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TCC grad builds a successful life

April 2006 Clay DillsClay Dills had a rocky start with college life. He went from major to major, never finding anything to get excited about. He flunked out of both TCC and ODU – all before turning 21.  

Enjoying the surf scene and working for Wave Riding Vehicles at the Oceanfront, Dills was unsure about what to do with the rest of his life. “I still remember the day my counselor at ODU gave me a form and told me to put a check in the box for my major. I was stunned. They were essentially asking me to choose a career path, and I just had no idea what to do,” Dills recalls.   

“Things started to turn around for me when I realized that I wanted to use my skills to build things. Growing up with a father who is an architect, I sort of rebelled against the idea of following in his footsteps. It was only as I got older that I became excited about doing that work,” Dills recalls. 

Clay Dills and family at home in Virginia Beach.

Dills turned to TCC to get back into college. “I really needed a second chance. I had to get top grades to be accepted in architect school, and while it sounds simple, TCC gave me that chance,” Dills says.

Transferring to Virginia Tech with a 4.0 grade point average, Dills excelled and graduated first in class. His studies included a year at The Cooper Union School in Manhattan, a prestigious institution accepting a mere 30 students a year for its architect program. “As an adult student, it was sometimes tough going,” Dills adds.  

Dills now works with his father designing school additions, home renovations, multi-million dollar homes, marine terminals and more. “The practice is very challenging, and I enjoy the work. It’s great to see something you design come to life in a constructed project.” Dills and his firm also work with Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing to provide architecture services for those with limited incomes.

Back in the classroom, this time as an adjunct faculty for Hampton University, Dills shares his professional expertise with budding architecture students. “It’s all a blur to me now,” Dills adds, “but what I know is that TCC is a really good enabler and you can launch from there.”

TCC paved the way for early childhood educator

2007 LaVern TheusWorking as an electrician at a local shipyard, LaVern Theus had a steady income, regular hours and a pension. And she gave it all up, after 14 years, to answer a “higher calling” – “to build an ark and welcome children two by two,” explains Theus.

Saying she stepped out in faith by giving up her secure job, Theus enrolled at TCC to prepare to open an educational child-care facility. With the support of her husband George, who took a second job, Theus began her studies. “I enjoyed what I was learning. Professor Marie Baker prepared me to teach children, not just keep them for the day,” Theus adds.  

After graduating with a 4.0 grade-point average, Theus opened an in-home child-care business, and was the first family child care in the region accredited by the National Association for Family Day Care. She received a three-year license, a rarity in the business, for exemplifying high standards and offering services well above minimum standards. Theus now owns and operates Abby’s Ark, an early learning center.  

Theus has gone on to get her master’s in early childhood education, after earning more than enough credits from TCC to qualify for Regent University’s independent learning program. She serves as a mentor for child-care providers and as a consultant through the Planning Council.

“It’s my mission – my calling – to take these kids and set the right foundation. I want them to be successful at whatever they choose to do,” says Theus.

Global goals in business

2007 Byron T. MorganA globetrotter while growing up in an Army family, Byron T. Morgan sees “international” as today’s norm for business. Shortly after transferring to The College of William and Mary for marketing and finance, he applied that thinking – traveling to Southeast Asia to complete market research with the college’s Mason School of Business.

Morgan, who graduated from TCC with a business administration degree in December 2007, believes business success relates to building networks both locally and around the world. “My ultimate goal is to be a mover and shaker in the media and entertainment market. I’d like to be the next Rupert Murdock,” he adds with a laugh.

Once a teen connected with the wrong crowd, with his grades plummeting, Morgan says, “I wasn’t expected to go to college. My grades were not great and I got in a lot of trouble. Family difficulties and negative influences in my neighborhood made things even worse.”

Things began to turn around for Morgan when he enrolled at TCC. “I decided to follow the right path,” he says, “and the people at TCC helped make that possible.” Morgan excelled in his studies and got involved in college life. He served as senator and vice president for the Portsmouth Campus Student Government Association, as well as secretary and vice president for Virginia 21.

His outreach included mentoring youth through the Beating the Odds program, helping inspire, motivate and enlighten young black men. During his tenure at TCC, Morgan was recognized with several awards including the Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship award, the Mary Ferrell Flickinger scholarship, Distinguished Student Award and the Student Achievement Award.

A shipboard link with TCC led to UVA and EVMS

2008 Peter SylvesterWhile serving in the U.S. Navy, Peter Sylvester decided to give college another try.

“I was working as an avionics tech aboard the USS Kennedy when I enrolled in a class at TCC,” he recalls. “I wasn’t sure I would be successful, with deployment and duty schedules, but I knew I had to try.” 

His efforts paid off. After two years, Sylvester earned an associate degree in engineering. “My TCC experience was fantastic. My professors worked with me to ensure success and really went that extra mile. It was a great place to

prepare for my next step.” 

Sylvester transferred to the University of Virginia to study biomedical engineering in the fall of 2007. “I always wanted to study medicine, but it wasn’t until I started doing well with my TCC classes that I really gave it serious thought,” Sylvester adds.

At UVA, his studies included a research project on motion-estimation software to be used for imaging procedures. “The program there is very rigorous, but satisfying all the same.”

Sylvester, now enrolled at Eastern Virginia Medical School, may decide to become an interventional radiologist, a medical doctor involved in the treatment of patients, as well as the diagnosis of disease.

Considering his unusual path from engineering to medicine, he says, “I see biomedical engineering as a great way to personalize engineering work.”

Computer-savvy alumna claims a long-awaited career

2008 Teresa JonesTeresa Jones is passionate about computers. “I’ve always been fascinated with anything connected with computers and often spent my free time fixing them for friends and family. Then I realized I could turn it into a paid career by getting a formal education.”

Jones took classes at TCC right after high school, but family responsibilities and work intervened. For over 30 years, she held administrative support positions, enjoying the work, but knowing she “always wanted something more.” 

A few years ago, she enrolled at TCC again, ready to go the distance. “I came back to TCC because it was affordable and the class schedule fit my life,” Jones says. With high honors she earned her degree in information systems technology with an emphasis in network infrastructure through TCC’s Regional Cisco Academy.  

“The coursework was challenging and I spent much of my weekends in the Cisco lab,” she says with a laugh. “But it was so worthwhile – I put my skills to work on the job from day one.” 

Jones now works as a network administrator for WR Systems, an IT and engineering firm. “My company has been so supportive. They helped pay my tuition, provided on-the-job training opportunities while I was in school, and had a position open for me when I obtained that degree.” 

“I love what I do now. We provide desktop support for more than 200 computer users, ensure that our servers run smoothly and handle daily backups of electronic data. I feel like I’ve finally made it.” 

Jones plans to continue taking TCC classes to enhance her knowledge and keep her skills sharp. Also tapping TCC are her brother, aimed at nursing, and her nephew, working toward a teaching degree.

TCC alumna writes pioneering ER-orientation nursing guide

February 2008 Jennifer BuettnerJennifer Buettner began her career as a licensed practical nurse in the emergency department of DePaul Medical Center. At that point, thinking she would someday write a groundbreaking primer for emergency-nurse orientation never crossed her mind.

“My career is a real answer to prayer. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. When I tried my hand at nursing, it was a great fit from the start,” Buettner says.

A native of Virginia Beach, Buettner turned to TCC to advance her career, enrolling in the registered nursing program at the Portsmouth Campus. “TCC gave me a great foundation and the knowledge to pass my state board exam on the first try,” she adds. 

Buettner now lives in Georgia and works as a registered nurse/certified emergency nurse at Jasper Memorial hospital. As a trainer for newly employed or interning nurses, Buettner teaches emergency nursing on the job. To aid this process, she wrote a pamphlet on basic nursing procedures. “I saw a need, so I started by organizing the information by body system,” she explains. “I used 12 references and spent the better part of three years working on the project.” 

Buettner’s pamphlet evolved into a 250-plus page book – Fast Facts for the ER Nurse - Emergency Room Orientation in a Nutshell. “It’s designed for anyone who wants to be an ER nurse. It covers all of the emergencies you’ll see in the setting, from delivering babies to broken bones to respiratory problems to cardiac conditions,” she says.

“Giving quality care to every patient is the goal,” believes the nurse-author, who works three 12-hour shifts a week, allowing for quality time with her husband and young children.

From a small town to the Navy to TCC and new career

April 2008 Johnny MoyeJohnny Moye, supervisor of career and technical education for Chesapeake Public Schools, grew up in a small community tucked in the “Hoosier Hills” of Indiana.

Going to college was never discussed around the dinner table, as farming or factory work were the main employment options during the mid-1970s. That he would someday be named Virginia High School Technology Education Teacher of the Year never entered his mind.

Wanting to escape small-town life, Moye joined the Navy at age 18. He served for 27 years as a radioman, retiring as a master chief petty officer in 2003. Moye says, “The Navy was a way for me to see the world beyond the hills, and I advanced through the ranks very quickly.”

While on shore duty and thinking about life after the Navy, Moye enrolled at TCC’s Virginia Beach Campus. He graduated with a general studies associate degree in 1999, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a master’s in occupational and technical studies. “I was the first in my family to earn a college degree,” he says. “TCC boosted my confidence, and it was there that I learned that I could be successful in the classroom.”

Moye was back in the classroom in 2003, this time as a technology teacher at Hickory High in Chesapeake. For five years he taught classes like geospatial technology, graphic communications and computing systems. He also served as an advisor for Hickory’s successful Technology Student Association and was named the Virginia High School Technology Education Teacher of the Year in 2008.

“TCC instilled in me a love of learning, and helped lay the ground work for my Ph.D.”  Moye will complete his doctorate in education during the summer of 2009 through ODU.

Moye and his wife have four children; two of them attended TCC’s Chesapeake Campus after high school.

Caring for the elderly

Newly divorced, Sher Amerson knew that she needed to prepare for the future. She enrolled at TCC’s Chesapeake Campus which was near her work in the business office at Autumn Care. “After taking one accounting class, I was hooked,” Amerson says. “I’ve been in the healthcare area for most of my work life, but I was excited about learning a specific skill set, so I just kept going,” Amerson explains.  

In 2007, after three years, Amerson earned her associate degree in accounting and was then offered an internship for administrator training at the nursing home where she works. She completed that training, and passed the state board exam that qualifies her to be the lead professional in any nursing home in Virginia.  

Waiting for a position to become available in the Hampton Roads area, Amerson continues her work at Autumn Care and says, “When you oversee the care of the elderly, you go home at the end of the day with a great deal of satisfaction. We're working in their home, and it's rewarding to help them enjoy each day.”

November 2008 Sher Amerson

“Lost Boy” gets a new start

2008 Bul Thuc DutOne of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Bul Thuc Dut remembers running for his life in his native country during the ravishes of civil war. He and his brother fled from home and sure captivity when they were only four and five years old. They walked hundreds of miles through deserts and mountains with little food, and the fear of attacks from wild animals and enemy soldiers. Dut’s brother did not make it – he was killed by soldiers, leaving Dut to travel without him to the safety of Ethiopia. Dut spent his growing-up years, separated from family, in refugee camps, first in Ethiopia, then in Kenya.  

While there he worked to get an education, learning the alphabet by tracing letters in the dirt with his finger. Later he attended school, sharing one pencil and a notebook with four other students. By the age of 22 he’d earned his high school diploma from the camp high school. 

Things changed for Dut quickly after that; he was granted asylum in the United States.  “I was so happy to come here,” Dut recalls, “It was the start of a new life.”  Dut managed the cultural changes that come with entering a new country, while working full time. He also enrolled at TCC, first taking English as a second language, and later working up to a full load of business classes. “I’ve learned so much,” Dut adds. “TCC is a good place to start, especially for foreign students who need to be connected to accessible professors and staff.” 

Four years later in December 2007, Dut found himself graduating again, this time with an associate degree in business administration. The civil war in Sudan has officially ended, making travel there safe again. “Compared to where I was, I have a new life, but with this life, I have much responsibility. I want to help my people, by going back and working in administration and healthcare services.” 

Continuing his studies in business management at Old Dominion University, Dut is excited about the future. “People talk about America as the land of opportunity, and it is, but you still have to work hard to earn this American dream. It becomes your dream, and your hard work makes it possible.”

Davis earns degrees, sets example

2008 Santia DavisBecoming a teen mom did not stop Santia Davis from pursuing her dream of a college education. She enrolled at TCC for the first time in 1995, when she was working as an apprentice pipe fitter for NORSHIPCO. Not long after, she joined the Army and put her studies on hold.

Davis returned to TCC five years later and earned her associate of applied science in Computer Aided Drafting and Design.  “Attending TCC helped me focus on my future goals, and paved the way for my educational career and ultimately my success,” Davis says. She continued her education through the design cooperative program through Northrop Grumman, and from there went on to earn a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering and a master’s in engineering management from Old Dominion University.

Davis now works as a mechanical engineer for the U.S. Navy. “I see my educational journey as an example for my daughter, who began her own college career last year,” she adds. “Today I am working on a Ph.D. and also teaching for the CADD program at TCC.  Life is busy, but wonderfully full.”

From foodie to faculty

Working with food always appealed to Deanna Freridge. Her first job was as a counter worker and then manager of a fast food restaurant. From there, she became a server in a fine dining restaurant in New York. When the chef quit, she became the lunch cook and, within a year, was the lead chef of the restaurant.

“It was not until I got into the kitchen that I fell in love with what I was doing,” Freridge recalls. “When you create dishes that people enjoy, you get immediate feedback. My rule of thumb: if I would not pay for a dish and eat it myself, I would not expect anyone else to either.”

Married to a military member, Freridge relocated to Virginia. She had young children to consider and a husband that spent much of his work life at sea, so she opted for a day job as a breakfast cook, and later a banquet chef for a local hotel. “It was at this point that I knew I needed a degree if I was going to get ahead,” she says, “so I opted to enroll in TCC’s hospitality management program.”

“After two years, and a lot of juggling, I had my degree and a plan.” Freridge opened Toques Creative Catering, a high-end catering business. For 15 years, she planned, organized and prepared food for more than 200 events a year, employing six full-time and 60 part-time employees. She ran two commercial kitchens, including one kosher setting. Semi-retired now, Freridge says she enjoyed every event and the financial rewards that came from owning her business.

 2008 Freridge
Chef Freridge arranges gingerbread houses for a display at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

“I’ve had a great career and I love the industry. I’ve come full circle and now it’s my time to pass knowledge to the next generation of American chefs.” Freridge took her love of cooking to the classroom in 2006, joining TCC’s culinary program faculty.

Cancer could not keep her from earning a degree

May 2009 Joyce Ballance-TapleyJoyce Ballance-Tapley has always believed in living life to the fullest. And even though she is battling stage-4 colon cancer, she’s still setting and meeting goals. The latest – earning her associate degree in early childhood education from TCC.

“I’m not going to let the cancer beat me or control me. I have one life, and I’m going to live it,” Tapley says.

Married and the mother of two boys, ages 5 and 14, Tapley says, “When I was first diagnosed, I asked God to give me the strength to make it through for my kids.” With the support of family, friends, neighbors and her church, Tapley has overcome some incredible odds.

Over the past two years, she has endured five rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. “I was determined to get to class. I was late some days because of treatments, but I was following this dream.”

Upbeat and positive, you wouldn’t guess that Tapley is battling cancer by her outward appearance and attitude. She inspires those around her as evidenced by the signs and balloons festooning the front of her home on graduation day. “It was a thrilling evening to walk that stage, and then to come home to see that my neighbors recognized this accomplishment – it was overwhelming.”

Tapley is still looking ahead. A substitute teacher for Chesapeake public schools, she plans to take the summer off to be with her children. Then it’s back to TCC to complete three classes enabling her to earn a second associate degree, this one in general studies.

“It’s been a long, but very rewarding journey. Many people have asked me why I continued at TCC, and my answer is always the same – because I’m not giving up on life or letting go of my dreams.”

A job to love

By most standards, Adrienne Pack was successful. As an administrator for a Big Four accounting firm, her work was challenging and included travel to cities across America. “Both of my parents were in business and they pushed me that way, even though it really wasn’t my area of interest,” Pack recalls. “After a lot of years, I simply burned out.” 

Wanting more, Pack quit her job and found a much-loved part-time position at the Virginia Zoo. “As a zoo educator, I teach children about animals and conservation – both true passions of mine,” she says. 

May 2009 Adrienne Pack

Adrienne Pack, a zoo educator and keeper aide, welcomes two Aldabra tortoises to the Virginia Zoo.


Pack also enrolled in the science program at TCC and earned her second associate degree in July of 2009. She excelled in her studies and was named the Norfolk Campus Thomas Moss Scholar the year before she graduated.

“My work at the zoo inspires me,” Pack adds. “It’s a real joy to get up in the morning and feel excited about the day ahead.”  She also volunteers at the zoo as a keeper aide. “My goal is to become a zookeeper and to work hands-on with the animals. As an aide, I get a first-hand look at the job of feeding, administering medications and visually checking the animals for signs of injury or illness.”

A Norfolk native and married to a Navy chief, Pack plans to stay here for the duration. She’ll continue her studies at Old Dominion University, working toward a bachelor’s degree in biology. “I love going to work and feeling really good about what I’m doing. I’m in my element, at last.”

An example for her child and grandchild

June 2009 Raeanne ReeceAfter graduating from Bayside High in Virginia Beach, Raeanne Reece decided to go to work, thinking that she had plenty of time for college later. “I just wanted a job and planned to make lots of money,” she recalls. “Of course, that’s not what happened.”

She married and had a child, and life was in full swing. “I was working long hours and caring for my son. My marriage ended, leaving me solely responsible for my child.”

Working as a civilian federal employee for the U.S. Navy, Reece was encouraged by her supervisor to continue her education.  “I started working on my supervisory management certificate with TCC professors who came right to the command,” Reece adds. “It was challenging, but my teachers understood the pressures of working and going to school, and they went out of their way to make sure I was successful.”

The first in her family to attend college, Reece graduated with an associate of applied science in business management in May. “I’ve come along way since I started as a GS 2. I’m hoping to encourage education with my son and my grandchild.”

“What I know for sure is that even if you just take a class or two, the camaraderie and things you take away from the learning process are helpful career-wise and in life.”

Putting talent to work

June 2009 Eddie JohnsonEddie Johnson, a native of New York City, always planned to go to college. “My mom moved us to Virginia Beach to keep my focus on the right things,” Johnson recalls.

A 2000 graduate of Salem High, Johnson was not ready for college. “TCC was a good place for me. When I came out of high school, I was not focused. The people at TCC helped me calm down and get my head in the game.” 

Johnson earned his associate of applied science in 2004 and transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to study mass communications. “I needed to get my portfolio together for the art school there,” Johnson adds. “By the time I applied it was filled with drawings, paintings and digital work.” 

While at VCU, Johnson interned behind the camera for the college’s media services. He earned his bachelor’s in 2008 and was offered a job on campus as director of interactive media for the athletic department. “From the start, I knew I wanted to draw and use my artistic skills. This job is a great fit, because I enjoy sports and creative challenges.” 

Johnson’s work days are spent creating billboards, magazine advertisements, promotional items and media guides. “The journey was so worth it. TCC was affordable and it was there that I learned important life skills like goal setting and time management. I would not be here, if I had not started there.”

International film maker got her start at TCC

People who knew Cherise Ellingsworth as a child assumed she’d grow up to be an artist, painting along the Left Bank in Paris. Indeed, while she uses art in her work, her career took a different turn:  she became an international filmmaker.

Her work has aired in more than 100 countries and includes TV shows, FBI Files and Body of Evidence, as well as documentaries, American Skinheads and American Nazis.

July 2009 Cherise Ellingsworth

“Art is my passion, and after high school I did wander through Europe for a while. But when I returned to the States, I decided to give college a try,” Ellingsworth says.

While working full time, she enrolled in TCC’s art program and earned her degree in fine arts in 1996. “One of my professors cautioned me to not let my art degree limit job options, because really it’s a degree in problem solving. For me this has rung true time and again, especially since I have the advantage of seeing things visually,” she adds.

After earning a bachelor’s in printmaking in 1998 from Old Dominion University, she went to work for New Dominion Pictures, a television production house based in Suffolk. “I was hired for my portfolio and my degree, and started in the art department, doing faux painting and set decorating.”

From there, Ellingsworth branched out, working in myriad areas, from props to casting to writing and producing. “I’ve never been bored in the 10 years I’ve been in this business, and I love that I’m always learning something new.” Now she works as a freelance documentary writer, producer and director.

“I didn’t know where I was going to end up when I started this journey in the mid-‘90s. I knew that I wanted to tell stories,” Ellingsworth says. “And I love working with a team of people, and seeing my creative voice added to the mix.”

Student from Spain earns degree in a year

September 2009 Ignacio Delgado CarrilloThanks to his father’s career with NATO, Ignacio Delgado Carrillo found his way to TCC – all the way from Spain, his home country. When the family moved from Catalonia to Virginia Beach two years ago, Carrillo decided to make the most of it and work toward a degree.

At just 18, he reached his goal this summer, completing an associate of applied science degree in information systems technology from TCC. “My father’s work offered many different places to live; Norway, France, you name it. But when I saw that one of the choices was America, I knew I wanted to come here – and finding TCC’s IST program was what I needed,” says Carrillo, who has also lived in Italy. “Being here is almost like a movie, the buses, cars, cops, everything.”  

The young Spaniard came to America with a very ambitious mind. As soon as he found out they would go to the United States, he immediately began to study English and take oral English classes. “It was hard in the beginning here, understanding English; I even had to have a translator,” says Carrillo, “but I know I will come across harder things in life.”  

This ambitious attitude carried over into the classroom where Carrillo earned his degree in just one year. Able to test out of some classes, he took 22 credits one semester and 28 the next, all while maintaining a GPA of 3.86.  

Outside of the classroom, Carrillo continued his extracurricular work as a soccer referee, as well as spending time with new friends and playing tennis. “I already had my certificate as a referee in Spain, but one of the first things I wanted to do here was get my certificate to referee soccer in this area,” he says. The second thing accomplished on his list was to get his driver’s license.  

The youngest of three, Carrillo will follow in his sister’s footsteps and attend college in Spain. He has been accepted into Charles the III University of Madrid in the law and business program.

Having already accomplished so much at his age, Carrillo has even bigger plans for his future. After finishing his bachelor’s degree he expects to move to London or obtain a working or student visa and live in New York City.  

“My dream job is to work on Wall Street,” he says. “When I got a chance to visit New York City, that was the first place I went – and where I hope to end up.”

Cyberspace designer got his start at the ATC

From an early age, Devin Peck could be found with a video camera at the ready. By age 10, he was making movies using legos and toys as props. During his teen years he took his work to YouTube, using friends as actors and creating elaborate visuals just for fun. 

One of five children, Peck lives in Virginia Beach and gives his older brother some credit for his video interest. “I remember tagging along with my brother and playing video games with him,” Peck says. “It’s just been part of me.”

November 2009 Devin Peck

Now 18, Peck plays in cyberspace creating worlds for NIA Universe for the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton. “When you enter the game, you get to choose your avatar – the person you become in the world. From there you select where you want to go and what you want to learn,” Peck adds. “The universe is created by many users so you can choose a range of topics from the human body to animals to the Hubble Telescope. My job is to create a tutorial world showing people how to navigate the universe. It’s pretty great because the graphics are realistic and it looks like you’re in a real place.” 

Peck is a first-year TCC student studying social sciences and preparing for a career in special effects. He became interested in this type of work during high school, while taking classes at the Advanced Technology Center through Landstown High. Peck started with a game-design class, followed by a modeling and simulation class, where one of his projects earned a Best in Class distinction.  

Peck also works for Reality Church handling multimedia and some website applications. “I want my life to reflect my beliefs,” he adds. He plans to transfer to Regent University to study film making.  

“It’s been great to take an interest and turn it into a career path,” Peck adds. “I’m excited about the work ahead, and can’t wait to get started.”

Nursing alum oversees Virginia Beach school nurses

Mary Shaw had no idea 15 years ago that she’d be overseeing health services for thousands of school-age children for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

As coordinator of health services/nurses for the school division, Shaw has been on the front lines coordinating H1N1 vaccination clinics in schools, and preparing for worst-case scenarios with the current pandemic. “It’s been a big challenge responding to the current situation, but it’s going very well,” Shaw says.  

November 2009 Mary Shaw

Shaw is no stranger to responding in emergencies. She is a member of the Virginia Beach Medical Reserve Corps. and has been activated in times of need to assist the public health department. “We’ve spent a lot of time doing dispensing exercises and planning. Now we’re taking what we’ve learned and putting it to good use,” Shaw adds. 

She got her start in the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman. “I’d gone to college for graphic arts and wanted to do medical illustration, but the Navy had other plans for me. I was put in the medical setting working on a surgical unit and intensive care and I loved it.”  

Shaw’s experience and training enabled her to become a licensed practical nurse after the service. “Then I decided to work toward my RN because of job options,” Shaw adds. She enrolled in TCC’s nursing program and graduated with an associate of applied science in nursing in 1995. From there, she earned her bachelor’s in nursing from Old Dominion University. 

“Once I got started, I just kept going,” Shaw says. Now working on a nurse administrator master’s degree at ODU, she recently passed the National Board Certification of School Nurses. “TCC was a great place to start. The nursing education was awesome and the coursework prepared me well for the work ahead.” 

Planning to continue in her line of work, Shaw ensures that the school system’s nurses are supported and clinics well stocked. “I love school nursing and working to make sure that our children are healthy and receive the services they need.”

From TCC to kindergarten

With her goals in sight at the age of 21, Crystal Bialas graduated Dec. 18 with her associate degree in early childhood development. She plans to pursue a second degree, this one in social sciences, before she transfers to Old Dominion University for a bachelor’s and master’s in education. Her end goal: “I want to be a kindergarten teacher and instill a love of learning in my students.” 

Bialas’ life story has been about overcoming odds. A cancer survivor, she has spent much of her young life fighting to survive. She has battled brain cancer since she was 3 years old. Surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy have all been part of her growing-up years, with loss of peripheral vision due to a stroke during a surgery. She now has a kind of tunnel vision, and can only read two words at a time. “I’ve had to relearn how to read by physically moving my head to see the words,” she explains. Bialas has also had some memory loss, making learning a bit more challenging for her than others. 

Graduating in the top of her class from Tallwood High School, Bialas chose TCC with a campus close to home. “I needed the support of family, and wanted to stay near my doctors,” Bialas adds.  

Bialas works part time at KinderCare Learning Center. She also volunteers with children at her local YMCA. “Children are my passion, and I enjoy watching them learn,” she adds. “From a young age, I knew that teaching was my destiny.” 

Bialas’s sister, a University of Virginia graduate, also enjoys teaching and teaches high school math in South Carolina. “It’s a family thing, this passion for teaching. It’s been what has kept me going through some difficult times.”

Fashion forward . . . from TCC to FIT in NYC

Fashion has always been her thing. With pen and pad in hand, Jennifer Morgan has spent countless hours drawing dresses and other clothing items. When she started seeing her ideas pop up on runways in New York, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer in the Big Apple. “I’ve always loved clothes. Even when I was young, I remember taking my time deciding about what to wear. Now, drawing beautiful things is a way of expressing myself.”

Morgan put her dream of a fashion career on hold for a tour of duty with the Air Force. When her service time ended, she returned to Hampton Roads and enrolled at TCC. “I was a single mom by then and I knew that I had to get my education for the sake of my son,” she recalls.

While at TCC, Morgan served as secretary of the Student Government Association and was a volunteer organizer of a charity fashion show for the STOP organization, as well as helped collect prom dresses for Booker T. High School teens. She also launched her own fashion blog site.

Nominated as Student Speaker for her class, Morgan graduated Dec. 18 with her associate degree in social sciences. She will continue at TCC to complete a certificate in personal training, for work that will help fund her fashion design education.

In the process of applying to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Morgan plans to move there in the summer or 2010. “I have everything done, except my sample dress. That’s my next project.”

From MTV to engineering – a local ‘star’ is born

From rock music to engineering, from becoming homeless to graduating from college, TCC’s Dec. 18 Commencement Student Speaker found her path and beat incredible odds.

Jennifer Otis planned a normal route to college, starting at Virginia Commonwealth University studying music performance in the mid-90s. But a car accident broke her back, stalled her schooling and prompted a “change of heart about the whole thing,” Otis recalls.

She moved to California to become a lead singer in a rock band, and enjoyed some success, even appearing on MTV. “I loved what I was doing. Then I realized that to be truly successful, I’d have to be on the road most of the year. I had a daughter by then, and I just couldn’t leave her to pursue this dream,” explains Otis.

And then the bottom fell out of her life. She became homeless when her daughter’s father spent their rent money on drugs and they were evicted from their home. “I ended up living out of my car, and staying with friends here and there.” Another blow landed when her car was vandalized. “They took our vital documents, our clothes, everything.”

“I decided that I needed the support of my family, so I came home to Virginia Beach to live with my mom.” Enrolled in the welfare-to-work program, Otis soon had a job and some stability. “I first went to work for a temporary agency, and then I did some waitressing,” she adds. “It didn’t take me long to see that I needed an education to provide a better life for my daughter . . . So I enrolled with TCC to study engineering and go after a new dream.”

Otis participated in TCC’s STEM Pioneer program and held leadership roles in the Engineering Club. “I had a great support network. From study groups to mentoring, the TCC family was there for me.”

Otis landed an engineering technician position with the City of Virginia Beach, and now she’s learning in the classroom and on the job. She earned her associate degree in engineering and will pursue a bachelor’s in civil engineering at Old Dominion University. “My personal philosophy is that I’m responsible to help others, to pay back some of what I’ve received. My work in this field enables me to maintain a quality standard of living and help my community. That’s my passion now.”

Near-death experience propels grad to career in nursing

When Shawana “Shae” Troche first started at TCC she couldn’t talk and could barely walk. A stroke survivor, Troche was determined to make something of her life, after almost losing it.

“I was 29 when I had a stroke. I remember collapsing on the floor in my family room near my nine-month-old daughter. Then it went quiet and I saw a bright light and I felt disconnected from myself. It was like I was looking down at the scene, but not really part of it,” explains Troche. “I prayed earnestly then, asking God to spare my life, to allow me to be there for my children. I promised God that I’d do whatever it takes to help others, to pursue nursing. Moments later, it was like a cotton shirt falling back to the ground and I was reconnected to myself and then I heard noises, felt pain, felt the medics working on me.”

New TCC nursing grad Shawana “Shae” Troche gets a check-up from daughter Jada.

It has been a long road to complete recovery. Troche has had to learn to speak, walk, eat. “It’s been a humbling experience, but I was determined to make something out of my life, to do something exceptional with the gift I was given.”

A mother of three, and married for 11 years, Troche has beaten incredible odds to earn her nursing pin on Dec. 17. Since enrolling at TCC in 2005, she has not missed a single class, even on days when she was struggling with the after effects and treatment for stroke recovery.

Nominated as Student Speaker, Troche graduated Dec. 18 with an associate in nursing and plans to pursue a bachelor’s in nursing at Old Dominion University. The recipient of two awards in 2007, Troche earned the Altrusa International Inc. Scholarship and the Calvary Revival Alliance scholarship.

“I received so much support from the people at TCC,” adds Troche, who is the first in her family to earn a college degree. “I had two professors, Ms. Pennington and Mrs. Gwebu, who went out of their way to answer questions and help me through it all.”

Troche works as an emergency room technician at Chesapeake General Hospital, and will take her state nursing board exams this month. She hopes to move into a registered nursing position in her emergency department. “I absolutely love what I’m doing. It’s my passion. I love never knowing what’s coming through the doors, and the diversity of the care we give. I love helping people, providing the kind of care that I received when I really needed it.”

Unique program draws students from diverse backgrounds

Two things most people can count on, to paraphrase the famous truism, are death and taxes. TCC’s Funeral Service program attracts students interested in making life better, and less “taxing,” for the bereaved. New graduates Edward (Eddie) Cowell and Sheila Riendeau exemplify that mission, while coming at it from vastly different life experiences.

Cowell, a former Marine master sergeant, enthusiastically came to TCC’s program to change careers after 20 years in service. Part of his duties as a casualty officer was the daunting task of notifying family members of their troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. That work reinforced his long-held interest in running a funeral home – a desire to bring some measure of peace to the bereaved. “This is so important to me, to be able to make the family’s pain a little bit less; this work has been a dream of mine for many, many years,” says Cowell.

In an industry in need of licensed operators, Cowell lined up a job with a funeral home before he even graduated, and ultimately plans to own and run his own.

Another new graduate, Sheila Riendeau, a Norfolk native and mother of seven, ages 12-24, remembers as a child her grandmother’s funeral. How terrible she looked in the casket, but how beautiful another woman looked in a nearby parlor. “I just thought that wasn’t right, that people have a right to look as best they can for their loved ones.”

Riendeau, who has devoted much of her life to raising her family while her husband served in the Navy, began to pursue her dream as her kids became more independent, and started seeking classes for funeral work. She finally saw TCC’s program launching three years ago and plunged in, earning high grades throughout.

Now her expertise has become clear: she particularly enjoys the cosmetology aspect of

preparing the deceased in their best light for the benefit of their loved ones. “I’m just so very glad to be going into this work I’ve always wanted to do for people,” she says.

Future counselor and nurse graduate TCC

Matthew Breining took advantage of a special program in high school that bridged to an associate degree in social sciences from TCC, received at the Dec. 18 graduation. Not only did the Portsmouth family celebrate his success, they had double the excitement – his sister, Jessica McHugh, also earned her degree, fulfilling a long-held dream to become a nurse.

Breining is an example of success with TCC’s First College program for teens in Portsmouth City Schools. Realizing in his junior year that he hadn’t applied anywhere for college, he looked around and spotted the new First College program aimed at teens who want to get a leg-up on college while in high school. After meeting pre-reqs and passing assessment tests, he earned almost a year of college credits before graduating from Wilson High, and decided to come to TCC. Now he’s transferring in January to Roanoke College to study history and literature, then go for a master’s to become a

guidance counselor.

Very active at TCC, Breining served as a student tutor and welcome-desk staff – “I love to help people learn,” he says, noting his TCC activities made that clear to him.

His sister, a mother of two, had long wanted to be a nurse, beginning to learn about emergency medical technician skills at age 14, wanting to follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother. “I finally made my way back to medicine, thanks to support from my “TCC family” and from scholarships like the Beazley Foundation,” McHugh explains.

Building the good life


A Norfolk native, Danny Speight considers himself “one of the lucky ones” from his neighborhood’s generation. Noting he grew up in a lower income area of the city, he says most of his friends are dead or in jail. “I really am one of the lucky ones,” Speight claims. “I didn’t excel in high school and my guidance counselor told me that I’d never be an engineer. I’m glad I proved her wrong.”

February 2010 Danny Speight


Speight enrolled at TCC’s Virginia Beach Campus in 1979, soon after high school graduation. “I had to pay my way and TCC was an affordable option. It also offered a smaller setting and professors who were willing to go the extra mile.”


Struggling with an undiagnosed learning challenge, Speight finally got the help he needed to be a successful student. “My TCC professors were not afraid to teach outside the box,” Speight recalls. “They met my needs and instilled a new confidence in me.”


Taking general studies, Speight changed gears and took a few engineering classes. “It was like a switch being flipped. I was able to focus and learn,” Speight says. “God loaned me some skills and the ability to be an engineer, and my TCC professors helped me find my way.”


Speight left TCC in 1981 and went on to earn a bachelor of science in civil engineering from Old Dominion University in 1986. Balancing life and school was not always easy. “I worked full time in a restaurant to earn money for school. And there were times when I had to take semesters off and save for the next set of classes,” Speight recalls.


Less than a decade after completing his education, he became a partner in Speight, Marshall and Francis, a structural engineering firm. The group employs 20 people from   engineers to CADD operators to project managers. “This is not just a job for me – it’s absolutely my calling and so much fun.” Speight also owns Secotan Builders, a construction company specializing in residential, commercial, tenant improvements, custom additions and complicated renovations.


Speight and wife Michele have two college-age children. One attends a state university on a soccer scholarship, and the other studies business at TCC.


“I thank God for TCC. Without this community college, I would not have had a chance.”

Living a life in 'key'

College never figured into Michael and Linda Murphy’s early life plans. After high school, before they knew each other, both went to work – Mike as a furniture refinisher and Linda in various clerical settings.

Unsatisfied and wanting more, they each decided to give college a try, afterall.

A friend brought Mike to the Portsmouth Campus and he enrolled because he liked the feel of the place. “I spent the first 10 weeks on campus as a history major and then decided to take a music theory class,” Mike says. “I was hooked after that.”

Mike changed his major to music and began studying guitar in a formal setting. “TCC offered me a way into higher education,” Mike says. “It also prepared me to move ahead academically.”

March 2010 Michael and Linda Murphy

He earned his associate of arts in music and later a bachelor’s in music education from Norfolk State University After college, his career went into high gear with Mike teaching guitar, music appreciation and other music offerings at TCC, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Union University and Chowan College.

Since then Mike has added a master’s in music performance from VCU and a doctorate from Shenandoah Conservatory. Teaching guitar at Briar Woods High in Northern Virginia, he’s also an adjunct music faculty member at Shenandoah University.

Linda met Mike while she was a student at TCC, through a guitar teacher. A few years later their paths crossed again, this time at a private music school where Linda was working. “Music is our passion and the reason we’re together,” Linda says with a laugh.

“I loved my time at TCC and remember it as the happiest of my life,” Linda recalls “Financially it was tough, as I worked three jobs to pay for college. But it was worthwhile because I was so excited about my courses and my future.”

Linda earned her associate in arts in music and a bachelor’s in music history from ODU. Her career has included performing with her husband as a guitar duo and in a baroque ensemble, and teaching guitar, piano and Kindermusic, a music adventure program for preschoolers. She also taught music classes at TCC and ODU, before moving to Northern Virginia. Today, Linda is completing a master's in music education from Shenandoah Conservatory. She cares for their two young children and works as schedules allow.

“Mike and I always say TCC was the best place to get our start,” Linda adds. “We got a tremendous education there.”

‘Counting’ on success

As an honor student at Deep Creek High in Chesapeake, Nancy Fuller had no idea she would someday run her own accounting business. After graduating high school, it suited her just fine to work for a large furniture store doing sales and some book keeping.

March 2010 Nancy Fuller

Then, one day, seeing school buses go by, a realization hit her: she knew it was time to get back to school and seek a profession.

Nancy enrolled at TCC’s Chesapeake Campus, taking business management classes, including some accounting offerings. “It was great to be among other students who were working full time, while taking night classes,” says Nancy. She graduated with honors in 1982 and landed an accounting supervisor position with a medical publishing company. She was doing well there, but the demands of raising children combined with the firm’s downsizing plan pushed her to expand her career options.

“An accountant I was working with encouraged me to start my own book-keeping business,” says Nancy. “It was scary to make that move, but my husband was supportive of the idea and so I gave it a chance.”

She started small and grew her business over the past two decades. Serving the small-business niche, Nancy provides book-keeping support for an average of six clients at a time. Many of her current clients were referred by others pleased with her work. “I do everything from processing payroll to paying bills and preparing quarterly tax returns. It’s never dull, always busy,” Nancy adds.

Planning her days has been a perk of the job. Some days she works from her home office, others she goes to her clients. “It was wonderful to be there to get the kids on and off the bus. Later, I was able to help our parents who were getting on in years, with doctor appointments and the like.”

A TCC family, Nancy met husband Roger while taking classes at TCC. “He was taking photos at a Phi Theta Kappa event that I was attending. We were formally introduced a few days later by a TCC staffer.” The couple has been married for 28 years; their two daughters both attended TCC.

“TCC absolutely prepared me for this life and if I ever need to go back to expand my skills, it would be my first choice,” says Nancy.

A TCC family

Kevin Sherwood and wife Kat are the proud parents of two TCC graduates who went on to prepare for very different careers. “We just could not be prouder,” Kevin says. “Our boys are proof that TCC is a great place to get your start.”

Jason, now 28, earned a bachelor’s at ODU and an MBA at the University of Florida. Today, he’s earning a good living as a supervisor at Cox Communications. In the process of moving up the corporate ladder, Jason is entertaining job offers.

May 2010 Jason and Eric Sherwood
Kevin (center) celebrated the completion of son Jason’s
graduate program with younger son Eric and family.

Younger brother Eric, now 25, just completed a bachelor’s in biochemistry at Virginia Tech. In August, he’ll be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy and then enter Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine to become a doctor. When he finishes his schooling, he’ll head to sea to serve his country and practice medicine.

Following his sons’ lead, Kevin, a retired Navy senior chief, is pursuing a degree of his own. His focus: social sciences, as he’d like to counsel veterans. A work-study student in the Veterans Affairs office at the Norfolk Campus, he enjoys helping veterans navigate benefit options for higher education.

“I promised myself that I’d get my degree,” Kevin says. “My schedule was hectic while on active duty, so the time is finally right.” He adds, “I’m adjusting to being in school again and enjoying re-training for a completely different career."

“I watched my sons whiz through TCC and just keep going, so that propels me forward, too.”

Computer forensics expert got his start at TCC

A computer enthusiast, Michael Encarnacao took a side interest and turned it into a viable career. “I swapped my Navy fatigues for Virginia Beach Police service blues,” Encarnacao says. “I started in uniform patrol, working the streets. But computers were my passion and I began to consider how crime and computers were going to come together.”

May 2010 Michael Encarnacao

With GI bill in hand, Encarnacao decided to advance his computer knowledge by pursuing an information technology degree at TCC. “I took the Novell track and graduated in 2001. Since then I’ve taken classes to keep current. In this business, things change rapidly.”

Just a few years after joining the department, Encarnacao was selected for Special Investigations, handling narcotics, vice and computer crimes. “When we started, we responded to calls only. Now we’re an integral resource for every area.”

With the boom of computer crime in early 2000, Encarnacao was assigned to computer forensics full time. “My TCC education absolutely prepared me for the work ahead. I’m doing something I enjoy, while protecting citizens.”

Further making use of his passion for computers - and wanting to give something back - Encarnacao developed a computer forensics course for TCC’s Division of Information Technology and Business. The classes are offered when faculty availability and scheduling allow.

“We’re proud of how well Detective Encarnacao has done in his career,” says IT Dean/Virginia Beach Carolyn McLellan. “His skills and interest in computer forensics will go a long way with today’s constantly changing computer world.”

NASA experience fits science career goals

Freshman Joshua Wooley recently got an insider’s look at NASA and the space program, from a business development point of view.

Selected for the inaugural session of the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program – which required students to do well on four web-based assignments during the school year – Wooley spent three days at Johnson Space Center in Houston this May developing ideas for robotic explorers that will rove the surfaces of other worlds.

May 2010 Joshua Wooley

The 76 student scholars chosen for the pilot program hailed from community colleges across the nation. The Space Center experience included touring Mission Control and a briefing by Gene Kranz, the 34-year director of Mission Operations leading the Gemini and Apollo programs.

“The opportunity appealed to me because I have a strong interest in the space program,” Wooley says. “My grandmother worked for Rockwell International and she was an avid supporter of the space program. She encouraged me to follow this dream.”

At Johnson, students formed teams and established fictitious companies interested in Mars exploration. The groups developed a prototype rover and corresponding business plans for the project including budget, communications and presentations. “Working with a team of high-energy students from different states was exhilarating,” Wooley adds. “We learned team building, leadership, communication and problem-solving skills. The program also gave us a look at the work being done at NASA, and enabled us to engage the professionals who work there.”

With this program, NASA continues the agency’s investment in the nation’s students with the goal of attracting them to the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines critical to NASA’s future missions.

Wooley, a TCC science major focusing on physics, is planning a career as an astrophysicist. Aiming for a Ph.D. in the subject, he hopes to one day share his skills with NASA, possibly in Mission Control. “This experience cemented the deal for me,” Wooley says. “I’m hoping to land an internship at NASA and stay connected there.”

Recently married, Wooley, 30, and wife Lillie live in Norfolk. “A stepping stone, TCC has already been a great place to start,” Wooley adds. “I feel like I’m on my way now.”

From TCC graduate to Army officer

After completing four years of stellar service in the U.S. Navy with a final tour of duty aboard the Iwo Jima in Norfolk, Shawn Proctor joined the student ranks at TCC to further his career. “I decided it was time for a change and TCC was the right fit for me,” Proctor says.

July 2010 Shawn Proctor
Retired Col. Tom Balish congratulates Shawn Proctor at his commissioning.

Proctor studied business administration and continued his military training through the Army ROTC program at TCC. “I enjoyed my time in the service, and planned to return to the ranks as a commissioned officer,” he adds.

After earning his associate degree at TCC, Proctor transferred to Old Dominion University to study accounting and participate in the ROTC program there. While earning his bachelor’s degree, Proctor also graduated from the Army’s Air Assault and Sapper Leader courses. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army National Guard of Virginia upon graduation and now works as a Gold Bar Recruiter with the ROTC program at ODU.

“TCC prepared me well for the challenges ahead. I’ve come full circle, and now it’s my turn to help prepare future military leaders.”

Apprentice program plus TCC equals success

July 2010 Tim AndersonTim Anderson is on his way to living the American dream. A graduate apprentice with Colonial Webb, a commercial mechanical and electrical contracting company, Anderson earned his associate of applied science degree from TCC, while working full time and learning his trade.

“After working in dead-end jobs for several years, I was looking for a future and a real career with opportunities for advancement,” Anderson says. “I found all of that and more with Colonial Webb and their support of employees going into TCC’s program.”

With his newly printed Journeyman card on the way, Anderson now works with commercial clients, providing air conditioning and refrigeration service and solutions. “I enjoy the work and have earned the respect of supervisors,” Anderson adds. “It’s now my goal to learn the business from the ground up, so that one day I’ll be able to move into management.”

Never one to be idle, Anderson plans to join the company’s Apprentice Committee, so that he can share ideas and help others get their start. “It’s all about giving back,” he adds.

Anderson and his wife, Melinda, have two young children and still find time to volunteer for a non-profit agency for disabled children and adults, called I Can’t Help It. Anderson serves as president and Melinda, secretary. They spend most Sunday afternoons organizing events for participants.

Education is a family thing, with Melinda working to complete a master’s degree in teaching administration at Old Dominion University and her husband planning to join the student ranks there soon. “My next step is to work on a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, when it’s my turn again,” Anderson adds with a laugh. “My course is set, with full wind in the sails. I plan to just keep going.”

TCC alum gives back

After spending the last four years in the classroom, Stacey Wade is hitting the streets to help people in need. Wade interns with a homeless shelter in Richmond where she puts into practice the things she learned at TCC, Old Dominion University and now Virginia Commonwealth University.

September 2010 Stacey Wade

Studying for her master’s degree in social work, Wade is learning how to handle cases and work with clients. “It’s so beneficial to get this hands-on experience before holding a job of my own in social work,” she says.

“As a social worker I can impact lives and help others be self sufficient,” Wade adds. “Even when they go through tough times, they don’t have to be a product of their environment. There is help and a way out.”

College was always in the plans for Wade, even though she was the first in her family to pursue this dream. “From an early age, I understood that by going to college, I could become self-supporting,” she explains.

A graduate of Granby High, Wade turned to TCC’s Open Door Project and the Counseling Center for support. She was working hard to determine her future goals when she stepped into her first sociology class with professor Clifton Marsh. “I remember being so excited by the material. After class my professor talked with me about the field. That was all it took. I’d found my place.”

While at TCC, Wade worked in the Counseling Center and for Disability Services. She credits TCC staffers Danielle Giscombe and Linda Harris for encouraging her and supporting each small success. “They were my own personal cheer squad.”

 “Way back when, the people at TCC believed in me and gave me my start. Now it’s my turn to give back.”

Nate Smith takes the “Pepsi challenge”

Nate Smith wanted a job that would keep him moving. And that’s just what he got when he landed a sales position with Pepsi Cola. Based in Richmond, Smith worked his way up to large-format account manager, handling $2 million in sales each year.

September 2010 Nate Smith

He spends his days on the road visiting clients, including five large grocery stores that carry his product. “They keep me on my toes, which is what I like; this job has been great for me,” Smith says. He handles myriad details and meets with managers, forecasts volume, places orders and checks displays. “My days are full from start to finish, but I love what I do.”

Smith got his start at TCC, studying business at the Norfolk and Portsmouth campuses. “TCC was a great place for me. It was affordable, and the professors were top-notch.”  He credits Professor Peter Shaw for sharing his expertise and writing reference letters, and his uncle, James Edmond, who works at the college, for supporting his success.

“It wasn’t easy,” Smith adds. “I worked two jobs to pay for college and my expenses.” After earning his associate degree in 2006, Smith continued his studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, earning a bachelor’s degree in business and finance. Now preparing to take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), he has his eye on an MBA.

“I have a loft in downtown Richmond, and I love the hustle and bustle of city living. But someday I’d like to work overseas doing international business,” Smith adds. “With my start at TCC, the doors are open for me.”

VAC grads see TCC as perfect “stepping stone” to career dreams

Dreams of Pixar and running a design business propelled Amber and Brandon Laremont through TCC, even though they launched nearly a decade apart.

Amber is steps closer to doing character development for Pixar or Dream Works. The renowned Savannah College of Art and Design accepted her as an honors scholar after she earned her associate degree in fine arts from TCC. This spring she’ll begin studying illustration and graphic design.

She began her formal art education at TCC’s Visual Arts Center. “I taught myself the basics, but the faculty at the VAC took me to the next level. I learned the rules and then was encouraged to find my own edge.” Amber credits faculty members Robert Hawkes and Nancy Mansfield for their professional expertise and willingness to guide her forward.

October 2010 Amber and Brandon Laremont

Brandon, a 2002 alumnus with an AAS in computer graphics, started his company, Kontrive Media, in 1996 and now has more than 500 clients. Serving Hampton Roads and Atlanta, the full-service design agency provides communication and multimedia solutions across formats including corporate branding, web development, advertising and public relations, direct mail and web hosting.

The couple met when Amber was a student at TCC and working as a shift supervisor at Starbucks. “We started comparing notes about favorite faculty members and classes and it took off from there,” she says with a laugh.

Contemplating her future, Amber notes, “Of all of the stepping stones you could take to get to your goal, TCC is a great first step. I’m happiest with paper and pencil in hand. And now I’m preparing for a career that will allow me to do just that.”

TCC student cooking and winning

TCC culinary student Tammy Lessard developed a winning recipe and two flavorful food items, earning her top spots in three separate competitions.

Lessard’s newly penned recipe for Chilean Hass Avocado Gnocchi with Lime-Avocado Cream Sauce earned her one of the top prizes in the Chilean Avocado Importers Association’s national student recipe contest held in December 2010. “My passion is cooking and I see it as an art form to delight the senses,” Lessard says. “I was thrilled to be recognized for my recipe, as it took many attempts in the kitchen to make it work.”

In addition, Lessard and partner Mike Lambert, a TCC culinary student as well, landed the top spot in the amateur division of the Marina Shores Million Dollar Rockfish Cook-Off, also held in December 2010. “We earned a nice prize,” Lessard says with a laugh, “but it wasn’t $1 million.”

February 2011 Tammy Lessard

Cooking to win comes naturally to Lessard because, “it doesn’t seem like work.” She took first place with partner Kathleen Ortiz in the culinary showdown between TCC students and the Culinary Institute of Virginia during the third annual Student Culinary Competition sponsored by the American Culinary Federation in April 2010.

The talented cook works a ‘day job’ as a network administrator for a government contractor, a position she’s held for more than a decade. Lessard headed back to the classroom after her co-workers encouraged her to give culinary school a try. “I was always bringing in dishes and desserts for my co-workers to taste. They raved about my food and propelled me forward.”

A Virginia native who lives in Norfolk, Lessard hopes to one day work as an executive chef in her own eatery. “Coming to TCC’s culinary school has ignited my passion for cooking. I’ve found my place,” she adds.

A family success: Couple graduates together

Crossing the stage together at commencement became “one of those life moments that we’ll never forget,” says Chad Oxton of graduating with wife Alyce in December 2010 with associate degrees in business administration.

While not the first trip across the stage for Chad, who earned a TCC degree in civil engineering technology in 2005, it fulfilled Alyce’s dream of earning her first degree.

“Chad encouraged me to go back to school and we took many of our classes together,” says Alyce. “Chad is the outgoing one; he can strike up a conversation with anyone. I’m a little introverted, so going to school together opened doors for me. We started study groups and made connections with classmates that I would not have made on my own.”

March 2011 Chad and Alyce Oxton

The couple kept each other motivated by competing for grades and doing homework together. The parents of two teenage daughters, they also shared the responsibility of running the girls to activities and helping them with school work. “Some days were tough and very long,” recalls Alyce, with Chad adding, “It took a lot of perseverance to maintain a workable schedule and get everything done.”

The couple met while serving in the U.S. Navy. Chad was a navy woodworker and Alyce a data-processing technician. They decided to change course and settle down in the Hampton Roads area. “I worked construction jobs for two years, and that was a great motivator,” recalls Chad. “It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and very challenging physically.”

During his next job, as a woodcrafter at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Chad earned his civil engineering technology degree. “Doors opened soon after that. With my degree I was qualified to become the technical asset manager for the city of Suffolk, a position I’ve now held for five years,” Chad adds. “I love what I do and enjoy working with so many different agencies, from utilities to construction to permitting.”

Alyce landed a job with Sentara Health Care after the Navy, and for the past 11 years she has worked as an information technology professional. Today, she serves as a manager of the computer support team for the hospitals and offices in Chesapeake and Suffolk. “My time in the Navy prepared me for this type of work, but my TCC degree opens doors for promotion. My supervisor is very supportive of my educational goals and has encouraged me to keep going.”

A good match in class and life, Chad and Alyce will continue their education at Old Dominion University, pursuing bachelor degrees in business. Their oldest daughter, following in their footsteps, is dual enrolled at a Suffolk high school and TCC’s Portsmouth Campus. She plans to join the ranks of college coeds at a university next fall.

A regular volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, Chad says “it has been great building our future together.”

Rebuilding careers; keeping family first

Joyce Hartman remembers getting ready for her first day at TCC. Much like prepping her daughters for the first day of school, she packed a backpack with supplies and headed to class.

Hartman’s TCC career started with one accounting class, rocketing from there to a full load and then into the University of Virginia Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program offered at TCC.

March 2011 Joyce Hartman

Joyce recalls, “As an adult student, I thought I’d be the oldest in the class. I was pleasantly surprised to see many students my age. Right away we formed a bond of sorts, starting study groups and sharing notes if one of us missed a class.”

Living the American dream in Chesapeake, Joyce enjoyed her work in commercial real estate and husband Jay excelled on the Norfolk assembly line of Ford Motor Co. But, with the drying up of the market and closure of the Norfolk plant, the couple had to reinvent themselves.

They started Southside Building, a small construction company, in 2005. With the business came the challenges of managing the books and operations. “There was so much I didn’t know about running the company. TCC was an affordable way to gain new skills,” Joyce says.

Selected the student speaker for the commencement activities in December 2010, she earned her associate degree in business and hopes to one day return to the commercial real estate world. “My ultimate goal is to manage my own property management and real estate company.”

The mother of two school-age daughters, Joyce manages her career with the goal of being home when the kids are there. “I never planned to climb the corporate ladder, but rather, I wanted a career that would work with my family,” Joyce says. “It’s important to me that my girls see that you can accomplish your goals at any age.”

About her time at TCC, Joyce says, “I can’t begin to count the ways that TCC has shaped my future. From the courses that are truly applicable to my work life, to those that stretched my mind and developed critical thinking skills. All of it together helps me think outside the box, a necessary skill in today’s business world.”

Jay continues to do home repairs, roofing and kitchen renovations and he also landed a job at the Chesapeake Regional Airport.

Joyce notes she’s glad she followed her mom’s footsteps to TCC – her mother, Martha Knowles, graduated from the college in 1977 and spent 30 years working for Chesapeake Public Schools.

Foodie focuses career on help for overeaters

Lisa Raum took her passion for food and turned it into a recipe for success. As a registered dietitian who found her career path at TCC, she spends her days teaching clients how to eat healthy and enjoy food preparation.

March 2011 Lisa Raum

“I often meet with clients in the grocery store so we can look at labels and get a really good idea about healthy choices,” Raum explains. “From there, I go into their homes for cooking demonstrations. It’s my goal to show them how to prepare quick healthy meals that are cost effective.”

Raum’s business is called R.D. to GO, LLC, and she makes house calls and works for a concierge medical program providing nutrition services for patients. She also shares her knowledge teaching nutrition and consumer health education to students at John Tyler Community College.

“I love what I do because I get to educate people and translate nutrition facts into user-friendly information that people can really use,” Raum says.

Continuing to evolve her career, Raum’s pursuing a graduate degree in mental health counseling so she can address her job holistically. “Many behaviors are really mental health issues, so I’m hoping to approach patient care from more than one angle. My passion is working with compulsive overeaters, and this degree will really help me develop a program for this group.”

Raum got her start at TCC earning an associate degree in hotel and restaurant management with an emphasis on nutrition. “I always planned to be a professional chef because of my passion for food. Once I began studying nutrition the doors opened for further study in this area.” TCC faculty member Chris Medlin served as a mentor and provided guidance through Raum’s career quest.

“I tell my patients there are no limits to what they can do,” Raum adds. “I encourage them to set goals and then get moving toward them. Good health is an asset and it’s my life’s work to give people the nutrition tools they need to build the best life possible.”

Voice of hope – TCC, UVA and GMU grad gets key facts to legislators

Christin Durham has always had a heart for the less fortunate. That propensity led her to a choice career and a place where some of the nation’s prominent lawmakers hear her voice for the needy.

A research associate for a nationally recognized think tank, the Urban Institute, Durham evaluates programs and policy for federal services provided to low-income families.

“Part of our job is to evaluate programs such as TANF (the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program) and give policy makers and legislators the information they need to implement program changes that can help real people with very real needs.”

Durham got her start at the Institute after “taking a leap of faith” by leaving a full-time job to accept an internship with the organization’s Income and Benefits Policy Center. Just 10 months later, they offered her a full-time position, where she has been for two years. “It’s my dream job because I get to use my brain and challenge myself. It also feels good knowing that what I’m doing has the potential to make a difference for a lot of people.”

April 2011 Christin Durham

Durham got her start in research working with TCC Professor Jim O’Brien while earning an associate degree in liberal arts. “I worked on the Asch studies and was given quite a bit of responsibility,” she says. “It snowballed from there and I landed a research post with Jonathan Haidt, social psychology professor, while attending the University of Virginia.”

After earning her bachelor’s in sociology from UVA, Durham went to work as a program manager for a homeless shelter in Northern Virginia. While there, she earned a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University. “I loved my work at the shelter, but knew my calling was not direct service, but rather research and advocacy,” she adds.

“When I started at TCC I really had no idea where I was headed. I was encouraged by O’Brien and Dixie Dickinson, who cemented my love of sociology,” Durham adds.

After high school Durham spent six years traveling and working odd jobs. She returned to school to give her life direction. “TCC was my starting point and I’m so pleased to be on this journey.”

In addition to research, Durham rocks it with two bands: Victor Victoria, a ‘80s and ‘90s cover band, and Night in the City, an original music group recording its debut album.

Award-winning performer brings positive message

June 2011 Isaac GayIsaac Gay may look like a typical 20 something, but he’s a man with a mission. A singer with a powerful tenor voice, Gay hopes that his original songs will be world changers, bringing a positive message to those who hear them.

Gay’s budding musical career has hit some high notes already. He placed in the top 80 on American Idol in 2009. “The competition started with 25,000 contestants, and it was an amazing experience meeting so many talented singers,” Gay recalls.

In April, Gay took first place in the Sea Level Emerging Artist Showcase. Gay performed two original works: Tattoo and Spotlight. “My work has a spiritual element, but I want to be able to connect with a broad audience,” he adds.

Musical theater is another passion with Gay performing in five recent Virginia Musical Theatre productions, earning a supporting role in Man of La Mancha and a lead in Annie.

The road to success started with a supportive family and a home-school education. “I had a real talent for football and wanted to play for a school team. But with home schooling, that door was closed. So I gravitated toward performing arts and found an even greater passion.”

Gay’s entree into the world of big-screen entertainment included some acting work for television and film. He appeared in a WHRO special, Dolly Madison; a TV pilot, Body Politic; an HBO series, John Adams; and a film, The Bill Collector.

His plans always included pursuing a degree – with TCC the place to start. “Many friends have walked these halls and earned degrees. Even my dad (Jerome) started his educational career at TCC and ended up earning two master’s degrees from Regent University. He works for the city of Norfolk. Mom (Jutta), a certified Montessori teacher, will graduate TCC in the spring with a desire to teach English as a second language.” Gay plans to pursue baccalaureate studies next year.

Continuing to share his talents, Gay performed his music live at Town Point Park twice in May, sings aboard the Spirit of Norfolk, plays “Anthony” in the play Sweeney Todd in July and hopes to continue auditioning in New York when the part seems right.

From the Marines to TCC to the Secret Service

August 2011 Hiawatha Clemons IIIOne of the few, the proud, the Marines – Hiawatha Clemons spent time in the Corps packing up the personal belongings of those in his unit who died while fighting the War on Terror on the front lines in Iraq. “I was proud to serve my country and help protect it from any more terrorist attacks,” Clemons says.

After his four years of service, Clemons decided to follow another passion; he began working with disabled adults through the Southeastern Virginia Training Center. “I’ve always had a strong interest in working with people with any type of disability – from physical to mental to developmental.”

Clemons turned to TCC in 2007 to study social sciences with the goal of becoming a special education teacher. A special education student himself, Clemons recalls the shame he felt while attending “special” classes in high school. “I was told I’d amount to nothing, but now everything is different. At TCC I gained a confidence I never knew before,” Clemons adds. He will graduate in December 2012.

During his time at TCC Clemons got involved in student life, serving as parliamentarian for the Student Government Association and the Student African American Brotherhood group. Clemons credits Emanuel Chestnut, Tim Konhaus and Monica Liburd as TCC staffers who offered friendship, advice and served as mentors.

“From here, I really can go anywhere,” Clemons adds with a laugh. But his teaching career will have to wait, as his stellar military service record resulted in another call to duty – this time as a Secret Service agent, protecting government officials and their families.