible at TCC. I really applied myself because I had a goal and was able to graduate with honors which really helped my self-esteem,” she said.

With her degree in hand, Robin went to work for Inside Business and later, a local commercial printer.

“I had an associate degree in my pocket and many businesses required a degree and some experience,” she added. “What I know now is that If I hadn’t gone to school, I would not have been able to work where I worked and made the money I made to open my shop. It also gave me the confidence I needed.”

Robin says she still uses what she learned at TCC to run 17 Hands Coffee. “It’s helpful on the job to be able to speak to people with some knowledge under my belt,” Robin said. “And specific classes like accounting, business law and public speaking have been important for the journey.”

Robin partners with other local businesses including Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting Company for her coffee beans and Kewi Inspired Teas in Virginia Beach for tea latte concentrates. She also prints 17 Hands merchandise from a local printer and features local artists on greeting cards featured in the shop.

“One of our top priorities is to be a strong part of our community,” Robin said. “We also strive to set the bar high for everything we make and bake, as well as the service we provide.”

Robin takes care of her staff of bakers and servers. “I want this to be the best place to work, so we offer benefits, paid-time-off and profit-sharing,” she said.

Robin and the bakers at 17 Hands Coffee are gearing up for Valentine’s Day. If you are looking for a sweet treat for your sweetheart, you can find gift baskets, cakes and other desserts by visiting the store or ordering online.

Marking her success are 12 awards for her baked goods from the Virginia State Fair and an expansion next month into the commercial space adjacent to her location at 1830 Kempsville Road in Virginia Beach. Her place will soon boast another espresso bar and expanded seating.

“Success came for me after taking those first steps at TCC,” Robin said. “What I’ve learned is that when it gets hard, you have to love what you’re doing. It’s not about the money.”

Kudos to TCC’s Fall Class of 2020

Four days before Christmas, Tidewater Community College celebrated its 71st Fall Commencement Exercises virtually.

The full stream of the ceremony is available here.

“This celebration demonstrates the tenacity and strength of our students and the TCC community,” said TCC President Marcia Conston, presiding over her second virtual commencement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Conston acknowledged the college’s military-related students, who make up one-third of enrollment and she commended the faculty and staff for their role in student success. Several faculty and staff members also recorded “shoutout” videos offering their congratulations to the 1,206 graduates.

Many applauded the resilience of the graduates to complete their journeys despite the pandemic.  Faculty members from the ESL Department congratulated the students in multiple languages.

The ceremony featured two student speakers — Grace Motley, a Women’s Center STEM Promise Program scholar, who received her Associate of Science in Computer Science and Joseph Baca, who earned his Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

“I cannot even begin to describe the many life lessons I have learned, and I am sure I am not alone,” said Motley, who thanked the professors and STEM Promise Program coordinator Jaedda Hall who helped her complete her degree.

Baca embraced the “community” part of being a TCC student, acknowledging his peers, professors and faculty members for helping him persevere. “Know there is no timetable on experience in life, but we must have the courage to face it,” he said.

Michelle Woodhouse, TCC’s vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer, presented the 1,026 graduates. President Conston conferred the degrees.

Prior to the ceremony concluding with a benediction, alumna Rickkita Taylor, recently a guest on “Ellen,” welcomed the college’s newest graduates to join an alumni network that is more than 100,000 strong.

“We are embedded in the fabric of Hampton Roads and are so proud of you for persevering and finishing strong,” she said. “I encourage you to take advantage of your achievement by attending networking events and embracing all the opportunities offered by TCC Alumni to “connect, contribute and celebrate!’ ”

All graduates had their names and corresponding degrees or certificates scroll on screen.