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Army veteran gets fresh start at TCC

Arlethia White-Farris does not like to talk about her military service. She will tell you that she’s a proud Army veteran who saw combat in Afghanistan and Kuwait. She was given an honorable discharge after two years of service and returned to her home in Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Back in the states, she dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as the negative influences of her surroundings. The family struggled and was often without power and used the gas oven to heat their home. 

“There was a lot of gang activity, and I was getting drawn back in. I was also selling drugs to help pay mom’s medical bills and keep the lights on,” she said. 

Seeking a fresh start, Arlethia, 28, moved to Hampton Roads to live with her aunt near Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth Campus. She got a job, but realized she wasn’t getting ahead. Then the bottom fell out. 

“I hit rock bottom when I lost my job, and my car broke down. That’s when I decided to try college. TCC was within walking distance of where I was staying and it was time,” she said.

That was the start of an academic journey that has had many challenges. But through it all, Arlethia has persevered. She will earn an Associate of Applied Science in Graphic Design this month.

“I started at TCC to better myself and I’m an entirely different person now. The student center staff allowed me to open up, explore my poetry and just grow,” she said.

Arlethia was also supported by the staff of the Open Door Project, a program designed to help first-time college students succeed in school.

“I definitely gained a community at TCC. I belonged and the people make sure everyone who walks through the doors feels welcome, seen and heard,” she said.

While at TCC, Arlethia was president of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) chapter on the Portsmouth Campus. She says that her mental health has steadily improved thanks to the work of the group.

She hopes to use the experience and her degree to open Art Release 360, an organization for people who need support with their mental health. “It will be a place where people can use art to heal their traumas,” Arlethia said. “I want to help people express their thoughts without judgment and provide therapy to those in need.”

A year after starting at TCC, Arlethia became financially stable when she landed a job as a recreation aide with Norfolk Naval Station. She learned about the job through an on-campus job fair in the student center. She now works doing security for a state agency, and also does freelance graphic design work to build her portfolio. 

Arlethia sends a shout-out to TCC staffers Alicia Peoples, Charlene Taylor, Jeanine Anderson and Zebeth Newton for looking out for her and going the extra mile.

“This degree has taken blood, sweat and tears, but it’s also given me my purpose,” she added. 

She hopes to one day work in film, telling Black stories that can be overlooked or untold. She has even written a play that she is reworking into a movie script.

 She is planning to attend film school next year to hone her craft. “I want to tell authentic stories as raw and real as I can,” she added.

“Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people tell me that being an artist and telling stories is not a real job,” Arlethia said. “But I found a new path that will allow me to do what I love. What could be better than that?”

TCC Norfolk Campus welcomes the Visual Arts Center

Tidewater Community College is moving all of its visual arts programming to Norfolk Campus.

For more than 25 years, 340 High Street has served as more than a building to TCC. For many students, faculty and staff, the Visual Arts Center (VAC) became a second home. The building held a growing community and provided many students with the opportunity to explore various art forms, find their own voice and express themselves.

As part of the next evolution of arts education at TCC, and to allow for growth and expansion of services to the community, the VAC has moved to the college’s Norfolk Campus.

Due to the move, there are currently fewer summer course offerings. However, regular course offerings will be available for Fall Semester. 

Faculty and staff offices have been moved to the Martin and Roper buildings on Norfolk Campus.

This summer, the following classes and resources will be offered in these locations:

Martin Building, Second Floor

Roper 4306

Roper 4117

Graphic Design          
Martin Building 2202

Portfolio Prep  
Martin 2314

Students with questions regarding course offerings are encouraged to contact Academic Advisor Jennifer Barnes by emailing or calling 757-822-1820.

The effective date for the Portsmouth location closing is June 30, 2021. 

50th Annual Student Art & Design Exhibition goes virtual for a second year

Tidewater Community College Visual Arts Center students are showcasing their work during the 50th Annual Student Art & Design Exhibition that has gone virtual for a second year.

The event features more than 150 works, including studio arts, photography, graphic design, ceramics and glassblowing, created by students for art classes since last March.

The judge for the event was Solomon Isekeije, professor of fine arts and

program coordinator, division of fine arts at Norfolk State University.

Top award winners include:

President’s Award: Brydi Lynn Heebner, Percolator Sam, mixed media
$100 cash award sponsored by TCC President Marcia Conston • $75 museum membership sponsored by the Chrysler Museum of Art

Vice-President’s Award: Tim Pike, Simple Man, photograph
$100 cash award sponsored by Michelle Woodhouse, vice-president for academic affairs & chief academic officer • $50 gift certificate sponsored by the Coffee Shoppe

Dean’s Award: Sharla Cotton, Black and Gray Tea Jar, clay
$200 cash award sponsored by Kerry Ragno, pathway dean, arts & humanities

Purchase Award: Alyson Miller, Eye on the Sparrow, photograph
$500 cash award sponsored by Deborah M. DiCroce • $75 museum membership sponsored by the Chrysler Museum of Art

For a complete list of award winners visit here.

The student exhibition includes a talk from invited speaker Benjamin Gaydos, chair and professor of design, University of Michigan–Flint. The illustrated lecture will take place via Zoom on April 22 at 12:30 p.m. The meeting password is 23501.

For more information, or to inquire about sales, please contact Shelley Brooks at

When MS cost him his Navy career, disabled veteran found his focus at TCC

One-third of our students are military-related. This week we highlight some of them in honor of Veterans Day, Nov. 11. 

Snapping pictures, Matthew McCarthy forgets.

Instead of reflecting on his lost Navy career or the Multiple sclerosis diagnosis that unexpectedly ended it, the California native focuses on the subject in front of the lens.

“When I’m out taking pictures for a project, that’s all I’m thinking about,” he says. “It’s an outlet.”

Using his GI Bill benefits to pay for tuition, McCarthy is close to completing an associate degree in studio arts with a specialization in photographic media arts at Tidewater Community College’s Visual Arts Center (VAC).

He’s not looking to make a huge career out of photography; it’s a passion that’s evolved into a  therapeutic hobby and given him a purpose. McCarthy grew up enjoying the dark room and 35 millimeter film — archaic terms to today’s millennial.

In fact, when he signed up for his first class, he figured he’d be headed to the Virginia Beach Campus. He had no idea that TCC offered its own charming art school, the VAC.

“I had always gone down that street to go to the Children’s Museum and blew right past the VAC,” McCarthy says. “Learning in a building that is dedicated strictly to the arts is absolutely amazing.”

McCarthy’s photograph “Between Hands and Heat,” taken at the glass studio on the rooftop of the Visual Arts Center, was among the works featured in the 49th Annual Student Art Annual Design Exhibition.

McCarthy was admittedly directionless when he learned he suffered from MS. He enlisted at 24 and eventually got stationed in Virginia Beach in 2010. Six years after that, he began suffering from double vision and fatigue. Initially, he dismissed it, but within a couple of days, he went to the hospital for tests and received the diagnosis after an MRI.

A downward spiral led to the first major depression he had ever experienced. The MS forced him to medically retire from the Navy. He lost his father earlier that year, and a relationship that became toxic fell apart. He spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a hotel room by himself.

The time alone caused him to think and reevaluate. Finally, he developed this mindset: “It’s a disease. It’s not going to kill me. It’s chronic. I can manage it.”

“I compared it to diabetes,” he said. “I didn’t want it to control my life. I’m still me. I can still do the things I like most of the time.”

None of it was easy. He struggles with a lack of strength on his left side and some of his right along with cognitive and memory issues. Sometimes he slurs his speech.

“Star Trek” on Netflix became his respite until he realized he had to find a purpose to his days. Having heard from his military colleagues about TCC, he enrolled. He hadn’t been a strong student in high school, so in many ways achieving at TCC was his redemption.

“I went into college with that military mindset,” he said. “I’m in my fourth semester and I have had a 4.0 every semester.”

In addition, one of his photos for a project in his Fundamentals of Design class won an award at the VAC’s student art show. He earned the Doug Barner Fine Arts Scholarship this past fall that will help him purchase some better camera equipment.

Now the best news — McCarthy got married on Oct. 10.  He adds, “I couldn’t be happier.”

For special support services for military-related students, visit the CMVE or call 757-822-7645. You can also email

Live! Inside the classroom — Drawing I at the Visual Arts Center

In this series, we provide a closer look at hands-on learning during COVID-19.

While COVID-19 means online learning for most Tidewater Community College students, some are back in the classroom for hands-on training. In fact, more than 400 sections of classes in interior design, automotive, health professions, welding, veterinary technology, culinary arts, visual arts, electronics technology and other programs have on-campus components. 

A peek inside two drawing classes

Professors Nancy Mansfield and John Runner hold Drawing I classes at the same time at the Visual Arts Center (VAC). Step into either classroom held at opposite ends on the third floor, and suddenly the outside world seems miles away. Student artists, some with headphones, others enjoying the tranquil solitude, are in the early stages of learning to draw, using just pencil and paper.

“This is their haven,” Mansfield said. “For two hours and 20 minutes, they get to sit down and just work. No distractions.”

Student Jack Johnson

The assignment, a trio of volumetric bottles in Runner’s class and brown paper bags in Mansfield’s section, calls for drawing what you see. Wouldn’t we all love to see the fine details studio arts major Valentina Halilaj (her work is below) can find in simple lunch bags?

What if I can’t draw?

Most of us haven’t been formally taught how to draw. When we take pencil, pen or marker to paper, we’re winging it. Drawing I class teaches you technique. “Everyone can draw,” stressed instructor John Runner. “It takes practice to do it well. Don’t worry about how long it takes you to master it. Learning to enjoy it is a much better takeaway.”

Mansfield assures that drawing is a process “with lots of adjustments and looking at things differently.” She adds, “How well you can draw depends on the desire, and like many skills, practice.”

Students later learn about value, perspective and shading and benefit from the feedback from their peers through critiques.

The final project

Students evolve from pencil to charcoal. They conclude the class by completing a self-portrait. By creating their own likeness, they can work on it as much as they like outside of class. Mansfield notes, “All you need is a mirror!”

About the professors

Mansfield has taught drawing at the VAC for nearly 20 years. In addition to Drawing I, she teaches II, III and IV. The University of Florida graduate also teaches in the community, including classes at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art.

Adjunct professor Runner gives special attention to each student and works to understand individual habits and style. “Empathy is an important part of teaching,” he said.

Runner earned his master’s in Visual Studies at Old Dominion University. His portfolio includes multiple works from the VAC’s Art Faculty Exhibition. He also teaches Printmaking I.

What the students say

“I like the feedback (Professor Runner) gives. It’s fun to be in a drawing class. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house.” — Allison Shaw, undecided major

Student Alexzander Powers

“Honestly, I enjoy everything. It’s teaching me a lot,” — Alyssa Odom, graphic design major

“I like that I can get feedback right away.” — Deannah Myers, studio arts major

“I’m better with computer design, but I like this. It’s peaceful in here.” — Jack Johnson, graphic arts major

“It’s nice to get back to basics,” — Nyasia Evans, graphic design major

Sign up!

Drawing I and II will both be offered in the spring semester. For information on registering for classes at the VAC, contact

Enjoy the season with TCC at the NEON Holiday Market

If you’re looking for a last-minute gift, stop by the TCC Perry Glass Wheel Arts Center on Saturday, Dec. 14.

Student-crafted glasswork will be on sale. The center, located at, 128 W. Olney Road, will be open 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

You can also enjoy two exhibits: “The TCC Revolving Art Faculty Exhibition” and “Barbara Kobylinska: Imaginary Creatures,” through December 31.

Light refreshments and a children’s activity will be offered between 1 – 3 p.m.

The larger NEON Holiday Market is a short walk away at The Plot at Granby Street and Olney Road. More than 30 creative vendors will participate. Live music and food trucks will be part of the afternoon festivities. For information, visit and

The new gallery is just one of the ways that TCC is expanding into the NEON District. The college plans to open the TCC Perry Center for Visual & Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management at the site of the former Greyhound station in the fall of 2021. The 47,000-square-foot building will allow TCC to expand its visual arts, culinary arts and hospitality management programs.

TCC Perry Glass Wheel Arts Center hours are Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. TCC will continue to host exhibitions at the Visual Arts Center in Olde Towne Portsmouth.

For information, call Shelley Brooks at 757-822-1878.

TCC Perry Center honored with design award by commercial real estate group

Tidewater Community College’s culinary and visual arts center, planned for Norfolk’s NEON District, was recognized with an Excellence in Developmental Design Award by the Hampton Roads Association for Commercial Real Estate (HRACRE).

TCC’s Perry Center for Visual & Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management, which is scheduled to open in fall 2021, was honored with a Merit Award for Best Conceptual Project by the group.

Designed by Sanders and Crouse Architects, the center is to be built on land donated by the City of Norfolk on the site of the former Greyhound bus station.

“This project is made possible thanks to our partnership with the City of Norfolk and many community members and groups who are supporting our vision for a regional center to provide both educational and training opportunities for students and community members in Norfolk,” said Matt Baumgarten, executive director of TCC’s Real Estate Foundation.

The HRACRE Excellence in Development Design Awards program seeks to identify and encourage those who have invested and continue to invest the extra effort to bring quality design and development to the Hampton Roads real estate community. A panel of industry experts evaluated 39 submissions and presented the awards at the organization’s annual event earlier this month.

The Perry Center promises to energize the downtown area with expanded offerings in the college’s comprehensive culinary and visual arts programs by:

  • expanding TCC’s one-of-a-kind visual arts education program;
  • training the next generation of chefs with an expansion of TCC’s comprehensive Culinary Arts program;
  • creating opportunities for collaboration between culinary and visual arts programs;
  • making a test kitchen available to food entrepreneurs;
  • housing an expanded program in hospitality and restaurant management; and
  • providing dual-enrollment opportunities for Norfolk high school students and workforce education to residents.

The center will be funded by some TCC general funds but mostly by private donations raised through Go Further! TCC’s Campaign for a Competitive Workforce.

For more information about donating to the campaign, contact the college’s Educational Foundation at 757-822-1080 or visit

TCC announces major gift for new center coming to the NEON District

Tidewater Community College is the recipient of a  seven-figure donation to support the building of the Patricia & Douglas Perry TCC Center for Visual & Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management.

President DeCinque announces the naming of the Houston “Hu” Odom Jr. School of Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management.
President DeCinque announces the naming of the Houston “Hu” Odom Jr. School of Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management.

President Gregory DeCinque announced the gift from Houston “Hu” Odom, president and founder of BOTH, Inc., a franchisee of Golden Corral Restaurants, at a news conference Tuesday morning at the TCC Pat & Doug Perry Glass Wheel Studio.  In recognition of his generosity, the college will name its school of Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management for Odom.

Odom’s gift will also be used to provide scholarships for dual enrollment students from Norfolk Public Schools studying restaurant management.

“By creating a pipeline of skilled and trained professional restaurant managers, we are ensuring quality service in our area restaurants for years to come,” said Odom, an award-winning restaurateur, who operates 20 Golden Corrals, plus two in development, with headquarters in Virginia Beach and locations throughout four states. “Partnering with TCC makes good business sense but is also great for our community.

“Very simply, TCC’s new School of Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management is the right idea at the right place at the right time. When my wife, Evie, and I heard about TCC’s plans, we agreed we wanted to become involved to help make those plans become a reality.”

President DeCinque said, “We share a vision to see the next generation of artists, culinary specialists and hospitality managers excel in their work. This is indeed a transformative time for TCC, made possible with partnerships with the City of Norfolk, the Perrys and now our newest benefactor, Mr. Odom.”

The TCC Perry Center, slated to open in 2021, will be a 47,000-square-foot building, located on the site of the former Greyhound bus station. In addition to housing TCC’s academic programs, it will offer dual-enrollment and workforce-training opportunities for area residents.

The center will further energize the NEON District by:

  • Expanding TCC’s one-of-a-kind visual arts education program
  • Training the next generation of chefs with a comprehensive culinary arts program
  • Creating opportunities for collaboration between culinary and visual arts programs
  • Providing five kitchens and a test kitchen open to the community and prospective entrepreneurs
  • Inaugurating a hospitality and restaurant management program in Norfolk
  • Creating a vibrant and inviting dining and arts experience for students, residents and visitors
Mayor Alexander with Evie Odom.
Mayor Alexander with Evie Odom.

“TCC’s new Perry Center is a major economic boost to the growth and expansion of the NEON District as a destination for the arts. For that reason, I am very grateful for Mr. Odom’s support,” said Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexander.

Odom’s restaurants consistently hold sales and customer satisfaction rankings in the top tier of the Golden Corral system. In 2001, Golden Corral Corporation adopted his idea of Military Appreciation Night, which serves free steak dinners to all current and former service personnel while raising money for the Disabled American Veterans. Odom first implemented the idea in Hampton Roads in 1999.

Odom is also passionate about giving low-income and disadvantaged students access to education in culinary arts and restaurant management. “A significant portion of my donation to TCC will be used to endow scholarships and other programs to help ensure access to TCC’s new school for students here in Norfolk and in other local communities,” he said.

His gift will benefit dual enrollment students in Norfolk. Dual enrollment allows qualifying high school students to jump-start their college careers by earning college credit.

Hu Odom at the press event on Dec. 18.
Hu Odom at the press event on Dec. 18.

“We are delighted to be able to offer this new career training to our high school students to prepare them well for the workforce,” said Noëlle Gabriel, chair of the Norfolk School Board.

Construction of the Perry Center will be funded entirely by private donations raised through Go Further! TCC’s Campaign for a Competitive Workforce. For more information about the campaign, contact Steven Jones at or call 757-822-1572.

For information about the college’s visual arts, culinary arts and hospitality management programs, contact the enrollment team at

Norfolk City Council approves purchase agreement with TCC for Greyhound property

The City of Norfolk took another step Tuesday toward establishing the NEON District as a premier destination when City Council approved Tidewater Community College’s acquisition of the Greyhound station site at 701 Monticello Ave.

The council approved an ordinance authorizing City Manager Doug Smith to complete the purchase agreement with the TCC Real Estate Foundation.

“Norfolk is building a global reputation as a destination for the arts,” said Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander. “This joint venture between the City of Norfolk and Tidewater Community College will bring new opportunities to thousands of students and visitors, while establishing the NEON District as Hampton Roads’ premier area for creative professionals.”

The TCC Real Estate Foundation’s acquisition will allow for an expansion of the downtown Norfolk Campus and the development of the Patricia and Douglas Perry TCC Center for Visual & Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management.

The city will relocate the current Greyhound operation to the Downtown Norfolk Transit Station.

“It is fair to say that the construction of TCC’s Norfolk Campus in the ‘90s brought new energy to downtown,” TCC President Edna V. Baehre-Kolovani said. “And now history will be repeating itself. We are proud to partner with Mayor Alexander and the City of Norfolk to light up the NEON District with this project. As one of the anchors in the NEON District, we will be creating a destination not only for students, but for visitors as well.”

“Through a generous gift from Patricia and Douglas Perry, this new center for visual and culinary arts will not only create new workforce and dual enrollment opportunities for students throughout the region, but will also become a prime dining destination for visitors and tourists,” Mayor Alexander said.

In addition, the Perrys are gifting their Glass Wheel Studio to the college. TCC plans to locate its public gallery and studio arts programs there, while creating vibrant new partnerships with the Chrysler Museum, the Perry Glass Studio, Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University.

Mayor Alexander said the new TCC centers will create opportunities not only for students, but also for Norfolk residents through workforce and dual enrollment programs.

The Perry Center will:

Allow the expansion of TCC’s visual arts programs to include fiber arts, jewelry and papermaking, among others.

Expand TCC’s nationally accredited culinary arts program from two kitchens currently to five, tripling enrollment and offering opportunities for public cooking classes and new programs.

Create a student-run restaurant on which culinary and visual arts students will collaborate.

And become the home of a new Restaurant Management program being introduced by TCC this fall.

“This offers a unique opportunity for the next generation of hospitality professionals in what is a fast-growing segment of Norfolk’s economy,” Mayor Alexander said. “Our employers will welcome this program.”

TCC opened its Norfolk Campus in 1997, thanks to a substantial contribution from the City of Norfolk and start-up funding allocated by the General Assembly. It brought new life to former stores like F.W. Woolworth and Smith & Welton, and transformed the old Loew’s theater into the TCC Roper Center for the Performing Arts.