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Chesapeake Campus students, faculty and staff get a glimpse of poverty in action

Like playing a real-time game of “Life,” more than 50 students, faculty and staff experienced what it’s like to be poor and raise a family in Virginia.

Getting help from social services was time consuming for "families."
Getting help from social services was time consuming for “families.”

For two hours on Oct. 16, the Chesapeake Campus Student Center became Realville, with low-income “families” living and working to survive during four 15-minute “weeks.” The simulation was held to raise awareness of basic needs and insecurities faced by community college students across the nation.

New national data, collected by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), shows that two in three students are food insecure. In addition, one in two students are housing insecure and 13 percent are homeless. To meet the basic needs of all TCC students, the Chesapeake Campus Student Government Association, members of Phi Theta Kappa and faculty and staff are launching an initiative this spring, which will include:

  • A food pantry located in the Whitehurst Building opening in a newly designed space. Students will be able to come at specific times and get food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and care kits with essentials for basic hygiene.
  • A service learning project with college and community volunteers packaging highly nutritious meals for hunger relief through the Rise Against Hunger organization.
  • A 5K run to raise awareness of food insecurities of students.

“Our campus is proud to be part of the solution for so many students,” said Lisa Rhine, provost of the Chesapeake Campus. “I know what it’s like to grow up with little and struggle to get through school. It really is a privilege to do this work.”

The simulation was a chance for TCC students, faculty and staff to face many of the insecurities behind the national statistics. Participants were encouraged to think outside the box and do what they had to do to support the family in the exercise led by Karen Munden with Virginia Cooperative Extension and funded by Virginia Tech and Virginia State University.

In navigating daily living, the “families” went to work and school, while shopping, banking, paying bills and seeking social services.

During the simulation some "families" were evicted from their homes.
During the simulation some “families” were evicted from their homes.

Some families were even evicted from their homes. “It felt terrible to have nowhere to go,” said student Sherese Card, who played the role of a teenage girl. “It was especially embarrassing because it happened while I was babysitting. Life got real with my mom gone and dad in jail.”

When the exercised was complete, Munden asked the group members who felt stressed. Almost every hand raised.

“I think as teachers, we have to have more compassion when we see students coming in late to class or having trouble with assignments,” said Kyndra Brown, who teaches developmental math. “We really have no idea what they are facing.”

Student Bryce Dalton added, “It’s stressful taking care of kids who are not listening to you. Today made me realize that it’s harder for others than it’s been for me. I have to keep that in mind once I’m working and do my part to help out.”

At the conclusion of the simulation, Lt. Steven Jenkins with the Portsmouth Police Department, who served as the officer in the Realville jail, noted, “No matter what problem being faced by a family member, I was expected to have the answers. That plays out in my real job, too.”

Lt. Steven Jenkins with the Portsmouth Police Department, was the officer in charge at the Realville jail.
Lt. Steven Jenkins with the Portsmouth Police Department, was the officer in charge at the Realville jail.

Diane Ryan, dean of humanities and social sciences, who played the role of a disabled family member, called the simulation eye-opening. “I found out that food is not that easy to come by and that to get social services, you have to spend a lot of time in lines. I found myself leaving the kids home alone, so I could wait in more lines. I never would have done that when raising my two kids.”

Computer-savvy alum at work for IBM

Hezroy Hammil identifies as a Virginia Tech Hokie thanks to starting at Tidewater Community College.

Now he’s putting his education to work at IBM’s Client Innovation Center. Hammil develops and tests cloud applications for the government. His work is on the leading edge of the field and involves automation using mirco-services to build dynamic applications.

“The coursework at Tech was immensely difficult, but TCC prepared me well for the higher level work,” he said.

TCC alumnus Hezroy Hammil graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2017.
Hammil graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2017.

Hammil graduated with his bachelor’s in computer engineering and a minor in cyber security from Tech in May 2017. He spent his first two years at TCC earning an Associate of Science in Science with a Specialization in Computer Science.

“What I remember most about college is graduating from Tech with my bachelor’s,” he said. “It was that pinnacle moment when I’d finally accomplished what I started.

“The journey was not easy. But I kept my eyes on my goals and now I’m where I want to be.”

While at TCC, Hammil jumped into college life at the Chesapeake Campus becoming a Student Government Association senator, and a year later, president of the group. “I got involved and realized right away that I had a passion for serving and giving back,” he said. “I also enjoyed advocating for the student body during a time when the new buildings were under construction.”

He and other student volunteers had an active voice in planning for the Chesapeake Campus Student Center. Hammil also served as chapter president of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two-year schools. He was also member of the Computer Club, Bible Club and Student African American Brotherhood.

“TCC laid the foundation for me to be doing what I have always wanted to do. The experiences I gained there propelled me to take on the next steps,” he said.

Hammil hopes to one day own his own computer business and be his own boss.

“I encourage people I meet to start at a community college before transferring into a four-year school,” he said. “Financially and otherwise, I’m in a way better position because of TCC.”


TCC’s Norfolk Campus awards its first Governor’s Medallion

Jay Sellers is the first Tidewater Community College student to earn his associate degree from the Norfolk Campus while still in high school.

The homeschooled senior started at TCC taking 19 credit hours his first semester.

This May, Sellers, 17, will earn his Associate of Science in General Studies, enabling him to enter a four-year university as a junior. He hopes to be a Hokie at Virginia Tech by spring 2019.

“I needed more challenging classes and wanted to start working on college credits early,” Sellers said. “It feels great to be ahead of the game.”

Sellers will receive the Governor’s Medallion awarded to those who complete associate degrees by taking part in a dual enrollment program where they earn four semesters of college credit while in high school.

Three Portsmouth Campus students are also receiving the Governor’s Medallion. 

While at TCC, Sellers became friends with classmates who were often a decade older than he was. “It felt kind of strange starting college so young, but it was definitely the right choice for me,” he said.

“I was always accepted and included in study groups. We spent free time together, too, going to the movies and just hanging out.”

While at TCC, Sellers discovered a love for science through early morning biology lectures with instructor Grace Murray. His older sister, Kiley, was in class with him.

“Jay’s calm, amicable, dedicated, and curious nature shines through and lends to his academic success,” said Murray “This blend of traits will certainly extend beyond college and allow him to achieve greatness throughout all avenues of his life.”

Sellers plans to pursue a bachelor’s in exercise science at Virginia Tech. He would like to give athletes and others who have lost mobility the chance to live life to the fullest. He hopes to earn a master’s in biomedical engineering and design prosthetics.

Sellers competes in triathlons and is a lifeguard with the City of Norfolk, working at the beach and the Norfolk Fitness and Wellness Center. He is currently training for a Kinetic Half Ironman triathlon that will take place this May.

TCC has been a family affair with Kiley also earning an Associate of Science in General Studies and now working toward a bachelor’s in speech pathology at Old Dominion University. Another sister, Emma, is four classes away from earning her associate degree in general studies.

“One thing I’ve learned is that it’s good to have a daily routine. Use a planner and don’t wait until the last minute to get things done,” Jay Sellers said. “With determination, you really can go anywhere from here.”