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TCC alums pay it forward

Tidewater Community College alum, Tony Lankford, is passionate about giving back to the community that has always supported him. Tony received his Associate of Science in Social Sciences from TCC before following in his family’s footsteps as a third-generation barber. He is hard at work and owns Tony’s Unisex Salon in Norfolk.

Tony credits TCC with playing a large part in his success by introducing him to like-minded and hardworking people. He employs two barbers who are also TCC alumni. They are Kevin Whitlow and Christopher Wood, who earned Human Service degrees from the college.

The barber trio believes it’s their responsibility to help students who are following in their footsteps.

In the spirit of giving back, all three barbers provided free haircuts as part of TCC’s Suit Up program. The program, hosted by the Student Resource and Empowerment Center, is designed to help students prepare to have professional headshots which will assist in their job searches.

Tony says, “It is incredibly special to see TCC students interacting with alumni at the shop and watching them learn to carry themselves with professionalism. It’s very fulfilling to be able to give back to the community this way.”

Throughout his career, Tony has seen the importance of being a role model to the younger generation in the community and showing them that they can achieve anything. He says, “It’s very important to keep the conversations with the youth in the neighborhood full of purpose. They are learning from us, and I want them to see the importance of giving back.”

TCC grads make strides in careers

Meet Nina Vahadi and Delaney Theilman. They are both Tidewater Community College graduates who earned Engineering degrees in May.

During summers both grads are making strides in their careers.

They are now encouraging others to follow their lead. “If I can do this, so can anyone. Take your time and don’t burn out,” Delaney said. Nina added, “Stick to your guns, and don’t let doubt take over. Just keep going!”

Nina and Delaney on TCC’s Norfolk Campus.

Nina, who landed an engineering aide position at Lockheed Martin, is spending this summer as a NASA intern and is working on the Lucy mission. During its 12-year primary mission, Lucy will explore a record-breaking number of asteroids, flying by one main-belt asteroid, and seven Trojans.

“This is really exciting because the mission is focused on the Trojan asteroids to interpret how our solar system started,” Nina said. “I’m going to be working on the hardware for a test flight simulator and can’t wait to get started!”

Last summer Delaney was the leader of TCC’s team for the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Model Design Competition held in June. She led her team to take third place. “Practice makes perfect, and we did plenty of that preparing for this competition,” she said. “We had to come up with our own ideas and not use any kits.”

This ASEE competition is open to students at both 2-year and 4-year colleges. All of the TCC’s participants were members of the Engineering Club and the STEM Club.

Both women say they received phenomenal support from the college. They credit their professors for providing quality education. And also, for supporting them in outside projects.

“When I wanted to bring a wind project to the school, they backed me up and helped me write the grant proposal for the Repowering Schools Small Wind Turbine Research,” Delaney said. “That project is continuing even after I graduate from TCC.”

Nina added, “And when I wanted to bring NASA’s RockOn! program to the school they helped me get the funding.” The RockOn! program enabled students to learn and apply skills in building experiments for suborbital space flight. Student teams from across the nation participated in the program.

Looking back Nina says it’s amazing to see her forward progress. “I started studying biology and was thinking about the healthcare field. And then I realized that I wanted to build things and I found engineering,” she said.

Delaney never thought college was for her until the pandemic hit. “I found myself needing to retrain,” Delaney said. “I’ve been obsessed with Legos forever and spent hours watching TED Talks with women engineers. I was really inspired by their stories and decided to give engineering and TCC a try. I’m so glad I did!”

Both women are proud to represent women in the STEM fields. “There are many women in history who inspire us and have left big footprints for us to follow,” Delaney said. “But you still feel accomplished each step of the way and that in turn helps you keep going.”

Looking ahead, Nina is pursuing an engineering bachelor’s degree at Old Dominion University and will be working full-time at Lockheed Martin. Delany will continue her education at Virginia Tech and is studying computer and systems engineering.

Delaney is a proud Navy wife who has two dogs named Luna and Nova. Nina and her boyfriend also have two dogs they call Rocky and Billy.

TCC celebrates more than 1,800 grads during May Commencement

There was a celebratory feel during Tidewater Community College’s 76th Commencement exercises as keynote speaker Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears led graduates to say together, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”

Earle-Sears, a TCC alumna, shared a message of encouragement with graduates, as she knows what it’s like to walk in their shoes. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined from where I sat as a student graduating from TCC that one day I would be before you as second in command in the former capital of the Confederate states. Here I am.”

Family and friends gathered to celebrate more than 1,800 graduates at Chartway Arena on the campus of Old Dominion University. The evening graduation on May 8 was presided over by President Marcia Conston.

During the Lt. Governor’s address, she recalled her father’s early days in America. “My father arrived 17 days before Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his ‘I have a dream speech.’ My dad had $1.75 in his pocket and he worked hard and used that money to get an education because he knew the doors would open as Dr. King said.”

Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears was the keynote speaker at TCC’s May Commencement.

She went on to tell graduates that their newfound knowledge will become part of our narrative and highlight that Virginia is a great place to live, work and raise a family.

“Here you are today. Our country needs you to do well. We in America are not on this planet by ourselves. There are countries that mean us harm,” she said. “While America is not perfect. She is the best we’ve got. So, we are not going to burn our own house down. No! We have a saying in church in fact ‘I may not be what I’m supposed to be, but I’m not what I use to be.’ And that’s America. In fits and starts she is getting there.”

Earle-Sears added, “I’m so honored to be here to celebrate what you have accomplished. God bless you and God bless our great Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Student Speaker Jacob Ramirez.

The speaker for the graduates, Jacob Ramirez, 21, completed an Associate of Science in Engineering and is transferring to Virginia Tech where he will study computer engineering. A 2021 graduate of Salem High School, Ramirez wanted to stay close to home for college.

Ramirez said, “At TCC I’ve met and interacted with all kinds of people, each one with their own story to tell. I’ve learned from those experiences. And also learned the value of taking the time to get to know people wherever you are.”

He added, “Our time at TCC is just the first stop. We have transfer students going away to colleges, people going into the workforce and students who have already started their careers and families and returning to pursue degrees. Congratulations class of 2023. We’ve each taken a separate journey to get to where we are. And from here we can go anywhere!”

Ramirez participated in the STEM and Engineering Clubs while at TCC, completing many projects with classmates. He gained close friends and three from his core group will head to Tech with him in the fall.

The ceremony continued as families and friends cheered and snapped photos. Graduates crossed the stage and joined a TCC alumni network of 100,000 and counting.

If you missed graduation, you can watch the TCC livestream.

“I definitely got my money’s worth at TCC.” – Student Speaker Jacob Ramirez

Jacob Ramirez found his career path in computer engineering at Tidewater Community College.

A 2021 graduate of Salem High School, Jacob wanted to stay close to home for college. He enrolled at TCC’s Virginia Beach Campus to study engineering. While there, he took computer engineering classes and found his purpose.

“I thought I was going to be a music person. That changed when I was able to fix a hinge on a shower door at my house. That’s what got me thinking about engineering and then it all came together at TCC,” he said.

This May, Jacob, 21, is earning an Associate of Science in Engineering. Jacob is the Speaker for the Graduates and will share his story during the 76th Commencement Exercises on May 8.

While at TCC Jacob participated in the STEM and Engineering Clubs. He also competed in the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Robotics competition with a team from TCC that took third place nationwide. Those experiences helped him learn to work on a team and offered hands-on training for his chosen career field.

“I gained experience in designing and problem-solving and learned how to actually build something,” he said. “We do this in class, but the clubs and activities take it to a whole other level.”

Jacob expanded his learning at the college by including musical studies. He was part of TCC’s Jazz band and took several music classes. An experienced band member from Salem High, Jacob is proud to become a member of the Virginia Tech marching band next fall.

“There’s a lot of learning to be done at TCC,” Jacob said. “I had the chance to interact with a diverse student body, making me more well-rounded as a student and a future computer engineer.”

A member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools, Jacob holds a perfect 4.0 GPA at TCC. “I enjoyed the people at TCC, the professors, the community. It was better than I could have imagined,” he said.

Jacob will transfer to Virginia Tech in the fall of 2023. He will be a junior in the computer engineering baccalaureate program.

A Virginia Beach native, Jacob gained lifelong friends at TCC, and three of them will attend Virginia Tech alongside him.

“I definitely got my money’s worth at TCC. But the best part is that I’m ready for the next steps,” Jacob said. “And I have a group of friends that are joining me on the journey. What could be better than that!”

From Russia to a good life in America

Katerina Diatlova came to the United States from Russia with a passport, suitcase and $80 in her pocket.

All of her life she was desperate for the American dream, watching endless episodes of “Hannah Montana” and “Gossip Girl.”

She was part of the International Exchange Visitors Program initially, but the dream faded when the opportunities were out of reach.

“My family was 10,000 miles away. I had no friends, no car, no prospects of a good job,” she said. “I tried to fill the loneliness by partying, going hard and staying up all night. When I was making poor life choices there were people all around me. But I still felt lonely and worse about myself because of my choices.”

In addition, Katerina, 28, was in a dead-end service job and saw no way to a better life. Looking back, she says that she lost her sense of purpose. And she’d almost lost all hope.

But that all changed the day she walked into the admissions office at Tidewater Community College’s Norfolk Campus and a kind staffer helped her fill out an application and enroll in classes.

“That was the day that my whole life turned around. I don’t remember that woman’s name, but she believed in me, making it possible for me to go in a new direction. I know she was just doing her job, but I’m very grateful.”

Katerina started studying Business Administration but switched gears and pursued a degree in web development. This May she is one of the thousands of TCC graduates earning degrees and certificates during Commencement on May 8.

“While taking classes at TCC, the professors showed me the way to live. They were good examples and gave me direction without really knowing it. I just emulated their lives,” Katerina said.

Katerina earned a perfect 4.0 GPA at TCC and was part of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

“Years ago, I was not a good student and now I understand why. I wasn’t drawn to any subject. But when I found web development and coding, it was like learning a new, fascinating language and I was hooked.”

Katerina says she owes much of her success to her professors. “All of my teachers were willing to go out of their way to help. They made sure I was keeping up with the concepts. My interactions with them was my favorite part of the journey,” she said.

Katerina sends a shout-out to Professors Cesar Barbieri, Christopher Boyle, Gary Noah and Jared Oliverio for their patience, kindness and for sharing their passion for the subjects they teach.

While at TCC, Katerina was a volunteer for Computers for Student Success. She learned how to build computers and salvage parts. “This program is a win-win for students. Nothing is wasted. Those who need computers get them, and computer students learn and advance their skills.”

Katerina plans to be a software developer and would like to create and maintain websites. She is currently building her portfolio.

She is newly married to Matthew Thompson and has a community of friends that have become like family.

“People underestimate community college, but I know it’s a place to make your dreams happen,” Katerina said. “Words can’t really describe what TCC has provided. For me it was absolutely life changing.”

Student Speaker has sights set on the U.S. Senate

Harvey Miller III found success at Tidewater Community College after failing at higher education the first time around. He calls himself the “Comeback Kid” and says that his initial failure was the catalyst for his success today.

“I needed to fail so I had a reason to change,” Harvey said. “I started working at a 7-Eleven, relishing the hard work and taquitos, and saving money so I could realize my dream of returning to school.”

Harvey, 22, is the Speaker for the Graduates for Tidewater Community College’s December Commencement. He is earning an Associate of Science in Liberal Arts with a 3.9 GPA.

“TCC made it easy to start again,” Harvey added. “I was living at home and had my family around me. It definitely helped not being isolated.”

While at TCC, Harvey learned study skills and also how to communicate effectively with his professors. He also found a community and says TCC may be the most diverse college in America with its military-related students and classrooms filled with students of all ages.

“I had a 76-year-old woman in my French class, as well as military veterans sharing their knowledge,” Harvey said. “When you combine all of these different perspectives, you realize that you really are getting a broad education.”

He added, “I came in thinking community college was basic and not a real college. I found out I was wrong. TCC gives you a great education and also so many ways to dive into college life with plays, festivals and clubs.”

Harvey at his office at the City of Chesapeake Department of Elections.

Harvey, a Chesapeake resident, is a member of the Student Government Association and Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools. He also holds a full-time job as the assistant registrar for the City of Chesapeake’s Department of Elections, obtained while a student at TCC.

“Working full-time and being a student was challenging, but my professors were committed to my success. If I had to leave class early for work, I could watch the lecture online and keep going. It was those things that made this degree possible.”

Harvey plans to continue his education with a double major in political science and English and creative writing at Old Dominion University or William and Mary. He is also considering law school.

Harvey dreams about one day making a difference as a United States Senator. He says he may never have had the chance without the fresh start he got at TCC. “People thinking about starting at TCC

TCC grad cooks up a successful catering business

Monika Banks is no stranger to food preparation and management. She comes from a long line of food enthusiasts with her stepfather, mother and grandmother all avid cooks. “I grew up in the kitchen, but I wanted to learn how to do everything the right way,” Monika said.

To acquire additional experience, Monika began working in restaurants when she was a teenager. By age 18, she was the kitchen manager for a well-known eatery in Pittsburgh.

Monika moved to Virginia Beach in 2016 and worked in the hospitality industry but longed to get back to the kitchens. She finally decided to do what she loves and enrolled at TCC in 2019 where she continued to hone her craft.

Monika Banks in the TCC kitchens on Norfolk Campus.

Fast forward to today, and Monika, 37, just launched her own catering business called Mo’s Unique Taste while earning an Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts this December.

The instructors at TCC were Monika’s secret to success. She credits the faculty with building her skills and inspiring her. “It’s been amazing,” Monika said. “All of TCC’s chefs bring something unique and their own style to the program. They also have years in the industry as bakery owners, caterers and chefs. The knowledge they share is priceless.”

She added, “I also learned about the history of cooking, about cultures and food, and also how to apply techniques and prepare different cuisines.”

Monika says her inspiration for cooking is people. “I like to make dishes that people have a taste for, and I enjoy serving and trying new things,” she said. “But most of all I like to see people happy and good food does that!”

Monika Banks in the TCC dining room.

Her favorite classes were International Cuisine and American Regional Cuisine. “I made a poached salmon that was really good. I also learned to use different spices and new ways to prepare familiar foods,” she said.

For her final exam for American Regional Cuisine, she made an elaborate charcuterie board. Since then, she has added different boards to her catering menu, including meat and cheese, as well as fruit offerings with a variety of sauces. “These boards are part of every event I cater now, from baby showers to wedding brunches or even retirement parties. They are the perfect pairing for so many things,” Monika said.

Monika has earned three Culinary Arts certificates including Kitchen Management, Classical Cooking and Catering. The certificates build toward the degree and serve as milestones for the program. “I was eager to earn as many certificates as possible as they show you have those specific qualifications,” she said.

Monika is already sharing her skills with her 11-year-old daughter, Raelynn. They spend hours in the kitchen creating special dishes together.

Monika holds a 3.8 GPA and has been on the Dean’s list every semester since she started at TCC. She is also earning an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts, which she will complete in 2023.

“I tell everyone about TCC and encourage them to just do it. Keep pushing. Don’t rush anything,” she said. “And when it gets challenging, know it’s rewarding in the end.”

Computer savvy grad turns hobby into career path

Jared Cochran has always been interested in science and technology. In fact, in his free time growing up he built computers with his dad.

He got his start at Tidewater Community College as a dual-enrollment student taking general education courses in English and pre-calculus.

“As a homeschool student, I had a lot of freedom to explore different areas and satisfy my curiosity,” Jared said. “I took college courses early, as well as watched science and math educators in my spare time.”

When Jared, 21, started full-time at TCC after high school, he found the move to college to be seamless.

“It was a smooth transition and I’ve gotten a lot of help from faculty who’ve acted as advisors and kept me on track,” he said.

Jaren Cochran at work in the Joint-Use Library.

He also realized he could use his computer experience to build a career. “It was eye-opening when I realized I could take that hobby and find valuable work in a field I really enjoy,” he said.

This December, Jared is earning an Associate of Science in Engineering with a 3.8 GPA. He is one of more than 1,350 graduates earning degrees or certificates next week.

“You come in with these expectations that engineering is going to be really difficult, and it is,” he added. “But it is also manageable with the support of faculty.”

Jared says Professors Paul Gordy and Kenneth Grimes have been a big part of his journey. “They recommended me for internships and were always there to help. They also shared their knowledge and real-world experiences in our classes,” he said.

The Portsmouth resident also found the college’s engineering resources to be state-of-the-art.

“Everything in the program really comes together and makes so much sense,” Jared said “And the tools in the labs are very high quality. We have a giant cabinet full of circuits, capacitors, inductors and so many other tools to complete our lab work.”

While at TCC Jared completed two highly competitive internships. The first was with Old Dominion University Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center. The second was with ODU in a research program for undergraduates.

Jared plans to continue at ODU for a bachelor’s in computer engineering. He would one day like to work as a hardware engineer and has his eye on larger companies like Intel Corp.

“Anyone can do this with work with persistence and a little stubborn streak,” he said.

“Engineering is all about trial and error and getting up to do it again.”

Nursing grads passionate about providing quality care

Jennifer Froscher and Tahani Amareen are soon to be proud Tidewater Community College Nursing graduates. They started in the program during the pandemic, desiring to help their community when the need was great.

Their cohort, which usually has 60 students, started with 29 because of the limited clinical spots available in busy hospitals. They are among 22 nursing students graduating this December.

Jennifer Froscher on the Portsmouth Campus.

Jennifer Froscher’s story

Jennifer is following her mother and grandmother into nursing.

“I was in second grade when mom started nursing school. She’d bring me to lectures and I’d color or read while she learned,” Jennifer said. “It made an impression when she became a nurse at 41.”

Jennifer, too, is on track to become a nurse at 41. This December she will walk the stage during fall commencement and earn an Associate of Science in Nursing.

“The nursing program is extensive because you have to be able to understand what is happening to people physiologically to be able to help them,” she said. “There were a lot of tears that first semester. I had to change my critical thinking process and learn to think like a nurse.”

For the past decade, Jennifer has worked in the health professions, first as an Emergency Medical Technician and later as a Nurse Aide. She currently works as a Care Partner at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in the neurology Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

TCC’s nursing program includes clinical rotations in area hospitals and clinics. Jennifer completed her training at Sentara as a nurse in training in that ICU unit.

“I’m so thankful to get this degree. I’m prepared to go into the workforce and be a competent nurse,” she said. “That’s absolutely critical when you are dealing with people’s lives.”

Jennifer says that her education was very personal and her professors were dedicated to her success. “Your professors know you and can tell you exactly what to work on to become proficient,” Jennifer said.  “And while they can be tough, they match that with great caring and professional experience.”

Jennifer has already been offered a full-time nursing position in the ICU where she currently works.

“I’m excited to get started,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been everyone’s kid sister and now I get to be a nurse working with people I enjoy in a place I’m very comfortable. It’s a real gift.”

Tahani Amareen’s story

Tahani Amareen near at TCC’s nursing school.

While Tahani was on Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth Campus working on her Associate of Science in Science, she met a lot of students who were in the nursing program.

“I started thinking about my path and I could see myself as a nurse. So, I completed one degree and started again,” Tahani said.

Fast forward two years and Tahani, 22, is earning her second degree – this one in nursing. She is concurrently working on her bachelor’s in nursing through Old Dominion University.

A native of Palestine, Tahani came to the United States when she was eight. When it was time for college, she followed her brothers to TCC, where they both earned Information System Technology degrees.

“I think it’s important to give back to the community and help out as much as possible,” she said. “With the nursing shortage, I know I’m definitely needed.”

The Chesapeake resident says that she was a little nervous about her clinical rotations at the start. “It’s a little nerve racking going in with no experience, but each opportunity helped me gain confidence in working in the hospital setting.”

Tahani is planning to work on a medical-surgical unit to start but would one day like to work with children. “I’m passionate about this work,” she said. “I look forward to being a helping hand in the community.”

Tahani and Jennifer in the medical simulator on Portsmouth Campus.

TCC grad overcomes great obstacles to earn degree

Sylvester Wilkins says his son Zione provided the inspiration for his return to school.

“He told me to just do it,” Sylvester said. “It was the little nudge I needed, and every success was because I didn’t want to disappoint him.”

Wilkins, 39, will walk across the stage during Tidewater Community College’s 75th Commencement Exercises earning an Associate of Science in Social Sciences.

For Sylvester, it’s been a long road to his associate degree.

He’s overcome alcoholism, homelessness and an epilepsy diagnosis that resulted in the loss of his driver’s license for 14 years.

“I ended up living with family and depending on them to get around,” Sylvester said. “From there, I lived place to place until I was homeless. I then lived in bus and train stations and washed up there so no one would know I was homeless.”

In 2018, Sylvester had corrective brain surgery to help alleviate his frequent epileptic seizures. The surgery was a success although the recovery was difficult, and Sylvester spent three months learning to walk again.

Soon after, Sylvester enrolled at Tidewater Community College with encouragement from his family.

“I noticed right away that I was not the same cognitively. It was sometimes hard to find words and I struggled to stay focused and seated in class,” he said. “And using technology for virtual learning added an additional strain.”

Sylvester persevered with the help of Gabrielle Pennington, an educational accessibility counselor with the college. “I can’t say enough about Ms. Pennington. She really cared about my success and is one of the reasons I kept pushing.”

He also found a family at TCC’s Portsmouth Campus. Sylvester sends a special shout out to the Open Door program staff who taught him how to balance life, work and school. Open Door offers free academic, career and cultural counseling to low-income, first-time college students on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses.

He also recognizes the impact of Dean Dana Hathorn and Lynette Hauser, a favorite professor. “Both of them were caring and helpful. I never had an email or phone call go unnoticed. They were always very responsive,” he said.

Growing up in the projects in Atlantic City, Sylvester says he never thought a college degree was in his future. Now he sees things differently and hopes to make a difference for young men ages 13-45.

“My sister Syliesha Scott was my biggest supporter and she believed in me,” Sylvester said. “You have to have that one person in your corner to help through the rough times. I want to be that person for someone else now.”

Sylvester’s career goal is to work in a service organization that focuses on mental health and to launch his own non-profit one day. To get started, he plans to join Peace of Mind Therapy as a life coach after graduation.

“Some in my situation just didn’t know a better way,” he said. “My motto now is ‘when you know better, you do better.’ A lot of the decisions you think you need to make are not the only option.”

He adds, “You are never too old to get a degree and start a new life. If I can do it, so can the next person. Surround yourself with the right people and make it happen.”

“I was a student in the worst of circumstances. But I had people who believed in me.” — Jamie Farris, TCC alum

TCC is proud of all of its alumni. But for Norfolk Campus staff alum Jamie Farris holds a special place in their hearts. 

Jamie had a challenging childhood. He was bounced from school to school throughout his elementary and high school years due to mental health and emotional issues. 

“Growing up, no one thought I could do well in an academic setting. It was something I needed to overcome to get on with my life,” Jamie said. 

As an adult learner, Jamie came to TCC to confront his past and set a new course for his future.  Staffer Mark Flanders saw Jamie’s desire for an education and his potential as a student. Flanders and the campus community rallied around Jamie and helped with his transition to college.

Jamie Farris with his degree and certificate from the City of Virginia Beach.
Jamie Farris is proud of his TCC degree and his certificate for financial literacy from the City of Virginia Beach.

“We worked with Jamie on career readiness skills, time management and encouraged him on the journey,” Flanders says. “Watching him overcome some pretty difficult circumstances was an inspiration to all of us.”

Despite the support while at TCC, the road was still difficult. Jamie experienced homelessness and lived at the Union Mission and later in transitional housing.

“I was a full-time student in the worst of circumstances. I had no car, no money, no home. But I did have a bus pass from TCC and people who believed in me,” Jamie said.

Jamie received support through the college’s Open Door Project (ODP), a Department of Education federal TRIO program. ODP offers free academic, career and cultural counseling to low-income, first-time college students on the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses.

“Once I opened up about my past, my struggles, I was able to overcome those obstacles with help from Open Door,” Jamie added. “The staff made me feel like I wasn’t alone.” 

Jamie also made friends through ODP, an unexpected benefit. “We took so many educational field trips and really had fun,” he added. 

A turning point for Jamie was during a meeting with Thomas Chatman, currently the Dean of Norfolk Campus. Jamie recalls that he painted a vivid picture of someone graduating in a cap and gown. “He told me that even with my difficulties, I could do it and I finally believed it,” he said. 

Jamie earned an Associate of Science in General Studies in 2019 and his degree was one of the first things he proudly hung on the wall. 

He now enjoys a stable life with his own apartment and a steady job with UPS.

“I tell everyone to not be afraid to open up about your mental health struggles,” Jamie said. “The people at TCC are there to help. This was where I built a new life.”

Accelerated degree fast tracks your education

TCC can take you from here to anywhere. But did you know that you can get there even faster with the college’s Accelerated Degree Program (ADP).

The ADP enables students to earn their associate degrees in one year. Students can then fast-track their transfer to a four-year school to complete a bachelor’s degree because they enter the university as juniors.

Current ADP student Alyssa Tellez, 19, graduated from high school in 2021 and this July is earning her associate degree from TCC.

“My favorite thing about the program is how quick it was. There was no time to get bored with classes and I could fit college into my life and around family responsibilities,” she said.

Alyssa plans to continue her education toward a bachelor’s degree in psychology or sociology. She added, “If you want to get a degree with personal advising in a fast format, this is the program for you.”

The ADP is offered 100% online. Three ADP degrees are offered in the year-round, compressed format and include associate degrees in Business AdministrationGeneral Studies and Social Science.

The application deadline for Fall Semester is July 29, 2022 and information to apply can be found here.

Benefits of the ADP include:

*Complete an associate degree in just one year
*Save thousands by completing two years of college at TCC versus a four-year institution
*Receive personalized attention with low student-to-faculty ratios and regular academic advising
*Attain admission as a junior-level transfer student at most four-year colleges and universities
*Begin your bachelor’s program immediately upon completing the associate degree

The program is open to new high school graduates as well as adult learners, including military-related students, who meet certain academic requirements.

To receive more information about the program use this form. Help is also available through TCC’s Virtual Student Support Team at or by calling 757-822-1111.

“I tell everyone looking to go to college to start at TCC” — Juanica Walker

Juanica Walker came to Tidewater Community College to train for a new career. Her goal was to be able to provide a stable life for her special needs son, Gianni.

She found her calling while working as a nurse aide and medical technician in private homes and facilities for the elderly and those with intellectual disabilities.

“As a nurse aide, I always found myself advocating for my patients and making sure they had the services they needed,” she said. “Whether that meant bringing them clothing, or a birthday cake, or connecting them with community resources.”

She added, “When I was considering a career switch, human services just made sense.”

Juanica, 32, was concerned about starting college in her late 20s, especially as a single mom with anxiety and depression. “At first, I thought I can’t do this. Then I realized if I can’t help myself, I’m not going to be able to help anyone else.”

Juanica connected with Human Services Program Lead and Professor Ivory Warren. And with hard work and persistence, she earned an Associate of Applied Science in Human Services in two years.

“Ms. Warren is one of those professors you don’t want to fail around. She makes you strive for success. She’s also a counselor and professor, offering us life advice while we learn in her classes.”

During this time, Juanica also found resources for Gianni, now four years old. With a set schedule and many doctors and therapists, he is thriving with his autism diagnosis. He will start kindergarten in the fall.

“I tell everyone who is looking to go to college to start at TCC. With the resources and helpful staff, you can start small and take steps toward your future.”

While studying at TCC, the college provided Juanica with a free laptop, Wi-Fi, financial assistance for her son’s daycare and meals through The Community Feed at TCC.

She also engaged with the community through the TCC Human Services Club and the Women Overcoming Whatever group.

Juanica is now working full-time for Jewish Family Services as a Guardian Representative. She has 30 clients that she helps connect with resources while taking care of their personal affairs and living situations.

“I recently connected one of my clients with a son that he hadn’t seen in years. It was a truly special moment when they saw each other again,” Juanica said. “Those moments make the stressful days all worth it!”

 Juanica is continuing her studies at Old Dominion where she says she is well prepared. “There are no surprise moments, everything rings a bell because of my start at TCC.”

Student Speaker earns associate degree at 17

Allison Wilson got her start at Tidewater Community College while still in high school.

She participated in Early College and was part of the cohort from Churchland High School. “Making connections with people I’ve been in class with since third grade was definitely a highlight,” Allison said.

Allison is one of the 45 dual-enrollment students earning associate degrees before graduating from high school this summer. In addition, 98 high schoolers are earning TCC certificates this year.

She credits her mom, Lisa Wilson, with encouraging her to get a head start on college.

 “I remember spending hours in the kitchen with my brother as we attended the Lisa Wilson ‘school of public speaking,’” Allison said with a laugh. “That was where we learned to organize our thoughts, project our voices and represent the family, whether it be at church or school.”

All those lessons paved the way for Allison to be selected as the Speaker for the Graduates for TCC’s 74th Commencement Exercises, to be held on May 9, 2022 at the Chartway Arena on the campus of Old Dominion University.

Allison is earning an Associate of Science in Social Sciences at just 17.

“I started classes at TCC with an aspiring funeral director and one of my mother’s coworkers. Even though I was considerably younger than the others, they treated me like every other student. We quickly became family and our differences didn’t matter,” Allison said.

Allison holds a 3.9 GPA and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

“Coming to TCC while still in high school was a great way to get started on college and save money. I had a great support system with my parents and grandparents,” she said. “I gained study skills that will take me through all of my years in college.”

Continuing to learn during the pandemic brought unique challenges. “Virtual learning forced us to deal with barking dogs, crying babies and spotty internet service,” Allison recalled. “But it also made time for different classes to fit into our schedules and provided unique ways to connect with classmates online.”

While at TCC, Allison remained active in her high school class serving as president of the National Honor Society, vice president of the Student Council, head delegate of the Model UN Team and a participant in the Scholastic Bowl. She also enjoyed spending time with friends and just being a teenager.

Allison Wilson at Portsmouth Campus.

In the fall, Allison is transferring to William and Mary where she will study English and pre-law. She hopes to attend law school on the grounds as well, and one day be a state prosecutor.

Allison’s mom, dad, brother and grandparents will gather to celebrate with her at TCC’s Commencement exercises as she shares a message of encouragement.

“My message for my classmates is simple,” Allison said. “As we go to our four-year schools or start careers, we will take the lessons learned and apply them to our daily lives. We will remember the respect shown to us and replicate it. When things get hard, we push forward. Congratulations graduates!”

Grad finds purpose in the health professions

When Kristen McCombs dons her cap and gown for Tidewater Community College’s Commencement Exercises, her five-year-old son, Lincoln, will be wearing a t-shirt that says, “My mommy did it!”

This May, Kristen, 28, is graduating with an Associate of Applied Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (DMS). She chose the career to help her family financially, and because she wants to be more available at home.

“There are many sacrifices that come with going back to school while working full-time and being a mom. I missed my son’s first field trip and a mommy-and-me tea party he was really excited about,” she said.

Kristen is one of twelve sonography students who are earning their associate degrees this May. Nine in the cohort have already landed jobs in the field, while the others are waiting for offers to be confirmed. All will be working in the field as soon as they pass the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography examination.

Kristen McCombs in the DMS lab.
Kristen practicing with Nicole Fleming, a classmate in the Diagnostic Medical Sonography lab.

The health care field has always been attractive to Kristen. In fact, she started at TCC to study nursing soon after graduating from Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake.

“I was on track for the nursing program, but I could not pass one prerequisite class – Anatomy and Physiology. I tried two times and failed,” she said. “So I switched programs and became a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA).”

Kristen worked as a CNA in the home care setting for five years, before taking a position at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital as an administrative assistant in the operating rooms.

Today, Kristen’s compassion for others and her commitment to helping her community is a driving force for completing her degree.

When she came back to TCC, she got help from Kevin McCarthy, an academic advisor who was able to get Kristen special permission to take Anatomy and Physiology again. “I was ready this time and motivated. And I passed with an A,” she said.

Coming back to TCC for DMS meant more difficult prerequisite courses including physics.

“I met so many teachers who cared about my journey and wanted me to succeed,” Kristen said. “Mr. Fisher, my physics teacher, worked really hard to make the concepts understandable for me. He encouraged me and checked on me after class to be sure I was tracking with the information.”

But the thing that stands out the most to Kristen is the little pep talks from the DMS faculty that had a monumental impact on her success in the program.

“I can’t say enough good things about the faculty. In those moments of self-doubt, they were encouraging and believed in me,” Kristen said. She sends a special shout out to Indu Sharma, program coordinator and Yanna Christodoulias, clinical coordinator, for mentoring her through the program.

“You go into the program unsure of yourself and kind of reserved,” Kristen said. “But you come out the other side with classmates who are your best friends and faculty who feel like family.”

During the program, Kristen completed clinical hours in area hospitals including Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Sentara Care Plex and the maternal fetal medicine department at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

“Working under a sonography team lead and doing the work hands-on is an integral part of the training,” she said. “You get to experience different patients with real personalities. And you also see real pathology and learn how to manage when something unexpected shows up on your screen,” she said.

Kristen plans to work in a hospital setting doing general sonography work after graduation.

 “I’m excited to be able to put Lincoln on the bus in the mornings, do work I’m excited about, and then be home with him after school. I’ll have to work some overnight shifts, but it’s worth the quality time with him,” she said.

Kristen’s husband, Ryan, and Lincoln will be cheering for Kristen when she walks across the stage at Chartway Arena on May 9. She and more than 1,300 other graduates are celebrating a job well done.

“I encourage students right out of high school to just start college. You may not know what you want to do, but your path will become clear,” she said. “And if you need to leave. You can always come back. It’s never too late to earn your degree.”

Father and dual-enrolled daughter graduate together

Marvin Fletcher and his daughter SaNayah Hill were surprised to find out they are graduating from Tidewater Community College at the same time.

“I never thought my daughter and I would be wearing a cap and gown together. I’m utterly speechless,” Marvin said.

SaNayah added, “I feel like it will be a fun experience and not something a lot of people can say.”

Marvin’s degree has been a decade in the making. He is earning an Associate of Applied Science in Management. SaNayah, a junior at Deep Creek High School, is a dual-enrollment student earning a Career Studies Certificate in Emergency Medical Service/Emergency Medical Training.

“As parents, we want a better start for our kids,” Marvin added. “To see SaNayah graduate with a certificate at 17, I’m really proud. A lot of kids don’t aspire to do all that.”

A military veteran, Marvin served in both the United States Marine Corps and the Army. He spent 12 years doing transportation and logistics, with overseas tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait. “Serving in the military slowed down my studies as I moved around the country and did multiple deployments,” Marvin said.

Marvin credits TCC veterans’ advisor Howard Darden for helping make his graduation possible. “I needed my official transcript from the military so I would get credit for my PE class, and he made that happen.”

He added, “The help I received from the start from TCC’s military center has been monumental to my success and has everything to do with where I am now.”

A native of Portsmouth, Marvin remembers his family living paycheck to paycheck. “My sister Sonya and I would go outside and cut wood, so we’d have a fire in the stove and heat in the house. We had a very humble childhood,” he added.

Marvin also remembers failing at least two classes every year since sixth grade and having no one invested in his education. He attended summer school annually to pass each class and graduated from I.C. Norcom High School.

“I wanted different for my daughter,” Marvin said. “And that’s happened largely because of her mom and my support, and because of her hard work.”

SaNayah decided to pursue the EMT certificate because of her interest in medicine. She hopes to one day be a general practice physician.

SaNayah’s program included ride-alongs with area firefighters, something she called “intense,” but worth it. “I craved the experience and wanted to get out there and do it,” she said. “People often doubt themselves. But I say get out there and do the work and see what doors will open.”

Marvin added that he found a good fit at TCC. “I liked the teachers and the challenge of it all,” he said. “I enjoyed in-person classes then being able to go to faculty and staff and get the help I needed.”

Marvin plans to use his degree to open and manage group homes for disabled adults and veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something he suffers from as well. He says that it’s a confidence booster earning this degree and a motivator to continue to serve.

“Life isn’t about where you start, but where you finish,” Marvin said. “There were times when I thought I couldn’t do it, but the staff at TCC motivated me and my family support systems made all the difference.”

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.

“College was hard sometimes, but I was fully supported as a student. What could be better?” — Katherine Guevara, TCC graduate

Katherine Louise Guevara has lived in the United States for just three years. In that time, she has adjusted to a new culture and earned a college degree.

“My goal is always to set a good example for my sisters and to take every opportunity and run with it,” she said.

Katherine is one of Tidewater Community College’s May graduates, earning an Associate of Science in Business Administration. She was also honored with TCC’s Community Engagement Award for community service and academic excellence.

Katherine grew up in the Philippines and emigrated to the United States with her mom and two sisters in June 2019.

She came to TCC at the urging of her family and found a place to thrive.

“We faced many challenges with the pandemic, but we made it. I hope my classmates remember that commencement is not the end. It’s the beginning of the next steps on our journey,” Katherine said.

Katherine got involved in college life as president of the Intercultural Club, a group that works to build a community among international students. “I made so many friends right away at TCC,” she said. “And learning about other cultures, and sharing our stories was one of my favorite things.”

Katherine was also a member of the Student Government Association and volunteered at TCC events and for campus service projects.

“I used my chance at TCC to build myself up, to join clubs and meet people,” Katherine said. “I feel like I’m a different person now as I’m more outgoing and interested in experiencing everything.”

Katherine holds a 3.8 GPA and is also a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools.

She credits her professors with creating a dynamic learning environment and investing in her success. She sends a shout-out to Leah Flax, Thomas Geary, Ferdinand Hallare, Angela Slaughter, Rebecca Summers and Nancy Whitfield. In addition, she recognizes staffers Alicia Peoples for helping with the Intercultural Club and Emily Hartman for nominating her for the Community Engagement Award and Student Speaker.

While at TCC, Katherine worked for the Sheraton hotel in Virginia Beach and solidified her plans to work in hospitality management. She is transferring to Old Dominion University where she will study Tourism Management.

Katherine is proud to say that TCC is a family thing now. Her sister, Roshan, 18, is a TCC STEM Promise Scholar. She will pay nothing for tuition and fees when she starts at TCC in the fall. And her youngest sister, Jasmine, 17, will be taking classes in the Advanced Technology Center while still in high school. Lastly, Katherine’s stepdad, Robert Bent, will be teaching Electrical Technology at the college’s Chesapeake Campus in the fall.

In her free time, Katherine enjoys making TikTok dance videos, listening to music and spending time with family.

“All of this is really unbelievable. I’m in a new country and making progress on so many goals,” Katherine said. “College was hard sometimes, but I was fully supported as a student. What could be better than that?”

TCC to hold its spring graduation exercises in person at Chartway Arena

For the second time since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Tidewater Community College will hold its commencement exercises in person. This year’s ceremony will be held on May 9 at 6 p.m. at Chartway Arena on the campus of Old Dominion University.

There is still time for current graduates to apply for graduation by using this form. For information about participating in Commencement, please visit here.

More than 1,300 students will graduate, including 143 students who have earned degrees or certificates one month before completing high school thanks to dual enrollment.

The Speaker for the Graduates is Allison Wilson, a dual enrollment student from Churchland High School. At 17, she is earning an Associate of Science in Social Science.

Allison Wilson on TCC’s Portsmouth Campus.

“Coming to TCC while still in high school was a great way to get started on college and save money. I had a great support system with my parents and grandparents,” Wilson said. “I gained study skills that will take me through all my years in college.”

In the fall, Wilson is transferring to William and Mary where she will study English and pre-law. She hopes to attend law school and one day be a state prosecutor.

The graduation speaker is TCC Board Chair Cynthia “Cindy” Free. A TCC alum, Free began her academic journey on the Virginia Beach Campus earning an Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapy in 1986. A Hampton Roads native, Free is a member of the Atlantic Orthopaedic Specialists Physical Therapy team. At the practice she manages and coordinates industrial rehabilitation, workers compensation, return to work practices, disability examinations, inventory, quality standards, students and personnel matters.

In September 2015, the Virginia Beach City Council appointed Free to the TCC College Board. Since her appointment, she has participated in commencement exercises, college convocations, Virginia Community College System legislative receptions, dedications, groundbreakings and other college events. In addition, Free has actively served on the College Board’s Finance and Facilities Committee, the Executive Committee, chaired the Advocacy Committee and TCC Educational Foundation, as well as served as Board chair since 2019.

Free has a passion for dance and graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. She has danced at ODU and at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center.

Commencement will be streamed live at

For more information about graduation, visit here or call 757-822-1111.

TCC graduates celebrate success at first in-person Commencement since 2019

Big smiles and resounding cheers were part of Tidewater Community College’s first in-person graduation since the start of the pandemic.

The week before Christmas, the college celebrated its newest graduates – more than 1,800 in total – at the 73rd Commencement Exercises at Chartway Arena inside Norfolk’s Ted Constant Convocation Center.

The evening graduation on Dec. 20 was presided over by President Marcia Conston.

TCC President Marcia Conston.

The speaker for the graduates, Shelby Ouellette, 21, who completed an Associate of Science in Criminal Justice, is a Navy spouse who has her sights set on law school. She will continue her studies through the Honors College at Regent University.

Ouellette’s educational journey included prior failed attempts at college. “We all have to take the time to understand who we are and what we have to contribute to this world,” she said. “When I was working at Starbucks, we hosted ‘Coffee with a Cop’ and watching officers interact with the people they serve, inspired me and made me realize what I wanted to do.”

Ouellette started Spring Semester 2020 just prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and TCC’s move to remote learning. “The time given to us by professors in break out rooms allowed us to get to know each other and I have never met a more unique, diverse set of students,” Ouellette said. “We stood by one another, ready to support each other.”

She added, “Take this hard-earned degree and make the most of it because we know we have what it takes to face the challenges coming our way. I’m proud of us.”

Keynote speaker Del. Jay Jones, a practicing attorney and member of the Virginia House of Delegates, encouraged students by talking about accomplishment.

“You have all experienced the glow of achievement and the realization of goals,” Jones said. “The diplomas that you will soon hold bear marks of that success.”

He continued, “A success born of late nights, many, many countless cups of coffee and a steely resolve to continue the work until that last paper was written and the last exam taken. Each of you should feel proud of whatever path you walked – or ran – to bring this moment today.”

The ceremony continued as families and friends cheered and snapped photos. Graduates crossed the stage and joined a TCC alumni network of 100,000 and counting.  

If you missed graduation, you can watch the TCC livestream.